Dallas voters this month approved a $1.36 billion bond package for school construction, the largest school bond measure ever passed in Texas, in a dramatic turn of fortune for a district long beleaguered by administrative turmoil.
Officials with the Dallas district, the nation’s 12th-largest public school system, said that the bond money would be used to update aging schools, construct new classrooms, and build more modern sports facilities. They don’t expect to break ground on any of the projects until early next year.
The bond package passed on Jan. 19 with an overwhelming majority—78 percent. Little more than a year ago, the 164,000-student district was in such upheaval that even its staunchest supporters doubted it could ever persuade voters to pass a bond measure. (“Vacuum at the Top Takes a Heavy Toll on Dallas Schools,” Dec. 13, 2000.)
In recent years, the Dallas district has been plagued by financial woes, a board that was mired in politics and infighting, and a revolving door of leadership. When Mike Moses took over as the superintendent of the district early last year, he was the district’s sixth top administrator in eight years.
Meanwhile, many of the district’s 218 schools desperately needed repair. The school system currently uses 1,912 portable classrooms, 74 of which are more than 40 years old. And some schools have up to 42 portables on their property, said district spokesman Donald J. Claxton.
Alliance/AFT, a local teachers’ union, conducted a survey of its 7,000 members in August 2000 that found that 73 percent of the district’s schools had leaking roofs.
Union officials, who supported the bond measure, made phone calls, posted yard signs, held media events, and informed their school representatives about the details of the bond package. They also asked the AFL-CIO, with which they are affiliated, to send letters to its members urging them to vote for the bond package.
“I liked to tell our members that it is our bond, that we have a responsibility to make sure that it passed,” said Aimee Bolander, the president of Alliance/AFT.
A Lower Profile
Observers say much of the credit for getting the bond sale approved belongs to Mr. Moses, who previously served as the Texas commissioner of education.
“Mike has established a sense of calm and worked hard to get the district off the front page of the newspaper,” said Donna Halstead, the president of the Dallas Citizens Council, a civic organization made up of 150 business leaders.
District officials plan to hire an administrator to oversee the use of the bonds, which will pay for 20 new schools and 640 added classrooms at 36 different schools. In addition, every school in the district will receive some level of repair, depending on its need, said Mr. Claxton.
Most observers appear to have faith that the superintendent will follow through on the construction. “I think we are in a totally different management era now, and I don’t have any concerns about this current superintendent at all,” Ms. Bolander said. “Just as he led us to the bond election, I think he will lead us to the building of new schools in a way we are all proud of.”
Last fall, Mr. Moses began working to raise public awareness about the problems the facilities in his district face. In a well- publicized event earlier this month, Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith visited the 1,600-student H. Grady Smith High School with Mr. Moses.
Mr. Smith “wanted to see firsthand what needed to be done,” Mr. Claxton said. School officials showed the football star the high school’s outdated boiler room and heating and cooling system, problems with the building’s roof, and two portable classrooms near the school.
Then he was taken to an athletic facility built in 1946 with a locker room that was only 20 feet long and 20 feet wide. “I think that was the most eye-opening thing Emmitt saw that day,” Mr. Claxton said. “You couldn’t fit five guys in pads in that room.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2002 edition of Education Week as Dallas Voters OK $1.36 Billion Bond Package