A state lawmaker from Dallas says it’s past time to abolish Dallas County Schools, the financially mismanaged and scandal-plagued bureaucracy that provides bus service to Dallas ISD and eleven other North Texas school districts, and he’s filed a bill in the Texas Legislature to do just that.
State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) authored SB 1122 with fellow Metroplex Sens. Van Taylor (R-Plano) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) to shut down DCS. The bill creates a dissolution committee to wind down DCS by September 2018 and pay off its debt. At a press conference to introduce the bill, Huffines stated:
“[DCS is] an outdated, unnecessary bureaucracy that is dangerous for students and a rip off for Dallas County taxpayers. Students deserve better and so do Dallas County taxpayers.”
Abolishing the costly, inefficient, and redundant agency was one of Huffines’ top priorities heading into the 2017 legislative session. Critics say action from state lawmakers is long overdue. Recent revelations about DCS’s financial mismanagement and its multi-million-dollar budget shortfall, reliability issues, and student safety concerns show that prioritization is warranted.
NBC5 in Dallas has reported extensively on the beleaguered agency’s problems, including a recently-revealed $42 million budget shortfall, $30 million of transactions that interim CFO Alan King discovered missing from the district’s books, and a controversial school bus stop-arm ticketing program that’s $20 million behind revenue projections. Two DCS board members said they hadn’t seen any financial reports from the agency for months.
Added to the financial mess are student safety concerns raised by DCS bus drivers who received hundreds of traffic tickets for running red lights, costing DCS $80,000 in taxpayer money. Even worse, no drivers were disciplined until a local news report exposed the scandal.
The resulting firestorm of criticism led to bipartisan calls for embattled DCS Superintendent Rick Sorrells to resign. At a board meeting Wednesday night, Sorrells finally did step down.
According to NBC5, the agency’s board approved a plan allowing Sorrells to retire, placing Assistant Superintendent Leatha Mullins temporarily in charge at DCS. But Superintendent Sorrells’ resignation may be too little, too late.
Records distributed at Wednesday’s DCS board meeting showed the agency will run out of money to operate by May without immediate steps to raise cash. Board members approved a new plan that gives the agency five additional years to pay off some of its debt. But the bailout plan will cost Dallas County taxpayers at least an additional $14 million in interest payments over the next nine years.
Huffines says Sorrells’ resignation isn’t going to resolve the problems, and that the time for reform is long since gone. “It’s past time that we got rid of this rogue bureaucracy,” Huffines said. “DCS must be abolished.”
Huffines argues that the services offered by DCS can be provided easily and more efficiently by private companies. In fact, a third of districts in Dallas County don’t use DCS bus service. In a Dallas Morning News editorial last year, Huffines pointed out:
DCS doesn’t educate any students. . . . DCS is a central bureaucracy. It collects a county-wide property tax and employs more than 2,500 people – none of them teachers. As far as I’m concerned, DCS’ main function is to justify its existence to taxpayers, and its chief way of doing so is by contracting with local school districts to provide school bus transportation services. Which it does poorly.
“We need an orderly wind-down of this organization,” said Huffines, noting that his bill provides plenty of transition time for DCS’s school district clients to find alternatives.
Only two of the state’s 254 counties – Dallas and Harris – still maintain redundant county school agencies. Both county districts would be abolished by Huffines’ bill. Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) has also been a strong critic of the Harris County Department of Education and has filed a separate bill to bar HCDE from collecting property taxes.
If SB 1122 passes, Huffines will be well on the way to reaching his goal of shutting down DCS, saving taxpayers millions, and most importantly, transitioning students to safer and more reliable bus service. The bill has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.