March 17, 2014 Fellow NEA Dallas Members, Late last month, a small group called “Support Our Public

Schools” (SOPS) showed up in Dallas , and it has nothing to do with “supporting” our public schools. What SOPS really wants is more sinister. The SOPS Home Rule election campaign is just a front to let a Houston billionaire named John Arnold and the mayor of Dallas take over our neighborhood schools and impose a system that hands our schools over to profit-driven private charter operators. Some SOPS leaders are openly hostile to those of us who teach and work every day to educate young people and provide then a safe and healthy learning environment. Here’s the bottom line: turning DISD into a Home Rule Charter District would allow private charter operators to take over neighborhood schools with little or no accountability to the community and local taxpayers. Do Charters Improve Student Performance? If Not, What Really Works? Several studies have shown that 85% of charters do not perform better than traditional neighborhood schools. And in Texas, on average, they do not perform as well. What they can do, by cutting employee rights, is make a profit. Research consistently cites three key factors that improve student performance, none of which are on the SOPS agenda.  Universal Full Day Pre-K for all children  Smaller Class Sizes, not just in grades K-4  Guaranteeing a qualified teacher for every child and classroom, one who is valued and treated with respect. Your Job and Our Schools are “At Risk.” As a Home Rule Charter District, DISD could:  eliminate employee contract rights, including due process and procedures for non-renewals;  eliminate planning and preparation time and duty free lunch;  eliminate the state minimum salary schedule;  eliminate class size limits except for campuses rated “academically unacceptable;”  enact longer school days and longer school years;  replace the elected school board with an appointed board;  eliminate at least fourteen “parent and student rights guaranteed by the state;” and  ignore state requirements regarding student discipline. A complete list of state requirements the Home Rule District could eliminate is attached.

A Houston Billionaire is Behind the Home Rule Takeover Campaign – Who Else? SOPS is a 501 c4 political campaign committee with one purpose only – circulating petitions to get a “home rule” takeover scheme on the November ballot. That requires about 25,000 petition signatures (from 5% of DISD registered voters). The Mayor and a group of major donors are funding the effort. The group includes Houston billionaire John Arnold, a former Enron executive and hedge fund manager who led the fight to eliminate defined benefit pensions like TRS and replace them with 401(k) retirement funds. Arnold has also contributed millions to charter school and privatization efforts in New Orleans and around the country. Several other donors of the SOPS group have chosen to remain anonymous. SOPS has refused to reveal other major supporters, but the Home Rule effort is strongly supported by the Mayor, DISD Trustee Morath and leaders from two corporate Dallas PACs, Dallas Kids First and Educate Dallas, as well as the Dallas Regional Chamber’s PAC. What Is SOPS Up To? The Mayor and other SOPS leaders are trying to get the support of high profile community leaders and circulating petitions to get the home rule issue on the November ballot, but skepticism is growing, especially in the African American and Hispanic communities, because SOPS has refused to answer questions about its intentions. In fact, the Mayor walked out of a closed invitation only meeting when audience members questioned him and disputed his “facts” being cited by SOPS supporters that distort DISD student performance. The links below provide more information about the Home Rule effort.
http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20140314-dallas-isd-home-rule-effort-battles-skepticism-inblack-hispanic-communities.ece http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2014/03/mayor_mike_rawlings_walked_out.php http://www.disdblog.com/

What Can We Do? NEA and TSTA oppose efforts to allow private, corporate interests to take over public neighborhood schools. By organizing in our schools and in coalition with community groups, we could tell the truth about SOPS and work with parents to develop a plan for real improvements in DISD. Please find attached the process for a Home Rule Charter Election and the state standards that could be eliminated or ignored by a Home Rule District.

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