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Dallas' Failures Can Be Remedied

Sharpening a District’s Leadership Model continued...

The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) is $64 million in the red, with the possibility of an $84 million deficit by the end of the year. An accounting error resulted from when average teacher salaries were miscalculated in making budget projections. This simple error could result in a loss of up to 3 percent of the front-line teaching staff. Moreover, the debacle appears to be the latest incident in a history of administrative missteps.

The problem is more than financial. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is the seventh superintendent in 11 years. This pattern of superintendent musical chairs must be stopped if the DISD leadership team hopes to inspire its teaching staff. Hinojosa bears the ultimate responsibility.

What to do? Here are some steps that can be employed:

STEP ONE: The Policy Governance model has two executive limitation policies—budget execution and budget planning policies—that apply to the DISD issue. These policies require that the superintendent not “cause or allow any fiscal condition that is inconsistent with achieving the board’s ends, or places the long-term financial health of the district in jeopardy.” Executive limitation policies act as boundaries that rule in the superintendent’s authority, as well as state the board’s expectations, according to what’s in place at University Place School District in Tacoma, Wash.

STEP TWO: The Policy Governance model also requires the superintendent to provide a monitoring report that must be reviewed by the board. The board, in turn, must certify the monitoring report to be either in compliance; in compliance, with stated exceptions; or not in compliance. If the board is concerned about the school district’s financial condition, it can require a number of monitoring reports throughout the school year for the budget execution and budget planning policies.

STEP THREE: If the board has further concerns or suspicions, it can employ one of the following approaches: mandate an internal report, require an external report by a consultant, or conduct a direct inspection.

STEP FOUR: The superintendent’s performance in the budget shortfall situation can be a major part of his or her evaluation. Moreover, the board can put in place a subsequent superintendent improvement plan. Improvement in this arena can be made a condition of future employment.

STEP FIVE: Finally, the goal-setting process needs to be employed through the development of superintendent or district goals regarding the financial management of the school district. This, of course, will create a focus for the superintendent in the coming school year.