Joint Meeting with City Council and DISD Board

In an effort to ensure better coordination and communication between the City of Dallas and the Dallas Independent School District, the Dallas City Council and DISD Board of Trustees have begun meeting quarterly, beginning last fall. We met again today to address the following issues:

Coordination of children’s arts programs
City staff, along with Big Thought, a non-profit that provides arts outreach for economically disadvantaged children, gave us an overview of an exciting new collaboration. Late last year, Big Thought won a pretigious grant from the Wallace Foundation. One of only two awarded in the nation, the $1M grant will allow the City of Dallas, DISD, and area arts organizations to develop a comprehensive plan to provide arts programs to Dallas. Study after study shows that hildren who participate in arts programs not only do better in school but are much less likely to drop out.

I am pleased to learn that DISD will be adding 140 arts teachers (music, performing and graphic art), and have already hired 60. This commitment is particularly impressive and far-sighted when other school districts across the country are cutting or eliminating arts programs.

The City must also be prepared to increase our budget next year for after-school and extra-curricular arts programs for children as Big Thought works with us and DISD to develop a master plan.

Partnering with DISD on new buildings and infrastructure
It makes sense to combine efforts and reduce costs wherever possible as well as coordinate to improve city infrastructure near our schools.

One such collaberation is the City’s partnership with DISD on after-school recreation programs. We have agreements with 29 elementary schools and 6 middle schools for after-school programs from 3-6 pm. The City Parks Department provides staff and supplies, and DISD provides program space, six hours of tutoring, and snacks. DISD and the City also coordinate on an after-school special education program, as well as a seven week summer program.

There are also joint efforts for new City/DISD facilities, including five joint efforts for park/athletic facilities with schools (Randall Park and Woodrow Wilson High School in District 14). The City’s portion is paid for with 2003 City Bond funds. Similarly, there are two joint library/elementary school facilities recently built (Arcadia Elementary/Library and Hampton-Illinois/Brashear Elementary), and a new library planned to accommodate three new schools in Vickery Meadows.

The City is also investing $70M of the proposed 2006 bond program to improve sidewalks, streets, parks, and storm drainage near schools in coordination with DISD.

2002 DISD Bond Program
DISD Superintendent Hinojosa gave the City Council an overview of projects funded through DISD’s $1.37B bond program from 2002:
-15 of 22 new schools complete, 5 under construction
-33 of 33 major additions complete
-94 of 155 renovations complete, 59 under under construction

DISD’s “Dallas Achieves!” Program
Dr. Hinojosa also explained that he and the Trustees have set a goal for DISD to become the best urban school system in the country by 2010. That effort is called “Dallas Achieves!” and includes aggressive student performance goals:
By 2010, DISD students will be:
90%+ passing TAKS
50%+ highest level of TAKS
90%+ graduating in 4 years with more rigorous school work

The new collaboration between DISD and the City is extremely important, and it’s much greater than just these quarterly meetings. City staff is regularly meeting with DISD staff to work through the projects outlined above, and much of this success belongs to the good working relationship that our City Manager Mary Suhm and DISD Superintendent Hinojosa enjoy.

I also like the new quarterly meetings between the Council and Trustees. It’s clear they have a strong sense of where they want to take the school district, and we all know that the quality of our schools has a dramatic effect on our quality of life, employment rates, economic development, and crime.

I can’t end my blog without mentioning two things that I learned about DISD that are very impressive. First, 38% of DISD schools are either recognized or exemplary status. Second, two of our high schools were ranked in the top ten NATIONALLY (first and eighth).

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Improving Code Enforcement

Two years ago, the Council’s Public Safety Committee requested improvements to 311 and the Code Compliance Department. The Council’s Quality of Life Committee was briefed today on the status of those improvements.

There are some good benchmarks indicating positive changes: In 2004, the backlog of unassigned cases was 16,800. Today, that’s been reduced to 1,113. In 2003, the average time for complaints to be resolved was 64 days. Today, it’s 16 days, with only .1% overdue.

Part of the problem was also 311 input training. That’s been accomplished and is ongoing. A reconfiguration of the 311 system was also completed, allowing calltakers to give residents the estimated time the problem will be addressed and automating assignment of code complaints to code inspectors.

Other changes include providing a means to update residents on their complaints, conducting field audits to ensure inspectors are doing their jobs correctly, and working more closely with the City Attorney’s Office.

I would like your feedback. Do you see positive changes in 311 and Code Enforcement? Where do improvements still need to be made? Email me at angela@angelahunt.com

City Budget

The City Manager briefed the Council on the proposed budget for 2006-07 (our fiscal year runs Oct. 2006 to Sept. 2007).

First, the proposed budget reduces the property tax rate — the first time in eight years — by .25 cents. At the same time, we are investing an additional $35M into public safety, hiring more police, increasing police pay, and hiring more 911/311 call-takers. This focus on public safety is critical, given our crime rate and the fact that we are ranked the number one crime city in the country. (I would point out, however, that our crime rate has fallen by 8%, year-to-date compared to last year, and 17% in District 14.)

Fuel and energy costs are increasing significantly, and an additional $27M has been budgeted for this. The sanitation fee will go up about $1/month to pay for the new recycling program with twice/week trash pick-up and twice/month recycling. (We could save $.28 if we went to once/week trash pick up and once/week recycling, like other major Texas cities, but there is not enough support yet to do this).

This budget is much more transparent than previous budgets, and is tied to our strategic plan. In January, the Council, Mayor, City Manager, and top level city staff spent two days developing our strategic plan. We gave staff some very specific goals that we would like to focus on as a city. However, I would like to see a little more specificity in how the budget items respond to our strategic goals. I’d also like to see which, if any, of our strategic goals we aren’t funding.

The most critical program that was not included in the budget is the Single-Room Occupancy Unit program for the homeless ($3M). SROs are a critical component of the City’s 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. We have a goal of more than 700 such units in ten years, but we only have 130 SROs in Dallas today. For comparison, Houston has over 1000.

Providing permanent housing for the homeless has proven to be the most effective means of addressing the homeless problem. If SROs are one of the cornerstones of our homeless policy, we need to fund them.

I need your input on the budget. Please review the briefing to Council and visit http://www.dallascityhall.com to review the proposed budget. Email me at angela.hunt@dallascityhall.com with your feedback and come to one or more of my District 14 budget townhall meetings:

Tuesday, August 22
Woodrow Wilson High School – Auditorium
100 Glasgow Dr.

Tuesday, August 29
St. Thomas Aquinas – Drama Room
3741 Abrams Rd.
(Joint meeting with Gary Griffith)

Tuesday, September 5
Frontiers of Flight Museum
6911 Lemmon Ave.

Tuesday, September 12
Arlington Hall
3333 Lee Parkway