Council Briefings: Citizen Survey and Federal Stimulus Funds

This morning, the council has gotten two very informative briefings.

FIRST BRIEFING: The results of the 2009 Citizen Survey that analyzes residents’ satisfaction (or lack thereof) with a broad range of city services. High points:

Overall satisfaction with city services has improved greately during the past 2 years.
* Among 109 areas that were assessed on the City’s survey in both 2007 & 2009
– Ratings IMPROVED in 91 areas
– Ratings STAYED THE SAME in 6 areas
– Ratings DECREASED in just 12 areas
* Overall satisfaction with city services in Dallas is significantly higher than the national average

SECOND BRIEFING: An overview of the projects for which the city has requested Federal Economic Stimulus Funds.

Trinity Project: It’s Time for Plan B

I’ve written an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News describing “Plan B” for the Trinity Project:

Join me at a Dallas City Council meeting five years from now:

It’s 2014. Under Mayor Tom Leppert’s plan, the Trinity toll road should have opened last year, but its construction hasn’t even begun. It remains mired in federal safety analyses due to concerns about its effect on Dallas’ levees. The North Texas Tollway Authority bowed out in early 2011 when it determined it could not fund the now $2.4 billion project.

City staff reluctantly informs the council and mayor that there is no way to bridge the enormous funding gap. The buckets of money once touted to finance the road have been spent on other more critical transportation needs in the region. Less than half of the city’s $84 million in bond funds for the road remains. Continue reading

Want to Collect Signatures for My Re-Election?

I’ll be running for re-election to the City Council in May, and must collect signatures to file for a place on the ballot. If you’d like to help me, you can download the form. Note that it must be printed on legal size paper, and (more importantly), only registered voters who are residents of District 14 may sign. You also have to have the petition pages notarized when you’ve finished gathering signatures (not each signature has to be notarized, just your affidavit swearing that you explained to people what they were signing).

I have to turn in the forms next week, so I’ll need to get the forms back by next Monday. Just shoot me an email at if you can help and I will arrange to have the forms picked up from you. I appreciate your help!

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).