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A Tale Of Two Schools: South Oak Cliff High and Highland Park Fund Disparity

South Oak Cliff students stage walk out amid crumbling school conditions, but fifteen miles down the road Highland Park ISD is flush with cash.

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(AP Photo/Tom Pennington)

Colleges have always been a safe haven for civil disobedience. The right to protest has recently surfaced on a national scale at Yale, the University of Missouri, and the University of Arizona as a surging number students stage protests. High school, on the other hand, isn’t the most likely stage to express umbrage with social or political matters through organized action. This is understandable—battling raging hormones is already a hostile war.

But on Monday afternoon, about 250 students at South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas staged a walk out to protest their school’s crumbling conditions. David Johnson, one of the protest organizers and the quarterback of the football team, painted a grim picture in a statement sent to media on Sunday ahead of the protest.

The purpose of our assembling is to expose to our school board and city of Dallas, the horrible conditions of South Oak Cliff Where we attend. The building leaks… the building is cold and damp… parts of the building have classrooms with unbearable heat because the temperature cannot be regulated. Students have to be instructed in hallways instead of regular classrooms. Students have taken ill because of the temperature extremes. When it rains, the roof leaks terribly… the hallways are riddled with buckets.

The roofs and air conditioning will get fixed, it’s just a matter of when. Last month voters passed a $1.6 billion bond program that will fund a number of improvements across DISD including new classrooms, schools, and improvements to various recreational facilities. A $13 million slice of the bond will go to South Oak Cliff High School with construction set to begin next summer. But the students want it now.

The evening after the protest, DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said at a pre-scheduled community meeting that these issues are a “short-term pain for long-term gain.” He told South Oak Cliff parents and others, “That doesn’t make it any better. It’s impacting your learning; we don’t make excuses for that. However, work with us. We’re confident we can address this issue.”

But the problem goes beyond HVAC woes. Outside of leaky roofs, unbearably hot or cold classrooms, and gas leaks, students have also expressed disappointment with teachers quitting in the middle of the year. According to the Dallas Morning News, South Oak Cliff retained two-thirds of its teachers last year.

Elsewhere in Dallas, the same day the DISD bond was approved, Highland Park ISD narrowly passed a $361.4 million bond. The largest bond in the district’s history—which will fund the construction of a new elementary school, new buildings, and renovations at existing campuses—was the subject of some derision. Passing the bond would mean adding much-needed real estate to the overcrowded district, but it would also open up the opportunity for Section 8 housing to move in. Highland Park residents allegedly sent emails expressing disapproval of the bond, fearing that it would bring low-income housing projects, crime, and Middle Eastern refugees to the district.

Since Highland Park is technically its own town—a wealthy island unto itself, built and constructed as a “refuge from an increasingly diverse city”—its school district is vastly different from DISD. The bond, which comes in way below DISD’s $1.6 billion, also only covers seven schools (plus the construction of a new one) compared to the whopping 200+ schools in DISD. 

Highland Park High School is 89 percent white, 9.3 percent of its students are at risk of dropping out, and none of its students are economically disadvantaged. South Oak Cliff, on the other hand, has four white students, 84 percent of its students are at risk, and 83.8 percent are economically disadvantaged. As a whole, 68.4 percent of DISD’s students are at risk, and 85.9 are economically disadvantaged. Only 10 percent of Highland Park ISD’s students are at risk and none are economically disadvantaged.

Such is the flaw of a system that allows enclaves to erect public schools that only students with a certain net worth can access. South Oak Cliff High is less than fifteen miles from its Highland Park counterpart. One is incredibly underfunded and falling apart, and the other is easily one of the best public school in America, with families buying million dollar homes just so their kids can get a halfway decent education. In this tale of two school districts, it’s the best of schools and the worst of schools.

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  • Jed

    for shame, texas.

  • JBatchelor

    Highland Park would also be the district that has sent 1.2 billion to Austin to be redistributed to less affluent school districts since 1991. Admittedly, to their shame, most HP residents oppose recapture and they don’t deserve a pat on the back for following the law, but the State’s attempts to redistribute this wealth should be recognized. I’d think the problem here lies within DISD itself–a school district that wasn’t declared officially desegregated until 2003 and where the best school in the district (and one of the best in the country) is also awarded 30% more money per student than South Oak Cliff.

  • austindance

    Does anybody here understand property taxes? Highland parents pay more in property taxes in one year than some of the kids parents at the other school pay in a lifetime. Absolutely sickening that half our country believe hard work and discipline should not be rewarded. If you are a student and you want to go to Highland Park but your parents cannot afford to live there, take it up with them; they are the reason you are stuck living in an apartment in a shady, chaotic neighborhood which funnels into a shady, chaotic school.

    • biff

      “Hard work”. Those CEOs obviously work 400% harder than their employees. And the people who got an inheritance, well they’re hard workers too.

      Those lazy parents not working hard enough to get into Highland Park, what is redlining again?

    • Texas Take

      “Hard work and discipline,” my a$$! Old money in HP constitutes the overwhelming majority of its privileged residents who were born with platinum spoons in their mouths. The overwhelming majority of these same people have all the economic advantages possible on top of a first class public education through high school. If the majority of these folks, especially the fat soccer moms who’ve never been inconvenienced with work, ever had to do menial jobs or real hard work they’d curl up in a ball, throw a tantrum, reach for their Xanax and scream for their nannies and house maids. I’ve known many people from HP over the years and it’d be poetic justice if these blue bloods had a few thousand under-privileged families move in to their lily white fortress.

    • Indiana Pearl

      A Romney stooge – how dare you suggest that poor people don’t believe in “hard work and discipline”?

      Calvinism on steroids . . .

  • Indiana Pearl

    The rich get richer.

  • Elizabeth

    Yes, some are born with all the luxuries. But there are a lot more who have worked hard to live in Park Cities so their kids can go to these great schools. A lot of single moms who did not get a mansion in the divorce settlement or do not get a hefty child support check each month. These women work hard for that good education. I’m not going to go into statistics about government assistance and unemployed parents in other areas. It goes both ways. If you want your kids to go to better schools, find a way. You don’t have to live in a 2 million dollar home to do that.

    • wessexmom

      How many exactly are “a lot of single moms” living in HP? Please supply the stats.

      • Elizabeth

        I know there’s at least 20 and that’s just in a group I’m part of. What’s your point?

  • hooked75

    This article is totally opinionated with zero research. I teach at HPHS and our building is badly in need of repair. We, too, have leaky ceilings everywhere and buckets to catch the rain. My basement classroom often floods and most recently, it was sewage seeping through the pipes. HP sends money so all these rural high schools can have brand new buildings, lush basketball arenas, etc., while our building continues to show it was built in the 1930s. Classrooms meant for 15 students is being used for 30 students, where desks are literally side by side.
    Parents, every year, have to raise over 4 million dollars just to help cover teacher salaries because they are sending 70 cents of every dollar to schools like SOC. Don’t blame HP. Blame Dallas for neglecting SOC. DISD has the money.
    I grew up in Mesquite and live in Rowlett. Stop the jealousy and hate of HP. They are good people and want the best for their children just as we all do.

    • Phil

      Tell you what hooked, trade places for a week.

      • hooked75

        Phil, I have been there, done that. So, what did I do? I took care of myself and got in a better place. I taught at schools where kids wore ankle monitors, kids got in my face cussing me and threatening me. I had to restrain kids on a daily basis from hurting others or themselves. So, I understand working in poor conditions.
        So, instead of trying to blame HP for your condition, make a change or go do something about it. We all have to look out for ourselves because no one else is going to. That’s what is wrong with America today…blame others for wrongs and entitlement.
        HP is not excellent because of their buildings but because of the people and parents who value education.
        SOC conditions are a result of poor administation at DISD. Period. The way to make things happen is for the parents to stand up and calmly and rationally speak up for their kids.

        • Phil

          I like my condition, but I do want a more equitable system of school funding. HP’s leaky roofs are matter of choice on their part. I’ve visited HP on many occasions and heard from teachers and community members about the tradition of HP. I think that’s what you’re fighting, no one wants to change a brick, Even when its falling on their head its considered hallowed ground. But the community has a choice. I’d like a system where everyone has the choice as to whether to fix their leaky roof or not. Incidentally I do agree, the author is rather lazy in this instance, DISD is actually a property rich school district. They started giving in to the robin hood system in 2009. Better management would help. But some of those property poor rural and smaller suburbs that you mentioned, like the Mesquite community you moved away from can’t. And not everyone can pick up and move. The kids don’t have a choice where they live. Funding inequity is real in the state of Texas. In fact, many wealthy districts like HP joined in the latest lawsuit that successfully challenged the school funding system. The point of the article is that there is inequity that needs to be addressed. That is undeniable.

  • Michael

    It is easy to cast stones. This article seems to encourage doing so by the description of the Town of Highland Park. However, not all residents of the Town are CEOs or have inheritances, as I know personally. My spouse and I are both from working class families, and, sadly, we both lost our fathers in childhood. We each worked and put ourselves through college. We were fortunate enough to get good jobs and smart enough to put a down payment on a cottage in Highland Park, which we now own. We would all agree the condition of South Oak High School is deplorable. This is unacceptable. However, the condition of South Oak High School is not a result of the affluence of Highland Park. The condition of South Oak Cliff High School is a direct result of poor decision making at DISD. Period.

  • Alice Rodeo

    The proper ,and honest comparison, would be between South Oak Cliff and some of the successful (relatively) schools in the Dallas ISD. Of course there are differences between districts–some vote to tax themselves to provide services, others not so much. Why complain about it? HP sends a lot of money to Oak Cliff through the ‘Robin Hood” provisions.