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Area students give Perry a piece of their minds

03/15/2011 11:15 PM

03/16/2011 6:30 AM

RICHARDSON -- You can always count on an arts magnet high school to throw a good protest.

Students from Dallas' Booker T. Washington High School lived up to their fame Tuesday, waving signs that looked more like art-class projects as Gov. Rick Perry talked about a new $2.45 million state grant for a corporate relocation but not about money for their school.

Sophomore Alex Joyce's sign read, "Shave Your Hair -- Not Our Budget." One of her classmates carried a brightly lettered purple sign: "At Least My Gun Will Go to College."

"What's going to happen," Joyce asked, looking into the not-so-distant future, "when he's on retirement and the economy isn't thriving because of Texas' schools? I think we'll cut his retirement."

First of all, there is no sign Perry intends to retire.

Second, there is considerable disagreement about whether a tighter budget would do irreparable damage to all of Texas' 1,031 school districts, many of them way too small and way too focused on preserving district boundaries instead of serving taxpayers, parents and kids.

Inside the Hyatt Regency North Dallas, Richardson school board Vice President Karen Ellis smiled when I asked why no students from her district were protesting.

"We're in better shape than a lot of other districts," she said.

Richardson, rated as recognized in the state accountability system, faces $8 million in cuts and might assign teachers six classes a day instead of five, The Dallas Morning News has reported.

But Dallas school officials have talked about cutting 3,100 teachers, including half of Booker T. Washington's faculty.

Ellis said the finance system the Legislature created in 2006 inherently left districts short on cash. She disagreed with Perry's comment last week that if teachers are fired, that'll be a "local decision."

"For some districts, it's devastating," she said.

In his speech, Perry announced a grant to bring the Virtual Computing Environment Co. and 434 "high-paying jobs" to Richardson instead of California.

He made only a passing reference to schools.

Texas will fund "transparent and accountable institutions of learning," he promised.

If students hold Perry accountable -- that is their own local decision.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Twitter @budkennedy

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