Now that the date to file to run for a trustee seat in Dallas Independent Schools Board of Trustees has passed, I thought we could talk a bit about who is running, and how and when endorsements will begin to shake out.
First, the candidates. Districts 4, 5, and 7 are part of the general election. District 2 is a special election to fill the seat vacated by Mike Morath, who has been appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to helm the Texas Education Commission. Election day for the school board will be May 7, with early voting from April 25 to May 3.
In District 2, Suzanne Smith, Mita Havlick and Dustin Marshall will vie for the vacant seat. In District 3, where current trustee Nancy Bingham announced she would not be running again, three people have filed to run – Omar Jimenez, Jaime Resendez and Camile White. Marquis Hawkins and Linda Wilkerson-Wynn will join incumbent Lew Blackburn in running for the District 5 seat, while Audrey Pinkerton and Isaac Faz are running for the District 7 seat currently held by board president Eric Cowan, who announced he would not seek another term.
There was a time, not that long ago, when getting people to run for school board was nigh impossible. Elections were canceled due to uncontested races. It was hard to get a lot of information about candidates if you were trying to make an educated vote.
So seeing all these candidates is heartwarming. Think about it — this list of 10 represents people who care enough about the district to spend their time and money to run for an unpaid seat that requires lots of volunteer hours. This is amazing.
Which leads me to my next subject — endorsements. Any candidate will tell you that part of your ability to introduce yourself to voters is somewhat tied to endorsements. That individuals and organizations will vouch for you can let people know the company you keep, the ideologies you may align with, and/or how well you’ve been able to convince stakeholders of your viability.
This year, I was asked to take part in the candidate interviews for DallasKidsFirst, a political action committee that advocates for public education and often finds itself in the position of providing easy-to-grab-and-digest rundowns of school board meetings, etc.
As part of their work, they also do endorse candidates — but not before some pretty rigorous questioning. Candidates fill out a lengthy questionnaire that hits on everything from naming the successes of their district and the district, their plans to help the district even if they aren’t elected, as well as several policy related and budget-related questions. In addition to the questionnaire, each candidate is invited to be interviewed by a panel of educators, parents, and concerned citizens.
The questions are free-flowing and within a pre-determined rubric — the questions are impromptu and informal, but participants are encouraged to think of the rubric when they ask their questions, and then to grade each candidate on their responses based on the separate subjects within the rubric on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the lowest.
After the responses are tallied, the results (along with the questionnaires) are then further refined by opening up the final decision on which candidate gets endorsed to the approximately 1,500 DallasKidsFirst members, who vote. Anyone who has donated more than $200 to DallasKidsFirst in the current election cycle is excluded from the endorsement process.
Only after all of that will the organization release its recommendations, complete with the candidate’s scorecard and questionnaire.
So what was my experience? I attended the District 2 interviews (with the exception of Mita Havlick, who filed later), and later the District 3 and 7 interviews. The District 2 sessions boasted about 26 ready to grill the two candidates — a roomful of educators, parents and concerned citizens. The District 3 and 7 sessions boasted 15 — again, a mix of educators, parents and citizens. All three sessions were full of smart, informed questions. All three sessions (in my experience covering town halls, debates, candidate forums, and editorial board interviews) probably left candidates feeling like they had really been grilled. While the atmosphere was congenial, nobody pulled any punches, either.
As we get closer to early voting and we have a bigger slate of endorsements to consider, I plan on again reviewing the candidates as I did in the previous school board election. In the meantime, consider participating in an upcoming story on what makes a good school board candidate by emailing me with your response to the following questions:
Can you describe your “dream” school board trustee? If you could build one from scratch, what qualities would he or she have?