Just five years ago, the Dallas Independent School District had to cancel elections for lack of interest. This year, a bumper crop of 12 candidates have chosen to run for four seats – and only one of those 12 is an incumbent.
People are taking Dallas ISD seriously these days. It’s an exciting time to be involved in making policy that will guide the district and a time that will require the board to really roll up their sleeves and get to work.
I’d love to tell you that every single race is being broached with, as my 5-year-old says, “kind words and kind hands.” But with stakes high and emotions higher, some of the races have gotten a little muddy, which is a shame. Hopefully, all involved can slough off the mud and put their dirt away in this home stretch, and reconfirm their resolve to do what is right for the kids, sticking to the issues.
Still, the passion I’ve seen for these unpaid positions is encouraging. It would be great if all that passion can be the start of some incredible community involvement in Dallas schools, regardless of who wins.
As I did in the last school board election, I will be breaking down each race and assigning a mathematical value to key endorsements for a final score. Because of the volume of candidates, I’ll be featuring one race a day through Sunday. Early voting begins Monday and lasts until May 3, with Election Day on May 7. For information on early voting, click here.
Today we will take a look at District 2, which is basically a misshapen doughnut that includes the Lakewood area, Preston Hollow, and the North Dallas High School feeder pattern (the hole would be the Park Cities).
Dustin Marshall, Suzanne Smith, Mita Havlick and Carlos Marroquin are vying for the seat left open after Mike Morath was tapped by Gov. Greg Abbott to become the new Texas Education Agency commissioner.
So first let me explain my methodology for coming up with this scoring system. Experience, I think, should be given some weight. So it is assigned a number value of one. Endorsements should matter too, so those are also given a value of 1. While it may not seem fair that incumbents have a head start, as you will see when I break down each district, if an incumbent is facing a favored challenger it doesn’t make a huge difference.
I considered six sets of endorsements in this system, largely because the organizations providing them have a regular history of endorsing candidates. Those endorsements are The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Kids First, Educate Dallas, the NEA, Alliance AFT, and The Real Estate Council PAC. In this race, Alliance AFT did not endorse a candidate and there is no incumbent, so there will be a possible score of 5 (DMN, DKF, Educate Dallas, NEA, TREC).
Total score: 0/5
Mita Havlick has a physics degree and previous experience in IT but is now a stay-at-home mom who by all accounts has been involved in the schools her children attend. She is a former member of Stonewall Jackson’s Site-Based Decision Making Committee and is notably the only candidate with children attending Dallas ISD schools (more on that in a minute).
Total score: 0/5
Marroquin is a longtime substitute teacher in Dallas ISD schools, and until last year was an area director for the Service Employees International Union. His children attend Ursuline and St. Monica’s, both Catholic schools. He is a product of W.T. White High School.
Dallas Kids First +1
Dallas Morning News +1
Educate Dallas +1
The Real Estate Council +1
Total score: 4/5
Marshall has won pretty much every single major endorsement, and he has shown his interest in Dallas schools through his leadership positions with organizations like Reading Partners and Woodrow High School’s Community Foundation. Through the former, he has a keen awareness of the issues facing an urban district like Dallas and has expressed firm resolve in continuing the pre-K expansion and data-driven reforms that have Dallas ISD making gains. His children attend Greenhill School.
Total score: 1/5
Suzanne Smith heads up her own non-profit consultancy firm and has done a great deal of pro-bono work for the city, primarily on boards addressing the bountiful issues surrounding the south Dallas and Fair Park areas, as well as the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty. While her work hasn’t directly involved Dallas public schools, there is an argument to be made that with many schools hitting a 90 percent or higher Free and Reduced Lunch rate (the common benchmark for measuring poverty), a better-than-working knowledge of the grinding poverty the district is dealing with is an asset. Smith does not have children, but if she did, they would be in the North Dallas High feeder pattern.
My two cents on District 2: Should whether or not a candidate has children attending Dallas ISD schools be a qualifier? We will see if voters in District 2 think so, and soon. Several endorsements have mentioned that while Havlick does have children attending DISD, her focus has been narrowed to the Lakewood/East Dallas area, and in fact, I have not seen much of her west of Central Expressway. She has also shown some troubling signs of either sloppy messaging or intentional antagonism of some parents in her district, which is disheartening since community buy-in is so important to the health of the district as a whole.
As for Marshall and Smith, I’m encouraged by both candidates’ wide range of knowledge of the district – both their district and the district at large. Of all four candidates, these two are the two that have the most depth of knowledge in regards to the real problems the district faces, and both seem to have their thumbs on the pulse of national trends and programs as well. I am curious, though, if some of these endorsements would’ve been different if Smith had released her detailed action plan for the district much earlier. As it stands, District 2 is lucky to have two outstanding choices, and I hope all four candidates continue to expand their service to Dallas public schools no matter how the election plays out.
And I know, I know, some of you feel super strongly about Dallas Kids First. But if you’re wanting to know where your candidate’s heart is, take a gander at each candidate’s Dallas Kids First questionnaire, and look at question 16, which asks each candidate to explain what their involvement in Dallas ISD will look like if they aren’t elected.
Friday we will take a look at District 4.