With less than 300 votes separating incumbent Dustin Marshall and challenger Lori Kirkpatrick in the May election for Dallas ISD District 2 trustee, voters will make their way to the polls again for a runoff election — beginning with early voting, which starts today.
Just kidding. A handful of voters will make their way to the polls and the rest will comment on a story I write about something happening in Dallas ISD about six months from now and will kvell about how we need better leadership for school board.
And if you knew how much it costs to have an election, you’d probably realize you need to get to the polls. We’re frittering away money. Here’s a breakdown I found of a 2015 election bill Dallas County gave the city. Spend some time poking around and realize we’re paying for this twice every time we have a general election AND a runoff election.
I’ve been doing this a long time.
Less than 8 percent of registered voters voted on May 6 in Dallas County. In some precincts of District 2, nobody voted. In others, less than 10. In yet others, less than five. And right now, during early voting, it’s the easiest thing in the world you can do.
Dallas County literally has a map for you. And the hours give you even less of a reason not to vote — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 5 and 6. Election Day is June 10, and if you need to know your precinct, it’s as easy as clicking here.
Unsure of how you want to vote? Just like last year, I’ve sent both Marshall and Kirkpatrick the same questions to give you a better idea of where they candidates stand. This is not meant to be an exhaustive view — rather another snapshot to give District 2 voters more information.
A previous rundown is here, and you can also study their responses from Dallas Kids First (Marshall, Kirkpatrick) and the Dallas Morning News. The Lakewood Advocate has video of a debate, and a forum, as well.
My questions and each candidate’s answers follow. None of the responses have been edited.
How many DISD campuses have you visited in the past two years?
Kirkpatrick: I have probably visited somewhere around 20 campuses over the past two years. My daughter attends Lakewood Elementary and she will ultimately attend J.L. Long Middle and Woodrow Wilson High School and I’ve visited these schools. Additionally I have toured several schools as part of my campaign for this Trustee seat. I especially enjoyed visiting Dan D. Rogers and meeting Principal Lovato, who won Principal of the Year this year, and learning about the personalized learning curriculum. Also, I provide medical care to DISD students at several of the DISD campus based Youth & Family clinics, so I am familiar with those campuses.
Marshall: Since I was elected as the D2 Trustee in June of 2016, I have visited each of the 15 schools in my district many times. I’ve also visited at least 20 other DISD schools (not in my Trustee District) in that time period. In fact, I reserve time every Friday to visit schools. Prior to becoming a Trustee, I had visited approximately 50 schools over the prior year.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to successful schools in Dallas?
Kirkpatrick: Funding is the biggest obstacle, or should I say the lack thereof. The corporate education reform movement has successfully lobbied and infiltrated our legislature, which has resulted in the passage of policies down in Austin that defund public education. This started with the $5.4 billion public education funding cut in 2011 from which the schools have never recovered. We have fewer funds available to us now in 2017 per pupil than we did in 2010. Texas is 48th in the nation in per pupil funding by some reports and that is simply unacceptable. The continued push to pass a voucher law and the sharing of taxpayer money with privately run charter schools (that do not have the same accountability standards) makes it increasingly challenging for public schools to meet the needs of every child.
Marshall: Poverty is the biggest obstacle that we face, but socioeconomic status is not destiny. We have high poverty schools in the district that are successful despite this obstacle. In these schools, it is the leadership of an effective Principal and the talent and dedication of excellent teachers that help us to overcome this obstacle. Since the district is unlikely to be able to eliminate poverty, we need to focus on building a pipeline of high-quality school leaders and ensure that we have an effective teacher in front of every classroom.
Your district is large and varied, containing arguably the most affluent school in the district and some of the poorest.
- How do you presently advocate for the needs of all the students in your district?
- And how will you make sure you can address the needs of every student in your district, and effectively advocate for them?
Kirkpatrick: Meeting the needs of each and every one of our students starts with sound policy and presently I speak out loud and clear in support of sound public education policy. For instance, I adamantly supported the public education resolution earlier this year that urged our legislature to increase funding, oppose vouchers and oppose the A-F campus grading system. It was irresponsible for our current Trustee to oppose this resolution. These are policies directly impacting each and every child in the District. We must seize this and every opportunity to advocate for DISD and I am the candidate who will certainly do so.
I will ensure that I address the needs of every student in District 2 by engaging in the following:
- I will make a concerted effort to reach out to those in our district who are not native English speakers to make sure that they are able to get the services that they need.
- I will make myself available to the community and listen, not just to the loudest voices, but to the voices of those stakeholders that are often underrepresented, which includes those children with special needs. Right now, DISD is not meeting their needs.
- I will collaborate with parent leaders, administrators, teachers, and community leaders so that we can make sure to best meet the needs of all of our children, regardless of economic or racial background.
Marshall: I have worked diligently for the last 17 years as a public school advocate. I’ve helped to open two schools, I’ve been a mentor and tutor to dozens of students, and I’ve helped to open 18 literacy centers in DISD schools. Since becoming a Trustee, I have focused on understanding the needs of each school in my district, and I’ve acted to meet their specific needs. I visit all my schools frequently, and I have held Coffee Events in the community every few weeks since I’ve been elected to better understand the needs of the District. I’ve also formed a Parent Advisory Council made up of two parents from each of the schools in my district to ensure I understand campus needs.
Based on the feedback that I’ve received, I’ve led initiatives to overhaul the Transfer Policy in order to alleviate overcrowding at Long and Woodrow, and I’ve worked to scale up our initiatives to help our homeless students by getting the administration to agree to open Homeless Drop-In Centers in all DISD High Schools.
I’ve also helped with school-specific issues ranging from the Bridge Plan construction projects at Stonewall and Lakewood, to helping improve the playground at Lipscomb, to working with the City to get more parking at Woodrow, to helping our deaf children get cochlear implants at Sudie Williams, to working with the administration to ensure our International Baccalaureate schools have dedicated annual funds, to spearheading efforts to improve the quality and safety of our transportation vendor.
I dedicate over 20 hours each week to advocating for the needs of all the kids in my district (and throughout DISD), and if elected I will continue with this same level of dedication.
Please provide your elevator pitch for Dallas ISD to a prospective parent who has a negative perception of the district.
Kirkpatrick: DISD has many great things going for it. This year we had six high school seniors with acceptance letters to Harvard. We have two magnet schools ranked as top high schools by US News & World Report. We have implemented a choice school program and are on track to have 35 choice schools by 2020. These schools are open to anyone in the District, space available, who would like to experience the unique concept the school is offering. Additionally DISD has a collegiate academy program whereby it is possible to earn an associates degree (free of charge) and graduate from high school at the same time. Also we have partnered with industry leaders and our students have the opportunity to intern with and learn from some of the best and most innovative companies in Dallas. We offer Spanish language immersion and dual language programs at many of our neighborhood schools and we are expanding our International Baccalaureate program across the District.
Marshall: Dallas ISD has made great strides over the last several years. In fact, it may surprise you to know that DISD has moved from the 24th performance percentile among school districts in the state to the 82nd. In addition to our outstanding magnet schools that rank amongst the top schools in the country, we have exciting programs throughout our neighborhood schools ranging from Dual Language, to Montessori, to International Baccalaureate, to STEM academies. We’ve also got a growing portfolio of open enrollment ”Choice Schools” throughout the district, and our Early College High Schools give kids the opportunity to graduate High School with 60 hours of free college credit and an Associate’s Degree. We also have award-winning athletic, art, music, and extracurricular programs throughout the district. We truly have more options than you can find anywhere else, and we have amazing teachers and Principals which make the schools run every day!
What do you see as being the biggest strengths of your opponent?
Kirkpatrick: One of his biggest strengths is that he does reach out to people and is responsive. Unfortunately, it’s the policies he supports that are the problem and the fact that he is beholden to certain financial backers. He receives enormous financial backing from many individuals and organizations that are seeking to negatively impact public education, particularly from the reform movement that seeks to privatize public school systems throughout the country. As an example, he has the support and endorsement of Mayor Rawlings. This is the same Mayor who pushed for a Home Rule Charter just three years ago. The Home Rule movement was funded largely by billionaire John Arnold, a Houston, Texas resident (and former Enron executive) and proposed making DISD one big charter school, dismantling the elected Board of Trustees and replacing it with people appointed by the Mayor. If you take a look at his endorsers and financial backers, it’s a who’s who of the people behind that movement in 2014.
Marshall: My opponent is a strong communicator and has done an excellent job of appealing to teachers and to a segment of our district that is understandably very frustrated with our national political dynamics.
And if elected, would you reach out to your opponent to avail yourself of those strengths if the occasion arose?
Kirkpatrick: I would reach out to him because it is important as a Trustee to hear all sides and all opinions. It would be doing the children of DISD a disservice for any Trustee to only listen to one side.
Marshall: I would certainly reach out to my opponent (and to all interested community members) to gather a wide array of opinions and to leverage their skills for the betterment of the district. In fact, I have reached out to both of my primary opponents from my last election, Mita Havlick and Suzanne Smith on multiple occasions. Both have endorsed me in this race.
If not elected, what will you do to help both your district and the district as a whole? Be specific.
Kirkpatrick: I will continue to keep myself abreast of the issues facing DISD as well as speaking out when necessary. I will continue to follow the board meetings and progress and I will continue to volunteer as I have for the past several years in my daughter’s school. I will continue in the grassroots work that I have been doing on both the local and state level.
Marshall: Prior to running for Trustee, I played an active leadership role in a number of educational non-profit organizations serving DISD children. When I decided to run for Trustee, I resigned from those positions. If I am not reelected, I would likely return to leadership roles in several of those organizations including Reading Partners and Dallas Afterschool. I would also look for other high-performing non-profit organizations serving DISD which I could help to scale.
How would you define a “progressive” candidate? What are the policy hallmarks of such a candidate?
Kirkpatrick: I think of a progressive as someone wanting more social and economic equality. I would define a progressive candidate as one who wants to change the status quo. One of the issues that I have with the corporate education reform movement is the fact that they use the word “reform”. They give the impression that they are progressive when they are not. For many years, DISD has been controlled by a select few. As a result, our students have suffered. Yes, we have some great schools in the district but a handful is not enough. A progressive candidate wants to ensure that all voices are heard and represented. A school board, for example, should not be run by those with an elite corporate agenda. While CEOs and big money do have a role to play in our system of education, I believe they are best utilized by public/private partnerships rather than having them control our children’s education for their own self interests. In the context of a school board, in particular, a progressive candidate wants to improve public education, not eradicate it. A progressive candidate wants to involve all stakeholders and not limit or eliminate democratic institutions like a school board. A progressive candidate wants to use taxpayer money to improve our neighborhood schools and not give it away to charters schools that have little accountability to parents and taxpayers.
Marshall: I believe the word “progressive” can have a politically charged meaning just as the words “education reform” can have different meanings to different people. From my perspective, a strong school board candidate (in a high-poverty urban district like DISD) must have a strong orientation towards continual improvement based on data and evidence. You must have the backbone to stand up to people and to organizations who have a vested interest in protecting a status quo that is failing a large number of students. The ideal school board candidate would support policies that have been shown to improve educational outcomes. Examples include support for the expansion of high quality Pre-K, overhaul of the discipline policy to eliminate out of school suspensions for our youngest students, support of Principal empowerment, and a focus on policies that improve our ability to recruit, develop, and retain high quality teachers. I have supported all of these policies.