School board runoff caps off election season in Dallas

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Officially the presidential election ended over a month ago (tantrums from President Trump notwithstanding). In Dallas, however, there is still one local runoff race for the Dallas Independent School District Board of Trustees that is very much a bellwether for public education in the state.

Nancy Rodriguez is challenging Dustin Marshall, a two-term DISD Trustee in District 2, with a forced runoff Tuesday. In the November general election, Rodriguez captured 45.2 percent of the vote to Marshall’s 40.1 percent. Because nobody received over fifty percent of the vote, a runoff was triggered. 

School board races are typically low-vote, low-publicity elections around the country, but for District 2 the sprint to the finish has been frenetic with wild accusations about website tampering (which Rodriguez denies) and partisan jabs.

As a challenger, Rodriguez has positioned herself as the champion for public schools. In Dallas, she has been affiliated with DISD for over eight years as a parent, volunteer, and an employee in a special education program. Her website lists a number of issues she supports, including transparency and accountability, supporting teachers, and repairing special education.

Marshall, who is the CEO of a freight and logistics company, does not have children enrolled in DISD (three of his children attend a private school). This is his third run-off election after being victorious in the past two. On his website, he lists a number of priorities, including support for magnet and choice schools and the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI), a merit-based pay system that rewards teachers for students STAAR standardized test scores.

TEI has been a controversial addition in Dallas. The National Education Association-Dallas filed a class action grievance over TEI in 2015. The grievance was denied in a state district court, and then in the Third Court of Appeals. In January, NEA-Dallas filed an appeal with the Texas State Supreme Court.

Rodriguez has the backing of NEA-Dallas, as well as Alliance AFT and the Texas Organizing Project. Marshall has endorsements from State Senator Nathan Johnson, State Rep. Rafael Anchia, State Rep. John Turner, and many former Republican elected officials.

Like many school districts, DISD is facing unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over a third of families in Dallas live without reliable internet, making virtual learning nearly impossible. DISD has been working hard to try and boost internet providers, even building cell towers in south Dallas.

Recent test scores have shown Dallas students are performing poorly in the wake of COVID-19. Only 13 percent of third graders are testing well enough to meet or exceed their grade level. But the loss is hard to capture just with test scores. The future of DISD has never been more important, and the District 2 runoff will certainly give some clarity in how the Board of Trustees navigates such an unprecedented challenge.

Photo: Nancy Rodriguez

(Full Disclosure: Before joining Texas Signal I made a small dollar contribution to Nancy Rodriguez.)

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