Early voting starts today in the City of Dallas mayoral election, six city council elections and three Dallas ISD trustee elections. We’ve told you that a few hundred votes can make all the difference on the school board; the question is, how should you vote?

The first thing to do is determine whether you can vote in the Dallas ISD elections. The board has nine members who serve three-year terms, and three districts are up for election every cycle. This year it’s District 1, in the Preston Hollow/North Dallas area; District 9; which is mostly southern Dallas but also loops in Hollywood/Santa Monica in East Dallas; and District 3, which includes portions of our neighborhood east of White Rock Lake. (The west side of the lake is represented mainly by District 2 Trustee Mike Morath, who ran unopposed last spring.)

The Ferguson Road Initiative should be very interested in the District 3 race because all of its East Dallas and Far East Dalllas neighborhoods — including Forest Hills, Little Forest Hills, Casa Linda Estates and the Greater Casa View Alliance — will be represented by the election’s winner. In fact, residents east of the lake hold quite a bit of political power in this election because they will choose not only a Dallas ISD trustee but also a city councilman.

Here’s a quick and easy way to find out whether you are eligible to vote, and if you can, here’s what you should know:

District 3 race: Incumbent Trustee Dan Micciche vs. David Lewis:

Micciche, an attorney with Akin Gump and a three-year board veteran, has received every major endorsement possible in this election. That’s especially a feat among the business community vs. teacher union PACs, which typically are split in their endorsements, but in Micciche’s case, both sides lined up behind him.

Though he has served only one term, Micciche has made it count, championing the district’s breakfast in the classroom program to give low-income students a solid start to the academic day; and convincing his board colleagues to launch a district-wide volunteer tutoring initiative with proven (and impressive) results. Both efforts, one funded by federal dollars and the other made possible by volunteers’ time, cost Dallas ISD taxpayers almost nothing to help the district’s children with the most significant needs.

Micciche is neither a vocal supporter nor an outspoken critic of controversial Superintendent Mike Miles. He tends to be a swing vote on the board, concerned less with political alliances than in the big picture, which, in his view, is making sure the district’s 140,000-plus impoverished students have the best shot possible at a bright future. The DMN’s “enthusiastic” endorsement describes Micciche as “a thoughtful, calming voice of reason on an often fractious board. He doesn’t put politics over leadership, and he has a positive working relationship with other trustees.”

Lewis, a mobile DJ and Truett Elementary dad, “seems to be a sincere and concerned parent,” as the DMN said in its endorsement, and “communicat[es] with parents, staff and leadership at Truett Elementary to increase visibility of parent volunteers,” according to Dallas Kids First. The general assessment among endorsement committees is that Lewis is the kind of parent every PTA covets but is not yet knowledgeable or experienced enough to serve on the Dallas ISD board.

Kudos to Lewis, though, for turning his frustrations with Dallas ISD into positive energy at his school and beyond. His recently created campaign video, set against a blues soundtrack, opens with, “The DISD leaders are giving me the blues, so instead of complaining, I’m running for the board.”

District 9 race: Incumbent Bernadette Nutall vs. Damarcus Offord

There’s a bit of déjà vu in this race, which took place three years ago between the same two candidates. In 2012 Nutall, the executive director of non-profit Circle for Support, handily won the race and claimed the endorsements from Offord, who was then an unemployed recent high school graduate. What a difference three years makes, however, at least in terms of campaign finances and endorsements for these two candidates.

Nutall still has the support of the teacher unions as well as the DMN, which “reluctantly” recommended her as a trustee. “She’s smart and energetic, but too often, she wastes her talent with maddeningly disruptive dealings with Dallas school board colleagues and Superintendent Mike Miles,” the endorsement stated. Dallas Kids First, which gave its endorsement to Offord (upgrading his 2012 F to a B-), says it is “concerned about Nutall’s apparent lack of a working relationship with her colleagues on the board” and also that “Nutall is not leveraging her experience to improve the education opportunities of DISD students.” The Alliance/AFT, however, lauds her because she “believes in greater transparency and greater accountability from administration and community inclusiveness.”

This time around, Dallas Kids First and Educate Dallas both have thrown their support (and their money) behind Offord. The 23-year-old is still young, has earned as associate’s degree since the last election and when asked his profession, says simply that he is a “consultant.” The DMN says Offord is “not an option” because he is “simply too green for the job.” Dallas Kids First, though agreeing with the DMN that Offord is “unproven” and that his inexperience will be a “significant learning curve” on the board, believes that “for a District 9 trustee to have a working relationship with a DISD superintendent would be a step in the right direction for students.”

Offord also nabbed the endorsements of longtime city councilmembers Dwaine Caraway and Carolyn Davis, further leading to the conclusion that several factions of the Dallas political community are ready for a less fractious voice on the board, whomever that might be. DMN editorial writer Tod Roberson warns against the apparent momentum of the anybody-but-Nutall movement, but considering the low turnout for Dallas ISD elections, this race, and the two others, will be determined by the few voters who make the effort to show up at the polls.

Hollywood/Santa Monica residents, whose homes are zoned to Lakewood Elementary, will help elect either Nutall or Offord. Nutall’s recent record concerning their neighborhood school includes her attempt last spring to delay a vote that allowed the underpopulated Eduardo Mata Elementary to become a Montessori school of choice. Overcrowding at nearby Lakewood was a factor in this board policy change, but Nutall voted against it saying she instead favored changing attendance boundaries for Mata and Lakewood so that “all our children benefit.” Nutall echoed her support of Lakewood attendance boundary changes during a recent board vote on funds for the district’s immediate facility needs; in the end, however, she voted to spend more than $130 million to address these needs, including $12.6 million for Lakewood Elementary.

For a more in-depth look at the candidates, read their answers to questions from the the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (District 3, District 9) and the Dallas Morning News voter guide (District 3, District 9) as well as the candidate scorecards given by Dallas Kids First (an A for Micciche and a D for Lewis; a C- for Nutall and a B- for Offord).
In addition, the candidates have the endorsements of:

Dallas Morning News: Micciche, Nutall

Dallas Kids First: Micciche, Offord

Educate Dallas: Micciche, Offord

NEA-Dallas: Micciche, Nutall

Alliance/AFT: Micciche, Nutall

The Real Estate Council: Micciche, Offord

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