Justin Henry and Edward Turner are making the case for change in Dallas ISD District 9, a seat that has been held by Trustee Bernadette Nutall since late 2008. Both men say they would preside over the district differently than the incumbent and, perhaps more telling, both would cast opposite votes on issues and policies that earned Nutall a failing grade from a local education PAC.
Dallas Kids First has endorsed both Henry and Turner in the race against Nutall. The PAC supported the incumbent in 2012, her first bid for reelection, but switched to her opponents in both 2015 and this year. Nutall says she was put “in the outhouse” because she argued with the reform-minded PAC and didn’t always vote the way they wanted her to.
Camila Correa Bordeau, the executive director of Dallas Kids First, agrees.
“It just became more clear, maybe kids are no longer the focus. Maybe student outcomes and achievement don’t contribute to the decision. Maybe there are other pressure points that influence how Bernadette is voting,” Bordeau says.
The PAC’s vote tracker keeps a running tally of how DISD board members vote, and because Nutall declined to participate in the interviews and questionnaires for Dallas Kids First’s scorecard process, the PAC released a list of “crucial no votes” cast by Nutall, dating back to 2013.
We asked Henry and Turner how they would have voted differently, and they told us that in every case Nutall voted no, they would have voted yes.
In May 2017, the board made DISD a District of Innovation, providing flexibility to its calendar start date and allowing Dallas County Community College District professors and technical industry experts to be hired when a certified teacher is not available. In August 2014, they approved $300,000 to support national teacher recruitment efforts for hard-to-fill teaching spots. Nutall voted against both measures.
“If our goal is truly to provide the best education possible for all students, why would we want to leave positions vacant rather than hire DCCCD professors and industry experts? Makes no sense,” Turner says. “We have a serious shortage of teachers in core subjects like math and science, and one-half of the full-time teacher vacancies are in the three southern districts. We must do something to attract teachers.”
One of the most publicly controversial items on which Nutall and her opponents disagree is whether the district should take a tax ratification election (TRE) to voters. DISD administrators have brought the issue to the board twice over the past two years, in hopes of asking local residents to pay more in property taxes to make up for funds administrators say the state isn’t providing. In both cases, none of the TRE possibilities received at least six of the nine trustee votes, the supermajority it needs to become a ballot measure.
DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa spoke to trustees last week about bringing yet another TRE before them in August, which voters would consider in November. Whether the third time will be the charm may depend partly on who is in the District 9 seat.
“I not only supported sending the TRE to voters,” Turner says, “I actively worked for the 13-cent or 6-cent versions, which would have overcome the projected $80 million budget deficit.” The Texas Organizing Project, Turner’s former employer, “hosted community meetings and received input indicating that voters would have supported the TRE.”
Nutall has defended her stance against the higher TRE proposals and emphasized that she voted in favor of a 2-cent TRE and tax swap, which also failed. Turner argues, however, that “the last-minute proposal by some trustees was too little, too late: a 2-cent increase would have barely made a dent in the budget needs.”
Henry, too, believes that overwhelming community support of a tax ratification election, as well as the $1.6 billion 2015 bond election, which Nutall also opposed, should have been supported by the community’s trustees. He would have supported both, he says, “on the basis of potential increased academic achievement and equitable opportunities. However, I also support them based on the idea of allowing voters in our community to determine, after an intensive and transparent communication process with the community, whether they would like to commit more funds to our public schools.”
District 9 touches up-and-coming neighborhoods such as the Cedars, Deep Ellum, the Farmer’s Market area, apartments along Ross Avenue and portions of Downtown. It encompasses South Dallas, and even stretches into parts of East Dallas, such as the Hollywood-Santa Monica conservation district.
The Dallas ISD District 9 election is Saturday, May 5, and early voting begins next Monday, April 23. Read more on the race and on the recent history of Dallas ISD politics in our March story.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Texas Organizing Project is Edward Turner’s current employer, and that Hollywood Santa Monica is a historic district.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.