Early voting has begun, and Election Day is Saturday, May 5 for Dallas ISD District 9. Voter turnout is expected to be low, as it is for every DISD election. In the 2015 District 9 race, only 3,922 of 53,262 registered voters cast their ballots, meaning that 7 percent of registered voters decided the election. Only 290 votes separated the winner, Trustee Bernadette Nutall, from the loser, Damarcus Offord.
Challengers Justin Henry and Edward Turner are hoping to unseat Nutall. She has held the seat for almost a decade, staving off a well-funded effort to overturn her seat in 2015. Both challengers believe it’s time for change in District 9, and say they would have voted opposite of Nutall in split board votes over the past few years. Nutall says she has fought for District 9 residents and defends her accomplishments over the past decade.
We’ve compiled this cheat sheet to help voters make a decision, if they haven’t already. Here is a quick overview of each candidate, in alphabetical order. (Ona Marie Hendricks also is on the ballot but hasn’t been actively campaigning or present at forums.)
Stats: Attorney for Dental One Partners, Inc.; 36; lives in Hollywood-Santa Monica, a conservation district in East Dallas, with his wife and two children; zoned to Lakewood Elementary, J.L. Long Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School, and sends his daughter, a kindergartner, to The Hockaday School
Cred: Henry touts his experience as a middle school math teacher in South Los Angeles, working with kids who began the school year below grade level. He has served as chair of DISD’s District 9 Task Force and the DISD Racial Equity Task Force, and as a member of DISD’s Citizen Budget Review Commission.
Motives: Henry sought out Nutall’s mentorship years ago. He filed for to run against her in 2015 but withdrew from the race. He ran this year, he says, because his former mentor’s decision-making is clouded by her distrust of other trustees. “This gate keeping system is hurting District 9. It’s hurting the whole city,” says Henry, who has made relationships and collaboration a key message of his campaign.
Top priorities: Henry strongly supports DISD’s early childhood education efforts, policies to close the racial equity gap, and “treating educators as the world-class professionals that they are.”
Stats: Executive director of the Dallas office of Urban Specialists; 42; lives in South Dallas with her husband and youngest daughter; zoned to Edna Rowe Elementary School; Lang Middle School and Skyline High School
Nutall’s oldest daughter attended DISD’s Billy Dade starting in pre-K (before it was converted into a middle school) then transferred to Hexter Elementary, then was admitted to Harry Stone for middle school and Townview for high school, where she graduated from the education cluster. Her youngest daughter attended Dallas Christian School in Mesquite starting in pre-K and remained at the private school through eighth-grade. She is now in her freshman year at the Townview law magnet.
Cred: Nutall worked as a Dallas ISD community liaison from 1995 to 2003. During that time, she founded the nonprofit Circle of Support, a summer learning program that in recent years served 300 children in South Dallas. In January she folded her nonprofit into Urban Specialists, an anti-violence organization funded by school district contracts and private donors including Stand Together, a philanthropic organization backed by conservative billionaire Charles Koch.
Motives: Nutall’s website and campaign materials don’t cite specific policies or priorities she hopes to accomplish. Her website states that her mission is “to ensure that our children have access to every possible resource and opportunity that DISD has to offer.” In an Advocate interview, Nutall conveyed that she doesn’t see her role on the board as a creator of policy because, she says, DISD has stacks of policies that aren’t followed or funded, and she questions the point of adding to it.
Top priorities: Nutall believes her job is to advocate for schools in her district by ensuring that they have the resources policy calls for. Several examples of “proven leadership” she provides on her website and mailers are her efforts to secure additional DISD bond and budget dollars for District 9 schools — H.S. Thompson Learning Center, Mata Montessori Middle School, Skyline High School, Guzick Elementary and Edna Rowe Elementary.
Stats: Independent insurance broker and education organizer for Austin Voices for Education and Youth; 37; lives in South Dallas; zoned to Martin Luther King, Jr. Learning Center; Billy Earl Dade Middle School and James Madison High School; his daughter attends Grand Prairie ISD’s Travis World Language Academy, where her mother teaches
Cred: Turner is a product of South Dallas schools, and when he returned home after college, he was “dismayed by what he found: a dwindling population that resulted in the closure of four schools by 2011. Those schools that remained open had enormous challenges to overcome.” He left the finance industry to become a community organizer for the Texas Organizing Project, and worked to engage South Dallas parents and community members in their neighborhood schools.
Motives: Turner says his involvement in South Dallas schools’ site-based decision-making committees, which advise school principals, showed him how to identify problems and make changes, but some of those changes can be made only at the top. He’s frustrated with Nutall’s voting record and her political tactics, which he views as harmful to South Dallas students. “There’s too much divisiveness on the board,” Turner says, “and you have to have someone that’s willing to work with everybody.”
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, specifically the Hollywood-Santa Monica conservation district.
For more context on Dallas ISD politics and the District 9 race, read our March cover story.
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