As usual with DISD, despite all the whining and complaining, when it comes time to do something about it, voters are by-and-large absent. That was the case Wednesday night, when incumbent Leigh Ann Ellis faced off against three District 3 (click here for a link to the map) challengers before a crowd of about 50 people on a dreary, rainy evening at Reinhardt Elementary sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Neighborhood resident Roger Kallenberg moderated the debate.

For months, blogs and public meetings have been humming with talk about how the DISD board members need to be thrown out in the upcoming election, but the mood Wednesday night was downright blase about the Nov. 3 election, which is projected to draw a turnout of two to five percent of registered voters.

For the most part, the discussion among the candidates Wednesday didn’t do much to stir strong feelings, either. Alone among the candidates, for example, Ellis surprisingly said that she considered voting to fire DISD Supt. Michael Hinojosa "three times" during the past year for reasons that she said had nothing to do with the obvious problems — the budget debacle and the resulting RIF, for example.

But she told the crowd that continuity on Ross Avenue was more important to the district than her apparent occasional disgust with Hinojosa. Meanwhile, the other three candidates — Penny Anderly, Bruce Parrott and Bea Martinez, all self-proclaimed clean-up candidates who I would have expected to come down on Hinojosa to distinguish themselves from the incumbent — said they didn’t plan to terminate Hinojosa, if elected. Ellis pointed out that DISD’s academic achievements have improved in recent years, and she hoped to keep that trend improving; the other candidates seemed more concerned about DISD’s dropout rate and getting parents more involved in their children’s education and other boiler-plate topics there’s really nothing the DISD board can do much about.

Whether the delayed election, approved by DISD’s board but later rescinded after a legal opinion by the Texas Attorney General’s office, results in Ellis being swept out of office remains to be seen, but it was the only issue of the night that really separated the challengers from the incumbent. All of the challengers badgered Ellis about her vote to delay the election, while Ellis responded that the board had three separate legal opinions OKing the move and said the board’s intent was to save about $250,000 (the cost of a DISD election) in voting to delay the election for a year.

Otherwise, compared with the other candidates, Ellis seemed most in command of the facts during the one-hour debate, which featured a number of questions from the audience. Anderly spoke intelligently but seemed like kind of a sourpuss for some reason. Parrott seemed detached and a little overmatched, in my opinion. And Martinez was the best and most measured speaker, but a lot of what she said just didn’t seem to make much sense.

So there you have it: These are my opinions only, so I recommend you check out the candidates’ websites (you can find the links by clicking on their names in this post) prior to voting. And I hope you’ll vote. But based on what I saw Wednesday night, it doesn’t look like many of you will be doing that.


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