The battle for Dallas ISD Board of Trustee District 2 continues after none of the candidates received a majority in the general election.
Challenger Lori Kirkpatrick topped incumbent Dustin Marshall by 291 votes in the May 6 contest, according to final but unofficial results. Charter schoolteacher Richard D. Young finished a distant third with 335 votes. However, his 3 percent showing was enough to prevent Kirkpatrick from winning outright. She finished with 49.79 percent of the vote and will now square off against Marshall in a runoff.
“I could feel that we were picking up momentum,” Kirkpatrick said. “People I met at the door were excited, and more people were signing up to volunteer.”
This is familiar territory for Marshall, who won a runoff in last year’s special election by 42 votes.
“We’ve been down this road before,” he said. “This election had a city council race at the same time, and that changed a lot of the voter dynamics. We won’t have the same dynamic in the runoff, and I expect it to be more similar to last year.”
One of the most contentious issues in the election has been the state’s new A-F school evaluation system. Supporters of the plan say it will be a more effective way to evaluate schools while critics argue that it is the first step towards school vouchers, which they say would siphon money away from public education to private schools.
In January, Dallas joined more that 60 other North Texas school districts in passing a formal resolution that called for state legislature to scrap A-F. Marshall was one of two trustees who opposed the measure.
“When you are sitting on a public school board and have the opportunity to vote against vouchers and don’t, that’s just unacceptable,” Kirkpatrick said. “His rational is to give the A-F system a chance, but we all know that A-F is a pretext to vouchers. Why are you supporting something that has a negative impact on public education, and particularly the impoverished?”
Instead of A-F, Kirkpatrick supports improving DISD’s existing evaluation system. She said she would focus on finding ways to better define the parts of the process that are confusing in order to formulate a more effective and easier to understand system.
Marshall said that Kirkpatrick’s accusations against him are “patently false.”
“She knows full well that I don’t support vouchers. She’s been in the same room with me when I’ve said that a thousand times.”
Marshall categorizes the current school evaluation system as “deeply flawed,” with many underperforming schools not being held fully accountable.
“We need to fully examine the A-F plan,” Marshall said. “It’s still a work in progress, so I won’t reject it before we know what it looks like.”
Another major issue that Kirkpatrick and Marshall have sparred over is the controversial Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI). Under that system, teacher pay is determined based on a combination of in-class evaluations, student test scores, and student surveys. Supporters say it rewards those who perform best, while opponents argue that it’s not fair to teachers because they are held accountable for factors out of their control. There is also concern that TEI puts DISD at a disadvantage when competing with other districts for talented teachers.
“I think the teacher evaluation situation is disastrous,” Kirkpatrick said. “It creates sameness, mandates teachers teach to the metrics of TEI, including STARR testing, and stifles a teacher’s ability to cultivate and nurture a love of learning in a child.”
According to Kirkpatrick, teachers are happy to be evaluated and held accountable. However, she contends that TEI uses metrics that were never designed to evaluate teachers. She advocates a system that encourages children to think critically as opposed to one that puts a large emphasis on standardized tests.
Marshall sees the issue differently, and contends the teachers most opposed to the system are the ones who do not want to be held accountable. He sites a recent district survey that said 62 percent of teachers either approve or strongly approve of TEI.
“I do acknowledge any new system requires tweaks and improvements to get it right,” Marshall said. “It’s not perfect as it is today and we need to continue to evaluate, but there’s no reason to go back to what we had before.”
Although the job has been challenging since his first year in office, he believes he has helped make substantial improvements to the district. He said he is optimistic about the election and ready to get to work.
“Not everything we do is going to be politically popular, but we try to keep kids at the center of every decision we make,” Marshall said.
As for Kirkpatrick, she said she’s surprised by how much she has enjoyed the campaign. She believes the momentum she has built over the past few months will carry her on to victory.
“We are energized and plan to stay on message.”