Betty Culbreath-Lister insists there's no hidden agenda, no friend she's supposed to snag a job for and that she "ain't mad at nobody." But the outspoken Dallas County official's decision to run for the Dallas school board against longtime trustee Hollis Brashear has caught some by surprise.
She may not be mad at anybody just now, but wait till she actually starts campaigning or takes a seat on the board.
Culbreath-Lister, who has led the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department for 11 years, is among those seeking the seat in District 6, which covers a sizable chunk of south and west Oak Cliff. The Dallas Independent School District will hold a special election on July 27 for all nine districts.
Her reasons for running are simple, she says. She got sick of the board's "excuses, excuses, excuses, whining, whining, whining" and figured she could be a better steward of taxpayer money.
"I couldn't take it anymore," she says. "Here we have children in the juvenile system who cannot read and write. Here you have a school district with a billion-dollar budget...and you mean to tell me that we can't educate the children? It's something wrong with that."
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She has identified a common thread in DISD's struggles over the past decade: Brashear. (He couldn't be reached for comment.) In his 10 years on the board the district has gone through eight superintendents, including at least one crook, and still labors under a federal desegregation order. That alone is enough to get Culbreath-Lister on a tirade. "It's nothing personal," she says of Brashear, whom she's supported in the past. "But to me, it's ludicrous to pay taxpayer money for this many years for legal fees. There is no way that anybody who sits on that board that's a good steward of public money would not somehow come to some finality" concerning the desegregation order, she said.
Culbreath-Lister is nothing if not outspoken, and the Dallas school board, which has been quiet of late, can expect a lively ride if she gets on board. First of all, she'll think for herself. This is a woman who identifies African-American former trustee Kathlyn Gilliam as her board hero, yet contributed to one of Laura Miller's city council campaigns. Then there's her legendary mouth. "They know that I tell the truth, and they know I don't have no hidden agenda, and they know I don't want no money, and they know I ain't gonna take none under the table," she says. "Now I might be a whole lot, but I don't lie, and I don't steal."
Are you sure you'll fit in on a school board, Betty?
"Now that we have a good superintendent who looks like he's going to make a difference, we've got to have a board that will allow him to make a difference," she says.