Old School

Ron Price is fond of speaking in clichés, using phrases like "that dog won't hunt" as if he were punctuating a closing argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. So it's fitting that when trying to describe the plight of the veteran school board member whose political future has dimmed over the last year, words spring to mind that sound as though they're coming from the narrator of a movie preview: "Ron Price is his own worst enemy. His strengths are his weaknesses. And he's caught at the crossroads, torn between his nobler gestures and his raw ambition."

Price is conflicted about who he is, only he doesn't seem to know it. In literally the same breath in which he claims to have run an honorable campaign against his challenger, Bernadette Nutall, Price readily talks about how he received sniping calls from her ex-boyfriends (she's been married for nearly 10 years), along with damaging information from former employers. Later, he says that people in her past as well as her present called him, alarmed at the prospect of her election.

"I didn't use any of that stuff because I don't believe in running negative campaigns," he says, seemingly oblivious to how he is contradicting his supposed principles. "How could I say I'm trying to bring people together when I'm tearing down another human being for a political seat that doesn't pay?"

That afternoon, as we were driving to a Juneteenth celebration in Red Oak where Price will be treated like royalty, he talks about how The Dallas Morning News almost cost him the election with a series of stories and editorials savaging his ethics. Calmly, thoughtfully, he gives his side of the story, detailing a compelling case that his actions are misunderstood. But quitting while he's ahead is not one of Price's gifts.

"I get calls from people around the country saying, 'What the hell is wrong with your local newspaper? Man, leave Dallas, Ron. We need a good leader in our city.' And I say to my friends around the country who saw that stuff, I say, 'Every now and then there is a reminder I live in the last state to free the slaves. It's a reminder that race does matter, unfortunately, in our society.'"

It's hard to tell if his supporters buy into Price's myth-making--really, does anyone believe that a local school board member is being recruited for an out-of-town leadership spot?--or if they're willing to look past it because of what he does for them. The odd thing is that behind Price's delusions of grandeur is a genuine sense of commitment.

For example, a few years ago, Grant Atai, then a principal at H.S. Thompson Elementary School, had a disagreement with a parent over how he disciplined her child. The mother lived in a tough section of the Rhoads Terrace neighborhood in South Dallas. As night fell, Price and his principal visited the neighborhood, talking to kids along the way. Then when the two men dropped by the home of the angry mother, Atai explained the nature of the punishment and why he felt he needed to discipline her child. He didn't come to compromise--nor did he--but at the end of their discussion the mother felt better, no doubt reassured by the sight of two leaders in the public school system taking time to hear her in person. That same evening, Atai and Price met with other parents and talked about the particulars of their children's educations.

"That just stuck with me. It was genuine," Atai says of their walk through the Rhoads Terrace neighborhood. "This wasn't a campaign stop. He didn't call the media; there were no cameras behind us."

But there's a darker shade to Price's terms of engagement. This April, a month before the election, two teachers at Madison High School in South Dallas called their union to express their disappointment in its endorsement of Price. The teachers, Kishawna Wiggins and Charletta Gaines, supported his opponent and complained to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) that they shouldn't back someone like Price, who has a conviction for abusing his wife. In fact, the school board member has several sworn affidavits from people who knew his wife that cast doubt on her version of events, but regardless, the two teachers wanted to express their discontent. Shortly after they called the union, Price showed up at Madison in the middle of the school day wanting to talk to their principal, union rep and the teachers themselves.

"One of my reps came to my room and said, 'Ron Price is here, and he wants to talk to you, and I said, 'I'm in class. I don't have time to talk to him right now,'" says Gaines, who teaches computer applications at Madison. "He just came in the middle of the day without any notice. He just showed up."