We tuned in to the Dallas ISD's District 9 school board trustee forum on KHVN 970 yesterday between incumbent Bernadette Nutall and her challenger, 20-year-old Damarcus Offord. Host Robert Ashley and his station, it turns out, moderated the best debate thus far.
The two clearly don't like each other (nothing wrong here; it keeps us tuning in), and the both camps have unscientific polls that show their candidate blowing out the other. The two bickered throughout the show. But after listening, the takeaway is this: Save for one issue, they agree on almost everything.
When talking about the pandemic dropout rates in District 9, Offord said the city should have programs for at-risk students. Nutall said they've created initiatives for at-risk students.
Neither of them think teachers should work 45 minutes more a day, for free (Nutall voted against the rule).
Both don't think alternative schools as they exist are working.
And for the record, they're both iffy on new superintendent Mike Miles.
"When you're coming from 11,000 to 157,000, it raises some questions," Offord said, referring to the student body sizes of Miles' old district and his new one. He thought the board should have hired a local. "We have to take people who are from the community and put them back into the community to say, 'look where I'm at now.'
Nutall, who voted to hire Miles, expresses caution: "We all interview well, we all talk, and we're going to do, do do, but it's a different story when it comes to action. And I'm waiting for the action."
Then came the one place they diverge: Closing underpopulated schools.
"The whole campaign has been about coulda, woulda, shoulda Bernadette," she said, after dodging an Offord allegation that she's not for the community. And she's right. If you listen to Offord, the whole reason why he's running is because Nutall voted to close 11 DISD schools in January. It is literally his entire platform, and it is basically the only significant issue on which they differ.
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But right now, it may be the only issues that matters in the neighborhoods they're fighting to represent. The first listener who called in asked Nutall: "Do you feel you have committed political suicide in the Southern sector, in District 9?"
"No, I do not feel like I've committed political suicide," she replied testily. "Number one, I'm going to do what's in the best interest for our children." She voted on the logic that human resources, like good teachers and nurses, are more important than the buildings they work in, and voted to consolidate schools so that more students would have access to those human resources. It sounds logical, of course, unless your school is one of the ones getting closed and your kids are getting bused somewhere else.
And this is Offord's whole point. He didn't have anything to do with the vote, so he's running on the hypothetical that he wouldn't have voted to close the schools, and when he is elected, he'll try to have them reopened (which seems unlikely.)
The DISD race in District 9 has always been about "coulda, woulda, shoulda Bernadette." But the questions are equally: "Would he? Could he? Should he?"