School board elections notoriously draw few voters. But there's a new Dallas political action committee with a lot of money that could sway the election May 12.
The Educate Dallas Political Action Committee formed last year. Some Chamber of Commerce members and business leaders said Dallas schools had to improve, and hoped the PAC could help. Dallas tax attorney Mark Melton not only gave Educate Dallas $1600, he’s also the PAC’s co-chair.
"I think ultimately the goal is to try to create a school system where every single kid in Dallas has an opportunity to get a good education," he said. "That’s probably the goal everyone has. At the end of the day, that’s what we want to do."
Melton said Educate Dallas has raised more than $80,000 to help elect its favorite candidates. Some prominent Dallas donors include Jim Oberwetter, President and CEO of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, and Ronald Steinhart, former Chair and CEO of Bank One. Melton said the PAC backs policies and candidates who favor reform. Educate Dallas likes recent board-approved changes that let principals pick their school’s teachers, and it likes a layoff policy that keeps good teachers as opposed to those with the most seniority.
"If you’re happy with the way things are going then don’t reform anything," he said. But if you want to see things get better, the only way to do that is to reform it. Yes. Change has to happen. We can’t sit here and be satisfied with the status quo.
Melton says Educate Dallas interviewed all the candidates before making its choices. One sample question asked how the candidate perceived the culture of DISD, and how, why, or if it should change. Another asked what actions demonstrate the candidate’s commitment to public education.
The PAC endorsed incumbent Bernadette Nutall in District 9, and newcomers Elizabeth Jones in District 1 and Dan Micciche in District 3. Then, in a controversial move, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings backed the Educate Dallas slate. The Mayor cannot legally endorse a candidate, and did so as citizen Rawlings. Melton said Rawlings followed the letter of the rule. But District 1 hopeful Michael Greenberg, PhD., said Rawlings violated the spirit of it.
"I don’t think you can be a mayor at 2 o’clock and not at 3 o’clock. But I’m most disappointed he did not reach out after I initially reached out to him and tried to understand what my candidacy is all about and why I’m running," he said.
Other hopefuls expressed the same concern. Candidate Demarcus Offord even filed a city ethics complaint against Rawlings. The impact of this issue won’t be known until election day. But the power of PAC donations could be felt sooner.
Educate Dallas gave its candidates $10,000 each, a lot for a school board race. Money can buy ads and mailers, and get voters to polls. In a race where turnout was under 5 percent last time, campaign cash could mean victory. Still, in the 2009 DISD runoffs, Bernadette Nutall, and Bruce Parrott were both outspent, but won anyway.
Candidate information, District One: