One of Dallas ISD’s most combative trustees is up for reelection — and who wins her seat could determine whether DISD trustees will ask voters to approve a 13-cent tax increase in November.
Whoever sits in Bernadette Nutall’s District 9 seat could cast a critical swing vote when the nine-member board of trustees decides on whether to pursue the tax hike, an increase that DISD officials say is much needed.
Nutall, 52, has represented District 9 — which covers parts of South Dallas, downtown, Pleasant Grove, Deep Ellum, Uptown and East Dallas — since 2009, when she won a runoff election for what was Ron Price’s seat. This year, she’s drawn two strong challengers into her board race: attorney Justin Henry and community organizer Edward Turner. A third challenger, Ona Marie Hendricks, is also running, but hasn’t raised any money for her campaign as of April 11.
Early voting for the District 9 seat starts Monday and runs through May 1. Voting day is May 5, and if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will occur in June.
In recent years, Nutall has helped facilitate the creation of community-focused programs such as After8ToEducate, a effort to address DISD’s homeless student population, and the Frazier House, a hub for social services housed at a vacant DISD elementary.
“If I see a problem, I look for a solution,” she said in a recent interview with The Dallas Morning News editorial board. “I’m a collaborator.”
But her time on the school board has been defined by her willingness to not back down from a fight. She famously clashed with former superintendent Mike Miles, at one point being escorted off of the campus of one of the schools in her trustee district on Miles’ orders. And she’s voted against — or sat out voting on — some of the district’s biggest initiatives in recent years, from the district’s teacher merit pay system to its District of Innovation efforts to the 2015 bond.
It’s not rare to see Nutall — an executive director with Urban Specialists — and fellow trustee Joyce Foreman as the foil to an otherwise unified board, pulling items from consent agendas or opposing items on a 7-2 vote.
But it’s Nutall’s recent opposition to DISD efforts to put a tax increase before the voters that has been a flashpoint, drawing eyes and opponents into the District 9 race.
Henry, 36, announced his candidacy a few days after DISD’s most recent failed tax ratification election (TRE) vote in August 2017.
Turner, 37, entered the fray not long after.
A University of Texas law grad, Henry said he’s “narrowly focused” on academic achievement and equitable opportunity for students. He worked as a classroom teacher in Los Angeles for his first two years out of college, and since moving to Dallas eight years ago, he’s served on a variety of DISD committees — picked by Nutall to do so — including the Citizen Budget Review, the Racial Equity Committee and the District 9 Task Force.
Justin Henry is running for DISD school board.
“My commitment to this, I’ve basically been committed to this for my entire adult life,” Henry said. “It is who I am.”
A native Dallasite, Turner has served as a community organizer on education issues for several years. He was a vocal member of the Strong Schools, Strong Dallas coalition, which stumped across the district to try to get the 13-cent tax increase to voters in 2017.
Turner said he understands the realities for students in District 9, because he used to be one — growing up in Section 8 housing and graduating from Madison High School.
After getting his degree from Texas Southern and coming back home, Turner “realized there was a big disconnect between me having an education and friends and family members who didn’t. I had two younger sisters who were high school dropouts, and [saw] the impact that had on their lives, because they don’t have an education.”
Our Community, Our Schools representative Edward Turner speaks to those gathered for a news conference announcing the launch of Strong Schools Strong Dallas coalition, a diverse group of North Texas organizations supporting a Tax Ratification Election (TRE). The press conference was held at the Holland Elementary School in Dallas, Thursday, April 20, 2017.
“I understand what goes on in our community, because I’ve lived it,” Turner added. “I know the issues because I see them every single day.”
Both Henry and Turner say they would support a 13-cent TRE.
Nutall she said she’d support a two-cent option or two-cent tax swap yet again — as she did last year — but not a 13-cent effort. The swap, which would have kept the district’s overall tax rate at $1.28, would have reallocated revenues between the operations and debt service tax levels.
To find early voting locations, dates and times, go to dallascountyvotes.org.