A pivotal year awaits Latinos on the Dallas ISD school board

Jaime Resendez and Omar Jimenez have never met.

But that soon will change: The two men, both young and Latino, are on the front lines of a pivotal Dallas ISD school board election in May.

With three wide open seats, the board’s makeup and leadership clearly will change.

Board president Eric Cowan (District 7) and trustee Nancy Bingham (District 4) aren’t seeking re-election, and trustee Mike Morath left his District 2 seat to become Texas education commissioner.

Trustee Lew Blackburn also is up for re-election in District 5, and he’s drawn at least one opponent. But political insiders figure he will be hard to beat.

Still, the turnover caused by the vacant seats could have far-reaching consequences, possibly leaving the board with only two white trustees and reigniting debate about several major policy initiatives.

Let’s start with the ethnic makeup of the nine-member school board.

For the first time ever, the board could have as many as four Hispanic trustees, a possibility that excites Resendez and Jimenez but isn’t what’s motivating them to run.

“It could be a game-changer,” said Resendez, 33, a lawyer and Army veteran who’s going after the District 4 seat that covers southeast Dallas, Seagoville and Balch Springs.

“The reason I say that is because we’re not talking about [candidates who are] only Hispanic, but we’re talking about highly intelligent individuals.”

Resendez, the son of Mexican immigrants who grew up in Pleasant Grove, already has the backing of Bingham, a 12-year trustee who announced this week she will not seek another term. He’s also been endorsed by Dallas City Council member Rick Callahan and Democratic state Sen. Royce West, the managing partner at the law firm, West & Associates LLP, where Resendez works.

The first candidate out of the gate, however, was Jimenez, a 23-year-old who got involved in DISD politics before he graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Jimenez works as a host at the nearby AT & T Performing Arts Center, and he’s poised to pick up a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism this summer from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“I think I am going to be the candidate who is going to want to shake up things in the district,” he said.

Keep in mind the filing deadline for trustee races is still weeks away. So other contenders still could emerge in all four contests.

But right now, political observers say, it certainly looks likely that a Latino will capture Bingham’s seat – and probably Cowan’s, too.

Isaac Faz, a Hispanic college administrator tapped by Cowan to serve on DISD’s Future Facilities Task Force, has staked an early claim on Cowan’s seat. He’s already picked up endorsements from some of the city’s political heavyweights.

Cowan, however, hasn’t endorsed Faz yet. He’s waiting to see who gets into the race. But he said Faz or another Hispanic candidate stands a good chance of winning the mostly Hispanic district that covers north central Oak Cliff and parts of West Dallas.

And frankly, he said, the time may have come for that.

“[H]aving someone from the community fluent in Spanish who’s able to communicate with constituents – parents and grandparents not fluent in English – there’s something to be said about that,” Cowan said.

If Latinos capture Cowan’s and Bingham’s seats, they would join trustees Miguel Solis (District 8) and Edwin Flores (District 1), giving Latinos the most muscle they’ve had on the board.

And when you consider we also have a Hispanic superintendent likely to be around for at least a couple more years, the growing Latino clout is hard to discount or dismiss.

Solis said he’s most excited about the prospect of bringing new blood into the mix.

“There comes a time in a community’s story in which a new generation must emerge to tackle the systemic issues that will either allow that community to progress in a positive way, or regress,” he said. “My hope is we will see a new generation emerge, cognizant and respectful of history but ready for change.”

How the candidates, if elected, will affect the direction of the district remains to be seen. But in the District 4 race, both Resendez and Jimenez said they’re willing to take a hard look at, and possibly tweak, a new teacher evaluation system that has upset a lot of teachers.

“I know there are issues with it,” Resendez said, “but a policy recently implemented needs to at least be given a chance.”

Jimenez said he’d be inclined to “look at changing the TEI [Teacher Excellence Initiative] a little bit” to offer more incentives for good teachers.

We’ll save that debate for another day.

For now, the major developing storyline is that at least a third of the board will be new faces after the May elections.

And Hispanics, who make up more than 70 percent of the student population, may finally own more seats at the table than any other ethnic group.

Source: http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2016/01/a-pivotal-year-awaits-latinos-on-the-dallas-isd-school-board.html/