That’s the likely scenario for the May 7 school board election
The typical voter in the 2015 Dallas ISD bond election was a woman in her late 60s.
People in their 60s and 70s, in fact, had the strongest showing at the polls. That means senior citizens, rather than parents with school-age children, were the ones whose ballots determined whether to give DISD money to build and update schools.
If this is any indication of who will vote in the upcoming May 7 trustee election, then expect grandma to wield a lot of political power. This May’s election is guaranteed to usher at least three new trustees, perhaps four, into a nine-member board that is notorious for 5-4 votes. Normally only three trustee seats open each spring, but Lakewood resident Mike Morath’s recent appointment as Texas Education Agency commissioner before his term ended left a fourth spot open. Dallas ISD doesn’t have term limits so its races usually are stacked with incumbents, but among the four races, only Lew Blackburn in southern Dallas’ District 5 is seeking re-election.
Contested races — especially viable contests — also are a rarity in Dallas ISD. District 2, which forms a doughnut around the Park Cities and includes much of our neighborhood, hasn’t seen a contested race since Preston Hollow businessman Jack Lowe first ran in 2002. Morath, this district’s representative for the past five years, never had a challenger, even in his initial race when he was an unknown quantity.
The fact that four candidates are vying to replace Morath should cause a voter uptick — the question is, how much of one? Dallas school board elections have the poorest voter turnout of any local election. Last May’s trustee elections turned out a paltry 7 percent of voters. In 2011, Dallas ISD canceled the board elections because no one filed to run against the incumbents.
Of those who did vote in the 2015 bond election, women ages 58-67 was the strongest voting bracket, followed closely by women ages 68-77. Those two age brackets, male and female, comprised more than 50 percent of total voters in the election, and roughly two-thirds of all voters were 58 or older.
“That’s alarming on a lot of levels, and not just in public education. It shows the young voters are disenfranchised,” says Paula Blackmon, the district’s senior executive director over intergovernmental affairs and community relations. Her background is campaign work, including Mike Rawlings first campaign for Dallas mayor.
Granted, Blackmon says, “a school bond election is not sexy,” but she isn’t sure whether it was the bond in particular or voting in general that didn’t appeal to younger voters, including those with children in schools.
Parents of school-age children seem more engaged in the May 7 District 2 board election, at least anecdotally. It’s their demographic that has been hosting the meet-and-greets, sticking signs in front yards, and working on the campaigns of the four candidates, who range in age from 38 to 48.
But the candidates’ age bracket produced only 6.2 percent of the votes in the 2015 bond election. Unless parents make an effort to change this trend, it will be grandparents who continue to call the shots on our children’s education.