Two education advocacy groups are again pouring big bucks into Dallas ISD trustee races in an effort to keep alive school reforms that they hope are attracting families back to the district.
EducateDallas and Dallas Kids First — both of which have strong support from some of the city’s top business leaders — have been big players in local school races in recent years.
This May, they are endorsing the same slate of candidates in the crowded DISD races who have raised a combined total of about $112,000. Their opponents raised about $20,000, though most of that belongs to one candidate.
The two PACs are supporting Ben Mackey for Oak Cliff’s District 7; Maxie Johnson for the sprawling District 5; and Karla Garcia for the Pleasant Grove-area District 4.
EducateDallas, which was started by the Dallas Regional Chamber, reported $9,310 and has listed who the group is backing but has not yet reported donations to those campaigns, according to this month’s financial reports.
Jay Pritchard, chairman of the EducateDallas board, said this year’s election has the best slate of candidates he’s seen in years, making endorsement selection particularly hard. He remembers some past races when the group opted not to support anyone.
Ultimately, he said EducateDallas opted for those with deep roots in the district who brought unique perspectives.
“We left our meeting with the candidates feeling good about the future of Dallas ISD and who we have stepping up to be advocates for our students,” he said.
Dallas Kids First reported about $230,000 in donations, some of which has already started to funnel to candidates. That group made endorsements after a community panel met with candidates, said Camila Correa Bourdeau, executive director of the group.
“They are each so clearly focused on the opportunities and outcomes our students deserve and have the potential to obtain should they be elected to the board,” Bourdeau said in a prepared statement.
About 35,000 students live within the DISD boundaries but attend a charter school. The district has fought back in recent years by amping up its own school choice options, such as early college campuses and planned career tech institutes that focus on vocational pathways.
Dallas has also become a model to many state leaders for its pay-for-performance teacher evaluation system. But many educators remain critics of the plan.
Bill Betzen, a retired teacher who attends most board meetings, said that while money matters, it doesn’t always make a difference. He pointed to a recent election in which the two groups outspent an incumbent by nearly 6-to-1.
“This really motivates the volunteers to come out and walk the streets, and that makes all the difference,” Betzen said.
The most expensive race by far is for the rapidly changing Oak Cliff area. District 7 trustee Audrey Pinkerton decided not to seek re-election after a single term.
Mackey, the popular outgoing principal at the School for the Talented and Gifted, has raised $66,185. Next month, he starts in DeSoto as a top school administrator there, overseeing research, evaluation and design.
He received $5,000 from Dallas Kids First, as well as other in-kind help — such as canvassing — from the group, and a $5,000 donation from Ken Barth, who started the Dallas Kids First PAC.
Other top donations include $10,000 from Jorge Baldor, a Dallas businessman and philanthropist who co-founded the Latino Center for Leadership Development, and $5,000 from Container Store co-founder Garrett Boone.
Meanwhile, his opponent, Brent McDougal, pastor of the Cliff Temple Baptist Church, has raised $17,689.58. McDougal has been a longtime community volunteer.
His donations include $1,000 from the Alliance of Dallas Educators United Teachers PAC; $4,000 from banking lawyer Steve Camp; and numerous smaller donations.
Three candidates are vying to replace Lew Blackburn, who served nearly two decades in the District 5 seat that stretches from West Dallas to parts of Uptown to the Wilmer-Hutchins area in the southeast.
Johnson, pastor of the New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, has raised $24,450. Dallas Kids First donated $7,000. He also received $5,000 from Frederick Todd, the son of a longtime DISD principal; $3,000 from philanthropist Tucker Enthoven; and $2,000 each from Dee Ann and Marshall Payne, of the equity firm CIC Partners.
Real estate investor David King raised about $2,575. The bulk of that comes from a $1,000 donation from the teacher group AFT. Blackburn gave King a $100 donation.
Meanwhile, Ola Allen reported a single donation of $125. She is a longtime volunteer at Skyline High School.
Garcia raised $21,480, with donations including $3,000 and other in-kind help from Dallas Kids First and $4,000 from the Paynes. Garcia recently graduated from college and returned to the area to work for the Dallas County Promise, a coalition of partners working to guarantee high-schoolers a path into college.
Omar Jimenez, a bookseller/ticket services associate who lost a bid for the post in 2016, reported $1,154.93. He reported donations from a dozen donors, including $100 from former DISD candidate Lori Kirkpatrick.
Retired teacher Amalia Lozano reported $156.21 in donations. Camile D. White, a real estate agent who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2016 and 2010, did not have a campaign finance report posted.
The election is May 4. Early voting begins April 22.