Incumbents Paul Rowsey and Kelly Walker, and newcomer Edward Herring, took their seats on the Highland Park ISD board of trustees on May 17, after a decisive victory in the May 7 election against outspoken opposition.
“The community spoke. … And the majority spoke to keep the status quo,” said Anthony Scalia, unsuccessful candidate for seat five. But while yard signs may be coming down, the election may have left a more indelible mark on the community.
School board candidates have historically run unopposed in HP. The last contested race was in 2011. This year, the race was not a simple face-off between individuals. Instead, candidates divided themselves into two opposing factions at the outset, creating a dichotomy between old guard and new slate.
New seat five trustee Edward Herring (replacing the recently-retired longtime trustee Cynthia Beecherl), teamed up with Walker (seat three) and Rowsey (seat four) to form the PAC “Putting Our Kids First.”
Their opponents – Scalia, along with Bonnie Lammers (three) and Gerry Hudnall (four) – rallied together behind the PAC “We the People of HPISD,” which was formed by Park Cities resident Dan Newell.
The division in the ranks of candidacy was symbolic of “the aftershock of the bond,” which Walker cited as an instigator for the election, acknowledging that some people in the community were still troubled by it.
“The No. 1 most important thing is to execute the bond properly, and meet the community’s expectations,” she said. Rowsey and Herring agreed, both emphasizing the importance of implementing the bond.
“I was motivated to try to get elected to the board primarily because of how important this period of time is for the community,” Herring said. “We’re going to fundamentally create opportunity through the infrastructure the community voted on [in] the bond.”
For the opposition, the bond was proof of the need to replace leadership with new blood. They felt that in pushing through the package, the board had failed to be transparent (hence the opposition’s slogan: Restore trust, transparency, and leadership), according to Traci Schuh, the opposition’s campaign manager. Schuh and Newell believed the bond was sold to the public too hastily, using incorrect enrollment numbers in the demographic projections to convince residents of the need for a fifth elementary school.
The campaign’s concerns were mostly disseminated through online newsletters and flyers from their PAC, which Scalia said were representative of his views insofar as he is concerned about the strings attached to federal funding. In the newsletters, the topic of federal funding branched into indignation about “joined-gender” bathrooms, Title IX, and the implementation of Common Core.
“Federal Title IX bathroom policy is an unpredictable nightmare under the hands of federal bureaucrats and the federal courts,” one of We the People’s newsletters read. “The HPISD board members made extremely bad decisions when they approved taking federal funds.”
Their concerns echo political conversations happening on a state and national level. Last month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called President Barack Obama’s call for schools to allow transgender bathrooms “the end of public schools” and promised, using rhetoric similar to We the People’s, legislation to “keep men out of ladies’ rooms.”
Whether the conversations that arose during this campaign, which has been as much about national politics as local education, will set the tone for future elections remains to be seen.
Scalia pointed out one benefit to having a contested election.
“What the bond did is it brought people out more in terms of being vocal,” he said.
Now that the election is over, Scalia added: “People are more in tune with issues going on in the district. The community got involved, and I think they will continue to stay involved.”
Note: We apologize for the error in the print version of this story. A print-production error caused the second half of the story to appear on the cover.