Incumbents Win School Board Seats in Landslide

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.

One thought on “Incumbents Win School Board Seats in Landslide

  • May 28, 2016 at 2:47 am
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    Our newest member of the board made some rather inopportune, DC-amateur comments (something about creating tremendous opportunities with infrastructure) that he will no doubt regret having made as he matures. But that can be forgiven; he’s merely a budding politician.

    His worthy challenger Anthony Scalia’s most salient point — finally noticed and printed by the PCP after it was far too late for voters to act — was about the dangers of getting into bed with the federal government and the City of Dallas. Both bedfellows will fight the Park Cities with a vengeance if there is any kind of divorce or separation, and they will fight us every step of the way.

    (A quick comment about the bathrooms: although PCP delighted in painting the challengers as trans-phobic, right-wing, book-burning religious whackos at every opportunity, the objections of these candidates to the bathroom plans had to do with the design, not the .01% of the total global population who are transgender. Before you pooh-pooh me and stop reading further, HAVE YOU LOOKED AT THE PLANS?

    Put simply, there are NO entrance doors to the girls’ and boys’ sides. Anyone washing their hands at the sink can hear — and record — all that is going on in the stalls. This California kale shake just doesn’t sit well with us Texans: it is weird, undignified, utterly lacking in privacy, just plain stupid, and never once justified by our elected trustees. Their only refrain is: “We were never elected to think. This newfangled ‘hear-all-in-the-stalls’ design is ‘best practices!'”).

    But the PCP article had an omission that was unforgivable and most glaring; to say it was “despicable” is not too strong a word for it. The deception in this so-called story is the PCP’s deliberate, significant decision to avoid writing about the demolition derby: What school is first-up on the chopping block, which one comes next, and how will this all work?

    Now that we know the answers (from their tiny italicized link at the end of the article), we also know the subject is extremely controversial. But that has rarely stopped the PCP from writing a story — however slanted — before.

    Yet the PCP chose not even to mention that the parents and their children who attend Armstrong and Bradield (the only two elementary schools which serve Highland Park, out of our four — soon to be 5 — schools) will be essentially cloistered from the din. And we can expect all of this needless and expensive chaos, sprung from the minds of our hapless hobgoblins (we must hope it wasn’t deliberate) will go on for years.

    While Armstrong will not be touched, and Bradfield will barely feel a sting, UP will be housed in Cell Block 8 for a minimum of one full school year while its campus is being pulverized to dust and rebuilt as a mini-UVA. And Hyer students will be warehoused in Cell Block 8 for TWO full school years while Bradfield’s charmed students will live in Hyer’s charming school while Bradfield is leveled and rebuilt to look like an annex to the Village.

    If, as the number of yard signs in the area suggested, the Hyer and HPISD parents east of Hillcrest were the driving force behind getting this hurry-up, hurry-up corrupt bond passed, ensuring that our beloved, historic schools are bulldozed … well, H.L. Mencken said it best: they’ll deserve to get what they wanted and they’ll deserve to get it good and hard.

    With elections over, all we can do now is wait to see whether our devious and deceptive school board can pull off this ambitious construction schedule. The words “devious and and deceptive” are only my opinions, but it does seem inarguable to me that well before the election, the trustees knew Bradfield would remain virtually untouched while Hyer would be warehoused in Cell Block 8 for a period spanning four years. And they deliberately withheld these known facts (as well as declining enrollment) from the voters until AFTER their coronations. Ah, “transparency from thee, but not from me.”

    We’ve all seen 7,000+ square foot houses take a year to build (when built well, and good weather is on the builder’s side). Yet we are supposed to believe THIS school board when it says 100,000 square-foot schools the size of Costco will replace UP, Bradfield, and Hyer, and that they will be top-knotch, coming in AT OR UNDER BUDGET, and on or ahead of schedule?

    Sorry, but oh, ye, I am of little faith.

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