Column: A 17-year-old makes sense of DISD (finally)

The madness surrounding DISD always makes an exciting headline. From theft to corruption, the 14th largest school district in the nation seems less interested in the needs of its students. Especially, the needs of those who attend schools in District 9, DISD’s poorest district.

But, this year’s District 9 candidate election saw Justin Henry unseat Bernadette Nutall, who had been a trustee for District 9 for nine years. Henry promised to vote “yes” to all the decisions that Nutall voted against. How will this affect the district?

The tax ratification election, TRE, will be the biggest change DISD will see with Justin Henry as the new trustee. If voted upon, the TRE would allow voters to decide on either tax increase of 6 or 13 cents to every $100. This could potentially cut the district’s budget deficit and raise $70 or $116 million, respectively. The proposed funds would continue the district’s prekindergarten program and give raises to non-teacher staff. Six of the 9 board members must vote on this decision for it to be passed within the district, creating a “super majority.”

Given all the benefits, Nutall has never voted to pass this decision to the voters. In her words, “the overwhelming majority asked me not to vote on it. Considering that parts of District 9 are the poorest in DISD, many of my constituents said that they just couldn’t afford it.”  The TRE provided a perfect moment for Nutall to prove how effective she was as a leader of our community.

If the TRE went to the ballot, our local schools could have held information sessions and community meetings to discuss the pros and cons of a potential tax increase. This would have sparked healthy conversation and much-needed debate within the community about how a tax increase would actually benefit students. Allowing the TRE to the ballot would not only inform adult residents but also students.

Ask any student of DISD and — unless they are heavily involved with district politics —  they will have no idea what the TRE is. As a student who attends a school in District 9, I had never even heard of the TRE until last year. Neither had my friends. This is a serious problem. Information that directly affects students should be readily available to students. The decisions made about students could have been about students. This election could have set the precedent for involving the students and the community in major decisions regarding our schools. Instead, Nutall’s decision to not even allow it to go on the ballot is the perfect example of why District 9 needed new leadership.

While Justin Henry and Ed Turner came to hear from students and parents, there was one person who was noticeably absent: Bernadette Nutall. As someone who spent weeks preparing for this event, it hurt.

I am a student at a District 9 school, Irma Rangel YWLS. I have been in District 9 since I was 5. From severe budget cuts to broken ac’s, we DISD students have seen it all. My classmates and I joined a program called Leadership ISD because we wanted to learn more about our district’s system and how to change it. Due to the upcoming trustee election, all of us in LISD who attended District 9 schools decided to hold a student-led candidate forum so we could question the candidates on their future plans for the well-being of the district and its students. While Justin Henry and Ed Turner came to hear from students and parents, there was one person who was noticeably absent: Bernadette Nutall. As someone who spent weeks preparing for this event, it hurt. Our own trustee hadn’t shown up to hear what students wanted to see from their district trustee. It was definitely time for something different.

Words are everything. While reading a comparison of the two candidates, I noticed something. In many of the statements made by Nutall, she used the word “believe.” A lot.

She believes the district has to be more collaborative with other organizations. She believes that the TEI should be properly vetted. On the other hand, Henry used words like “must, need, have to.” Educators need to be supported. Kids must be put in early education programs as soon as possible.

This is the real change that we’ll see within District 9. There is no need to believe that a change will come — especially when one is in the position to EVOKE change and has been for the last nine years. It must be acted upon.

Unpopular opinion: I truly believe that Nutall had good intentions. She and Henry agree on a lot of things, including fixing the TEI, providing additional resources for educators, and teacher pathways. Somewhere along the way, she just got lost. It seems that her tenure became more about proving a point than affecting actual change.

There is something that can be taken from Nutall’s time as trustee: Good intentions are not enough. Good intentions are the reason why nothing effective ever gets done. Henry should take note. For any of his plans to work, we, the students, must remain the priority.

Ashleigh Ekwenugo is a rising senior at Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School. She is a published poet.

Ashleigh Ekwenugo

Ashleigh Ekwenugo is a rising senior at Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School. She is a published poet.

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