The Fort Worth school district, with an almost $700 million budget, 10,000 employees and more than 86,000 students on 146 campuses, has had its problems.
In addition to a constant need to improve student achievement, the district has seen budget shortfalls, flawed multimillion-dollar technology and software programs, a superintendent who retired because of conflicts with the board and a botched attempt to hire a new leader.
Of the nine-member school board, four are up for election May 9, with all the incumbents in the single-member districts seeking to return.
District 9 incumbent Christene Moss is running unopposed. There are worthy challengers in Districts 2, 5 and 6.
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Incumbent Tobi Jackson, 54, is seeking her second term on the board. She is challenged by Dallas high school principal Joel Aguilar, 38, who says he wants to be an advocate for students and teachers, and Sultan Cole, 45, an engineer who is also a pastor and director of a nonprofit that helps teach young children to read.
Cole, a product of the Fort Worth school system, is an impressive candidate with a high-energy, idea-filled campaign that has garnered support from various segments of the district, including the faith-based community. Having been raised by a single parent, he says he can identify with students who have to overcome obstacles in pursuit of education.
But Jackson, a 30-year educator, also has a passion for education and a keen sense of commitment to the students in the district where she went to school. She has detailed knowledge of each campus in her district and proudly touts that 80 percent of the schools in her area are ranked as meeting state standards, compared to 50 percent failing in 2010.
Her expertise, compassion and leadership are still needed.
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Tobi Jackson.
Judy Needham, 73, has been on the board since 1996, but the local fundraising consultant said she still has work to do, including helping to choose the next superintendent.
In a second attempt to unseat her, 67-year-old Linda LaBeau, a professional mediator with a nursing degree, says she wants to bring new ideas to the board, provide stronger oversight of taxpayers’ dollars and be a cooperative trustee in contrast to Needham, whom she described as “polarizing.”
Needham, who sees herself as a responsible fiscal steward with experience, is proud of several accomplishments, including the Gold Seal Programs of Choice for each high school; dual credit courses allowing students to gain up to 60 hours college credit at Tarrant County College; and the successful 2013 bond program that, among other things, creates a Visual and Performing Arts School and a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy.
She insists that board members are working together, communicating and getting stronger.
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Judy Needham.
Incumbent Ann Sutherland, 75, a teacher and budget analyst, has been accused of being disrespectful to others, overburdening staff with open records requests for information and generally being a disruptive member of the board, which voted in 2013 to censure her.
She says her independence and questions have produced needed information and uncovered serious issues that would not have been revealed otherwise.
Opponent Cecelia Speer, 67, is a retired district employee who over 39 years served in various capacities from teacher to chief of district operations. She wants to bring her educator expertise and her reputation as a team-builder to the school board.
Although Sutherland has been an irritant to some of her colleagues, sometimes a maverick can be good for a board. She has to learn when to be cooperative, and her colleagues must learn when and how to stand their ground.
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Ann Sutherland.
The Editorial Board has called trustees to task on many issues while supporting them on others. While dysfunction cannot be ignored, no single trustee is responsible for it. Nine strong trustees are needed to serve 86,000 students.