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Fort Worth school board president race headed for runoff; voters choose Vasquez in District 1

FORT WORTH — Fort Worth banker Ray Dickerson and District 6 trustee Chris Hatch are headed to a June 14 run off election in the race for Fort Worth school board president.

Dickerson had 49 percent of the votes tallied, while Hatch followed with 43 percent of the votes. Neither garnered 50 or more percent of the votes in a three-way race for president, so a run off election was triggered. William Winnett, a sign manufacturer, trailed Hatch with 8 percent of the votes.

Former principal Carlos Vasquez unseated incumbent Camille Rodriguez in the District 1 Fort Worth school board post — an upset Vasquez supporters said indicated she wasn’t a strong enough advocate for the Northside community.

Vasquez won with 64 percent of votes tallied Saturday. Rodriguez took 36 percent.

“We’re very excited,” Vasquez said. “I think it’s a vote of confidence for me as an educator.”

The new school board members will preside over a district of almost 80,000 students. The new board members will be involved with oversight of projects under a $593.6 million bond program, begin to be built, efforts to improve struggling schools, school finance, budgets and school safety.

Dickerson started the election night strong with a lead in early votes, but Hatch moved closer as the night progressed. Dickerson didn’t hit 50 or more percent.

“We came very, very close. I’m very upbeat,” said Dickerson, who described himself as a political rookie. The candidates want to replace Bill Koehler, who did not seek re-election. A common theme in the race was a need to maintain transparency and oversight of the bond program.

Hatch said voters will have to choose who can best lead the district as school leaders move forward with bond projects and help improve struggling schools.

Hatch began gearing up for another campaign as the results continued coming in.

“We’re ready,” Hatch said of the possibility of a run off. “We’re working on a strategy.”

Koehler is moving to New Mexico. When He ran for the Fort Worth school board’s top spot in 2004 with the goal of helping the district regain its credibility after a $16 million construction kickback scandal and a bond package that was plagued by mismanagement and abuse.

After winning the spot, he made it clear that he would serve only one term.

Rodriguez touted her accomplishments including the passage of a $593.6 million bond program approved by voters in November and a dual-language program that’s in its first year. Her supporters said her neighborhood ties were a plus.

But that message didn’t help at the polls.

Voters instead choose Vasquez , who said the district needs to work harder to help students excel. He touted his background as a teacher and principal. Vasquez’s supporters said the race turned nasty when a political group called Voters for Truth attempted to tie Vasquez with the district’s past controversies. Voters for Truth sent mailers that asked voters, “Do You Want To Go BACK to these times?” A picture of a man shaking bars was under the question. Voters in District 1 want to make sure youngsters — for whom English is a second language — are getting a strong education.

The two-way race was growing more heated with Vasquez questioning why Rodriguez didn’t speak up more in meetings and questioning the salaries of upper-level district administrators.

Rodriguez supporters asked Vasquez to open up his personnel records.

Vasquez’s supporters were worked up Saturday evening. There was about an hour left of voting and volunteers gathered at Vasquez’s house wanted to talk North Fort Worth grassroots politics. They were a sea of purple and gold — Vasquez’s campaign colors. Meanwhile, Camille Rodriguez’s supporters camped out in front of Rufino Mendoza Elementary, where 109 votes had been cast by 5:30 p.m.

The supporters wore Rodriguez’s trademark red — and said the campaign’s bitter tone was Vasquez’s doing.“His flyers — they seemed hateful,” Phillip Bermejo said.

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