By: Jackie Hardy, NDG Contributing Writer
Campaigning has begun for those candidates seeking a seat on the Irving Independent School District’s (Irving ISD or IISD) Board of Trustees. This election comes on heels of the recent hot debates over the proposed change to the district’s current at-large voting system. Opponents argued that without single-member districts it would be difficult for a minority to win a seat.
In January, the Irving Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to adopt a 5-2 single-member/at-large voting system. Currently, the district is awaiting final approval from the Department of Justice on the proposed 5-2 single-member district map where 5 of the trustees will be elected through single member voting and 2 will remain at large. In the meantime, Place 3 and Place 4 candidates will have to battle it out under the existing at-large voting system on May 12 with early voting April 30-May 8.
Place 3 candidates are:
A.D. Jenkins, a software engineer, founder of the B.I.G.D.O.G.S. non-profit organization and Irving Board of Trustee veteran (formerly of Place 2);
Larry Michael Stipes, contract service manager and former Chairperson for City of Irving Parks and Recreation Board and Parks and Open Space Committee for the City of Irving Bond Task Force with leadership roles on PTA and Booster Clubs;
Alicia Fernandez-Mott, a former U.S. Department of Labor employee (retired).
Candidates for Place 4 are: incumbent Valerie Jones, a self-professed “product of Irving” with six years school board experience; Norma Gonzales, stay-at-home Mother who owns and manages rental properties and pursing a BS in Business Management; and Dinesh Mali, founder of an engineering company with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (BSME) and Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MSME). Mali is a second-time candidate who last year ran unsuccessfully, along with Jenkins, for the Place 2 office.
This election will have a total of four minorities on the ballot and those candidates include Adrian (A.D.) Jenkins, African American; Dinesh Mali who is Asian; and two Hispanic candidates Norma Gonzales and Alicia Fernandez-Mott.
“I am running as an Asian representing the Asian population and bringing some diversity on the board. There is no one shoe fits all feet solution. Each issues has to be addressed and resolved on a merit basis,” written comments made by Dinesh Mali, one of the two minorities running for the Place 4 seat.
Candidates for Place 3 and Place 4 spotlighted important issues. They include improving classroom discipline; increasing teacher morale; more English Language Immersion programs; college preparedness for seniors; reducing the drop-out rates; and closing the achievement gap among minority students.
The $240 million General Operating Budget of the Irving ISD is not exempt from pain in this slow economy. Statewide cuts of up to $4 billion in education and the continued decline in property taxes are factors affecting the budget. The tough budgetary decisions facing Irving ISD are a key campaign issue.
“Reducing expenses is a challenge but can be done by thinking creatively. The most important money spent by a school district is the money spent directly in a classroom. Financial cuts in this area should be made as a last resort,” added incumbent Jones. “Extra-curricular activities including both Fine Arts and athletics make positive impacts in the lives of our students and keep students connected and engaged.”
Mali advises, “There is no budget issue with IISD this year. On the contrary there will be pay raises for some. Our current Superintendent has foreseen the problem last year and came up with a win-win solution that helped the district. Also the school district implemented to rent school facilities to corporate and other organizations to create revenue.”
However money is not the only concern for Irving ISD. Place 3 candidate Alicia Fernandez-Mott in a written statement said, “A critical issue facing Irving ISD is how best to meet the academic needs of our diverse student population, especially English language learners. The State of Texas mandates bilingual education in primary grades. Other programs and teaching strategies include English Language Immersion and Dual Language. It is critical to provide the program that best meets the needs of our children, individually, and collectively.”
“The bilingual program is failing many of our Spanish speaking students. They are not mastering the English language in elementary school. They are so far behind by the time they reach high school that they see no way of catching up so they drop out. I am in favor of an English Immersion option to the state mandated bilingual education,” adds Gonzales candidate of Place 4.
Stipes also supports a strong ESL program and feels the district must work to ensure its students become proficient in English starting at the primary level so students will have the opportunity to reach their highest potential.
A district that serves a student body where over 80 percent of its population is minority will inevitably experience some challenges along the way. Poverty and homelessness are two major issues many schools of Irving are facing. According to a Dallas Morning News 2010 article, about 80 percent of students in Irving schools were in poor families compared to only 30 percent twenty years ago. Statistic shows children from homes affected by poverty are at greater risk of becoming a dropout .
“The IISD has a program through Project PASS that is aimed at helping our homeless students through mentoring. The program was designed to pair homeless students with adult mentors. Although many Irving citizens have gone through training to mentor our students, the administration has not followed through with the program. I will work to implement this mentorship program. By supporting our students we can decrease the dropout rate, and build relationships that will create future mentors,” states Gonzales.
In a district serving families where English is a second language, communication barriers can lead to frustration and disengaged parents.
“With a high minority student population outreach strategies must include personal contact with the parents and families of the district’s children…the Irving ISD could and should utilize this opportunity (technology) to strengthen the district’s outreach and communication efforts with the parents and families of its student using technology as a communication tool,” adds Fernandez-Mott.
Embracing diversity through the awarding of contract services to M/WBE and DBE firms is also an important issue with minority voters. The district M/WBE goal for participation includes 20 percent qualified HUB, D/ M/WBE vendors, and 10 percent certified annual controllable procurement expenditures. These expenses are defined as agreements to provide or procure labor, materials, equipment, supplies and services to, for or on behalf of the district.
Jenkins shared, “I believe when minorities in particular see more contracts awarded to individuals that look like them it helps to lift the morale of the community because they begin to feel like they have a place at the table, which in return will help bring the community together. But, if the education and awareness is not put out in the community than it doesn’t matter what’s available if you do not know that it’s there.”