It’s almost over but the swearing-in for DISD trustee Jack Lowe’s replacement: Candidate Mike Morath will soon be sworn in as the area’s new board representative, once either the May election is held (in which Morath would be the only candidate on the ballot) or if the DISD board votes not to have an election, since none of the three races are contested.

The Morning News has an article behind its pay wall speculating why, for the first time since at least 1974 (when the current DISD election setup was approved) virtually no one wanted to be in charge of their little corner of DISD. There seem to be three theories: Too many potential candidates have jobs so demanding they can’t run for office, too many bosses of potential candidates don’t want their business dragged into the news by having an employee on DISD’s board, and too many potential candidates believe DISD’s budget woes are so severe and time-sucking that it isn’t worth being a trustee now.

So in this area, that left Morath — who says he is stepping aside as CEO of Minute Menu Systems, a private-sector company that helps daycares prepare menus and request federal subsidies for low-income participants — as the only candidate. Morath told me a few weeks ago, when he was preparing for a contested election, that he was setting aside 10 years to help make DISD a better place for students to learn. During that discussion, I learned a few things about Morath:

• He seems to be a smart guy with no personal agenda that I could discern. Turns out he attended Garland’s public International Baccalaureate high school, graduating from high school with enough credits that he only needed to spend 2.5 years earning a degree from George Washington University in D.C. (which just happens to be the school our oldest son attends).

• He has been active with a number of non-profit groups as a volunteer, and he seems to genuinely believe he’ll be able to wade through DISD’s bureaucracy and help make it a a better place for all students of all income levels (my words, not his).

• He has accumulated some pretty influential neighborhood friends in a pretty short period of time.

• He has no children and few direct (and seemingly when I talked with him, few indirect) ties to our neighborhood’s public schools, although he has been active with Woodrow Wilson High School’s successful efforts to obtain its International Baccalaureate designation.

• He seemed satisfied with DISD’s magnet program and, at least when I talked with him, he wasn’t particularly in favor of cutting per-student funding to bring those schools on par with what’s spent on comparable “neighborhood” schools — something I think has needed to be done for awhile and something I think will be done, to a certain extent, as part of the board’s current budget deliberations.

• He believes, or at least believed when I talked with him, that everything he wants to accomplish can be done without “blowing up” DISD and/or significantly re-organizing the district’s operations somehow, which happen to be my current thoughts on the matter. We’ll see what he thinks after a couple of years on the job, I guess.

• Finally, in what is an interesting trend, he seemed to revel in his self-proclaimed “nerd” status in much the same way current mayoral candidate David Kunkle does. I don’t know if that makes nerd-dom a Dallas electoral trend or simply a coincidence?

What impressed me most in talking with Morath that he seemed to feel a personal need to make a difference in life, and he decided that DISD was the place he most wanted to make a difference. He seems to have a soft spot for needy kids, and there’s no place in Dallas with more of them then DISD.

And he seemed, if not naive, then certainly idealistic about his chances of significantly accelerating the positive academic work DISD has achieved during the past few years — maybe a little fresh perspective/uninformed optimism is exactly what is needed at DISD to push the envelope a bit more these days.

TUESDAY HERE ON THE BLOG: The biggest challenges facing Morath and the board, and what needs to be done as part of this debilitating budget cycle to turn what appears to be a big negative into something positive.


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