Dustin Marshall won the Dallas ISD District 2 trustee seat last June by the narrowest of margins — 42 votes — and over the past seven months, he’s been working hard to keep anyone from challenging him again this spring.
Marshall announced his campaign for re-election in an email this past week, describing himself as one of the “reform-oriented” and “reform-minded” trustees whose majority on the board is “imperative” in order to “continue improving outcomes for kids.” Quality pre-K, expanded school choice and social-emotional health were some of the policies he cited as crucial.
Both Marshall and his opponents knew last year that whoever won the election would have to defend the seat the following year. The race for District 2, which includes parts of East Dallas and Preston Hollow, was a special election to fill the final year of former Trustee Mike Morath’s three-year term after he was summoned to Austin as Texas Education Agency commissioner.
Following the election, Marshall instituted office hours in the form of coffee chats, making himself available every few weeks to listen to constituents who had something on their minds. More recently, he formed a parent advisory council with representatives from each campus in his district as “a forum where we’d be able to go a little bit deeper on core topics and polices at the board level,” he told us recently.
The advisory council pulls from each campus “to make sure that I was getting feedback from each campus instead of focusing on the schools that are louder than others,” he says. He sought recommendations from principals, recruited campus PTA and site-based decision making (SBDM) leaders, and tapped people who were heavily involved in the campaign — both his and his opponents’.
“Some people might have had some concerns that I might have been more myopic in my focus. I want to be very clear that’s not my approach,” Marshall told us. “I’m very willing to listen to anyone who wants to give input to me, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be someone who voted for me.”
He has also placed his opponents’ supporters on DISD committees and advisory boards; for example, Suzy Conley, who hosted District 2 candidate Suzanne Smith’s election watch party, was his appointee to the task force on student discipline that recently made a recommendation to change DISD’s policy.
Smith, who was 46 votes shy of the runoff in May, wound up endorsing Marshall in June. He faced Stonewall Jackson Elementary and Travis magnet parent Mita Havlick in the runoff, and the passion both she and her supporters exhibited made Havlick Marshall’s most likely, and possibly most formidable, re-election foe.
So it was a big get when Marshall was able to announce shortly before his bid for re-election that Havlick would be his appointee to a new DISD committee.
Havlick confirmed today that she will not oppose Marshall this spring.
“He hasn’t voted for or against anything in opposition to what I believe,” she says. Plus, “we both committed during the campaign and after that we would continue to talk to each other and leverage each other, and he’s kept his word on that.”
Havlick regularly attends DISD board meetings and events — tonight, she’s heading to Dan D. Rogers Elementary for a district budget workshop — and her presence may have led some, including Marshall, to believe that she wasn’t finished with the possibility of public office.
Ultimately, she’s not. Havlick says that if Marshall were to reverse course on something important to her, she would consider another run. But her involvement shouldn’t be a surprise, she says, because “I didn’t run for school board to advance a political career” but to create “equal opportunity for all kids to be educated in a public school enviroment and have those kids excel.”
Filing begins tomorrow, Jan. 18, and ends Feb. 17 for the May 6, 2017 board election. Marshall will have to wait another month to find out whether he’ll attract an opponent, but he can rest assured it won’t be Havlick.
And in his back pocket is $27,000+ he has raised since the runoff as well as a new campaign treasurer — Jack Lowe, who held the District 2 seat for eight years before Morath’s tenure and who already has donated $2,000 to Marshall’s campaign.
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