Richardson ISD voters will elect school board members in a new way beginning in 2019 after the district today settled a lawsuit by former trustee David Tyson. Tyson, the only minority trustee ever elected by RISD voters, claimed in his 2018 suit that the all-white board focused on students and schools in prosperous neighborhoods, leading to an “egregious achievement gap.”
The seven member board, which currently serves at-large, will implement a so-called 5-2 system, with five single-member districts and two at-large seats. Proposed districts are currently in draft form to be released in the coming week, and include two districts drawn in majority-minority areas. One is comprised of a majority of African American voters, and one is a majority of African American, Hispanic and Asian voters.
Trustees will seek approval from the judge to shift the upcoming May election to November and will phase in the new single member districts. Eron Linn, Karen Clardy and Katie Patterson are up for re-election this year. Patterson has said she will not run again, and will instead encourage a minority candidate to run. Linn has indicated he will run, and Clardy has not announced her plans.
Although the suit was settled with an agreement by both parties, Tyson and his lawyer, Bill Brewer, will likely claim victory. The remedy Tyson sought was never monetary, but rather a change in the way trustees are chosen. The suit has been expensive for RISD, though, and settlement will bring an end to mounting legal fees.
The settlement also provides for dismissal of Tyson’s second suit under the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA). Tyson claimed the trustees had been meeting in secret and erasing texts and emails – a charge board members denied. Trustees agreed to complete TOMA training as part of the settlement.
“Since we worked with the plaintiff to achieve a resolution,” said Board President Justin Bono, “we were able to craft a hybrid single member district plan that keeps two members elected at large with five members elected from within smaller geographic areas. Our board members want more diversity at the decision table. We are all optimistic that can be achieved with a new electoral plan. Hopefully, this system will result in successful elections for minority candidates.”
Because the three Lake Highlands trustees live a half mile from each other, and the three Pearce trustees live within 3 miles of one another, it’s likely some well-regarded board members will be unable to continue serving.
“Everyone’s first question will be, ‘What voting district am I in?’” added Bono. “Those maps are coming soon, and we are mindful of the community’s concerns regarding traditional neighborhood alliances and alignment. All of that and more has been taken into consideration, along with compliance with federal and state law, as we finalize this single member district map. I am confident that this new system will continue to produce high functioning boards focused on the success of all students in RISD.”
“The newly drawn districts will hopefully result in a board that is a closer reflection of the diverse and inclusive communities and families that the RISD serves,” said Tyson. “At the end of the day, we now have a political system that better serves voters of color, communities, schools and all RISD students.”