Richardson ISD recently settled the lawsuits that former board member David Tyson Jr. filed in 2018. Here’s what you need to know.
Why was the Richardson ISD school board sued?
Former trustee David Tyson Jr. filed two lawsuits against the seven-member school board this past year. The first lawsuit, filed in late January, alleged that the board’s at-large voting system created an all-white school board. Tyson is the only minority to ever serve as a trustee.
In an at-large voting system, board members are elected to represent the entire district and can live anywhere within its boundaries. Lake Highlands trustees Justin Bono, Jean Bono and Karen Clardy live within a mile of each other near Moss Haven Elementary.
Tyson’s lawsuit alleged that the voting system hinders minorities from serving on the board. The suit also stated the board focused its attention on students living in affluent neighborhoods, which led to an “egregious achievement gap.”
In other words: The lawsuit claims that the board’s election system perpetuates homogeneity. The board’s resulting lack of diversity benefitted white, affluent students to the detriment of low-income, minority students.
Tyson filed a second lawsuit in July that accused trustees of meeting secretly, in violation of Texas law, and erasing incriminating texts, emails and phone messages. His evidence: more than 500 unanimous votes over the past seven years that he alleged were “choreographed behind the scenes.”
Who was the lawyer representing David Tyson?
Brewer Storefront, the pro bono arm of Dallas-based Brewer Attorneys & Counselors, filed both lawsuits. Attorney Bill Brewer previously filed similar suits in Irving ISD, Grand Prairie ISD and Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD. He has yet to lose.
What was the outcome of the lawsuits?
The school board and Tyson agreed to a settlement in January, avoiding a trial. The board will implement a 5-2 system,with five single-member districts and two at-large seats.
What this means: Five trustees will represent specific geographic areas — called districts — within RISD’s boundaries. Tentative lines already have been drawn, and two of the districts are in majority-minority neighborhoods. Two of the seats will remain at-large.
Brewer Storefront received $385,000 as part of the settlement. That money benefits the nonprofit and is used for initiatives such as its Future Leaders Program, which provides Dallas ISD students with academic resources and leadership training.
“In total, including the plaintiff’s fees, we’re paying north of half a million dollars to date,” board president Justin Bono said. “But if we were taking this to trial, we would have spent multiples of that, just on our side.”
So what changes, and when?
How we elect trustees and who represents us will change this year. Instead of choosing all seven seats, voters will cast ballots for a trustee to represent their district and also for the two at-large seats. Since a transition plan is not part of the settlement, the details are still unclear.
Here’s what we know: A federal judge granted RISD’s request to move the upcoming May election to November 2019. A transition plan will be finalized Aug. 7.
Karen Clardy, Eron Linn and Katie Patterson’s two-year terms expire this May. Clardy and Linn have said they will seek re-election. Patterson has said she will not. Voters will cast ballots for three seats during the election.
Superintendent Jeannie Stone is recommending that District 4 is one of the seats included in the upcoming election, according to RISD.
We don’t know which trustees will hold single-member seats or who will serve at-large.
Does this mean that our school’s attendance boundaries will change?
The settlement has no impact on attendance boundaries whatsoever. It simply alters the voting process.
Where is Hamilton Park, and why is it important?
Hamilton Park, which is now part of District 4, will be one of the seats up for election this year. Developed as an African-American suburb in 1954, this historic community northeast of Lake Highlands still has close-knit residents dedicated to preserving its legacy. Its high school closed during desegregation in the ‘70s, and the building was converted into Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet. Now students are zoned to three high schools: Berkner, Richardson and Lake Highlands. For the first time in 65 years, Hamilton Park will be represented at the RISD board table. “We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs … This is the best ‘up’ that I could ever see, and I’m so glad to be a part of it,” Hamilton Park civic leader Thomas Jefferson said during January’s community meeting.
Need to know: Several Hamilton Park residents, including PTA council president Regina Harris, have expressed interest in serving on the board.
What are some potential pitfalls of the proposed map, according to neighbors?
The board had to ensure each district contains equal populations and that residents in two of the districts are predominately minorities. Because of this, some elementary schools’ attendance zones don’t match up with the districts. Seventeen elementary schools will have more than one trustee representing them. Some neighbors expressed concern those trustees will have competing interests and create conflict among the board.
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