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Wednesday, October 5, 2022
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Dallas College Board Seat to be Decided by Saturday Runoff


Dallas College | Image by Dallas Morning News

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Though several key races will be decided during November’s general election in Texas, other critical local runoffs are still to be voted on. One runoff election, set for Saturday, will determine who will occupy the District 1 seat on the Dallas College Board of Trustees. District 1 encompasses North Dallas and Lake Highlands.

The nonpartisan race pits Lynn Davenport, an education advocate and researcher, against Dr. Catalina Garcia, a retired physician.

The Dallas College Board of Trustees serves as a “liaison between the college and the community, approves annual budgets and sets policies, among other responsibilities,” according to the board’s website.

Davenport and Garcia earned their spots in the runoff by defeating incumbent Gretchen Williams, who had taken over the seat after her husband died. J.L. “Sonny” Williams, a Minyard Food Stores president and minority owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was a longtime member of the college’s board.

Garcia won the May 7 special election with nearly 36% of the vote, while Davenport earned just above 32% of the vote to squeak past Williams by only 16 votes and make the runoff.

Though the candidate’s names will appear on the ballot without any political affiliation attached, politics have crept into the race. The Dallas County Republican Party (DCRP) is telling its supporters to vote for Davenport.

“Lynn Davenport is a strong conservative who has been involved with educational issues for at least 14 years,” DCRP Chair Jennifer Stoddard Hajdu said in an email to The Dallas Express. “She will keep political indoctrination out of our schools. Lynn is a fiscal conservative who will watch the budget and ensure that our tax dollars are not wasted.”

“Catalina Garcia, on the other hand, is a staunch [D]emocrat voter and holds a very liberal ideology. The DCRP supports conservatives and conservative ideologies,” Stoddard Hajdu added.

Davenport previously ran unsuccessfully for Richardson ISD Board of Trustees in 2017. She is currently the host of the Social Impact Podcast on the OffBeat Business Media (OBBM) Network. The podcast touches on topics relating to K-12 education and higher education.

Davenport also previously worked for Arthur Andersen as a recruiting manager for its global IT services and business consulting practice before leaving that position to stay home and raise her children. She additionally served as a career coach for unemployed people for 11 years and was a Dallas Community Development Commission commissioner.

Davenport says her experience as a K-12 education advocate makes her the best choice for a seat on the board.

“My education advocacy began in K-12 as a public school parent. I have testified before the Texas Legislature on a regular basis. Growing up in Dallas, my education began in Richardson ISD public schools, where my children also attended,” she told The Dallas Express.

“My understanding of the Dallas education ecosystem is unmatched by my opponent and those currently serving on the Board,” Davenport added.

Despite the DCRP supporting Davenport, at least one of Garcia’s endorsements has come from Republican-aligned politicians.

Edwin Flores, a Dallas ISD Board of Trustees member who was a Republican candidate for Dallas County judge, has thrown his support behind Garcia. Garcia also has the endorsement of current Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

Another of her supporters is Phil Ritter, who won reelection to the District 2 seat on the board in May. Ritter has voted in Republican primaries but chose to support Garcia in the election.

In a May 30 letter endorsing Garcia, Ritter said three factors distinguished her from Davenport:

“First, she has the best interests of our students and Dallas College at heart, as opposed to an ideological or personal agenda.

“Second, she demonstrates a willingness to receive new ideas and information and act upon them.

“Finally, she has a strong record of community board service, as attested by numerous leaders from across the political spectrum that have reached out to me in recent days. Her opponent has no such experience.”

Several other major players in North Texas politics have endorsed Garcia, including District Attorney John Creuzot, State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas), and representatives including Jasmine Crockett, Victoria Neave, and Ana-Maria Ramos.

Garcia says it is necessary to have the support of people from across the political spectrum.

“This is a nonpartisan race, and the position of Dallas College Trustee is not a political position,” Garcia told The Dallas Express. “For these reasons, it is important to have support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. I am honored to have this diverse support, which evidences that these different groups can agree on a candidate who, in their collective opinion, is the best-qualified candidate.”

Other experience Garcia has gathered includes serving on the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Board. She is also co-founder of the Texas Women’s Foundation.

Garcia has received the Latina Living Legend Award from DFW Hispanic 100, the Susan B. Anthony Award from the League of Women Voters, the Women Helping Women Award from the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and Volunteer of the Year from Dallas ISD.

“Recent changes at Dallas College have inspired me to run for the Board of Trustees to ensure that students have equal access, not just to any education, but to a quality education that truly equips them for their working future and not just an entry-level position,” she told Texas Signal.

The runoff comes at an essential time for Dallas College. North Texas community colleges saw a significant drop in enrollment during the pandemic as many chose to pause their education to work, save money, or avoid COVID-19.

More than 65% of the total undergraduate enrollment loss occurred in community colleges, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Dallas College was no exception, as it alone saw a drop in enrollment of 15% from the fall of 2019 to the fall of 2020.

Additionally, the Dallas College system used to consist of seven colleges, each considered an individual institution part of the Dallas County Community College District. In 2020, the separate institutions merged into what is now Dallas College.

Both Davenport and Garcia have expressed skepticism about the merging of campuses into one single institution. Both candidates have also questioned the district’s financial stewardship and faculty morale.

“The controversial corporate-style consolidation was adopted despite complaints from longtime faculty and the declining student body,” Davenport said. “Dallas College passed a $1.1 billion bond in 2019 while student enrollment decreased and spending increased. They spent $18 million on a top-tier consulting firm and paid $12 million in severance to 1300 employees.”

“Dallas County residents deserve fair representation to ensure the money is spent on education and preserving academic integrity for those seeking higher education,” Davenport continued. “I seek to be part of the solution to increase enrollment and provide higher education opportunities for our diverse county.”

“I am also concerned about the wasteful spending of our tax dollars which has occurred at Dallas College in the last few years,” Garcia told the Lake Highlands Advocate. “Consolidation of the seven campuses under one administration should have saved tax dollars but did not. As a board member, one must require an accounting for expenditures, review and compare bids and contracts, and demand transparency. For example: Why are we still paying the huge costs of a retired chancellor?”

Voters can find their election day voting location at the Dallas County website. Polling places include the Audelia Road Library and Richland College.

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