The number of folks who want to shape the policies of the Fort Worth ISD has now grown to eight as all four of the trustees running for reelection in May have challengers — and, for the first time in decades, the challengers come with educational backgrounds in one form or another unlike those they want to replace.

Dennis Dunkin, a retired school administrator who was head of the district’s magnet program for 20 years and then became its ombudsman (a job the controversial program badly needed during the 1990s reign of Superintendent Tom Tocco who faced almost constant criticism from blacks here that the program discriminated against minorities), has filed to run for the District 3 seat against incumbent Christene Moss, a survey nurse who works for the Texas Department of Aging and Disabilities.  

Linda LaBeau, a nurse and special education mediator who is concerned about the district’s budget woes, is taking on District 5’s Judy Needham who lists her occupation as a fundraising consultant. Moss has held the post for 20 years, Needham, 14 years. When a board majority including Needham voted two weeks ago to extend for another year the “financial state of emergency” declared last year that allows it to lay off employees due to its ongoing budget crisis, Moss voted against it

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Over in District 2, Jean McClung, who has represented the East Side district for 20 years and lists her profession on the district’s web site as “homemaker/community volunteer” is being challenged by Tobi Jackson, assistant director of education at ATI Career Training Center and teacher of biological sciences. Jackson, a well-known East Side neighborhood activist, is also a state-credentialed secondary teacher.

And Chris Hatch, a certified public accountant and head of the board’s audit committee, will try to hang on to the seat he’s held since 2004 against a challenge from Ann Sutherland, whose education credentials fill a page including among others: public school math teacher, assistant professor of education economics at the University of Oregon, consultant with the Educational Policy Research Center, with a doctorate from the University of California.

Sutherland, as a member of Associated Communities of Tarrant, may be best known here as the person who led the fight to force the county hospital, John Peter Smith, to open its doors wider to the poor.

Given the backgrounds of these newcomers this could be one of the most “education-focused” races in the district’s history. About time.