In Fort Worth ISD’s District 2 sits Polytechnic High School, a campus that merges new construction from the 2017 bond with the landmark building that overlooks the city’s east side and greets those walking in with a stained-glass window.
In some ways, the campus mirrors the race for a school board candidate to represent District 2.
Voters can choose to extend board president Tobi Jackson’s 13 years on the board, allowing her to tap into her institutional knowledge to work with a newly elected board and superintendent. Or, they can bring in someone new with challenger Pat Carlson, who has no experience on a school board, but embraces her conservative values and says she is passionate about helping students succeed.
Carlson, however, appears to be second-guessing her decision to run.
She said did not plan to run for school board until the day of the filing deadline, when she got a call from Hollie Plemons, a parent in the district who frequently speaks at board meetings, who asked: “You don’t know me, but would you consider running for Fort Worth ISD?”
She prayed about it, and filed to run that afternoon, she said.
“To be very honest, if I could have slept on it overnight, I probably wouldn’t have,” Carlson said. “I’ve kicked myself ever since because I’m paying for this apartment down in Austin and I wanted to be down there.”
Jackson and Carlson differ in many ways — starting with why they chose to run — but both want a chance to represent the community where they grew up.
With so many students in public schools, Carlson said we can’t turn our backs on them, adding it’s a travesty what is happening to kids now. Students might be getting diplomas, but they aren’t performing how they need to on the SAT or ACT college entrance exams.
They need the tools to reach their full potential, Carlson said.
“My husband and I, we’ve been married 52 years, but we had nothing. There wasn’t any white privilege with us,” Carlson said. “We had nothing but we didn’t know any better. We’ve been able to have a successful business and a nice income. I want everybody to have that opportunity, too.”
At a board meeting Carlson attended, she said she saw the district reporting on student achievement data on standardized testing with goals that only increased a couple of percentage points. She said they should be reaching higher.
Jackson isn’t ready to be done with her work on the board. There are several new trustees, and Jackson said she intends to be someone who can provide historical context and knowledge to the board.
Specifically, she wants to share her knowledge of the ongoing bond projects. Jackson served as board president in 2017 and 2021, both years that voters approved bonds totaling around $2 billion, she said she feels a responsibility to the community to see those through.
“Prices for labor and acquisition of materials have increased and hard decisions are going to have to be made with regard to where those dollars are spent,” Jackson said. “And if I am in the seat, I can ensure that the needs east of I-35 are addressed because I will work to make sure those needs are addressed for my babies over here. You need a proven fighter in a seat to make sure that those that are underrepresented are represented.”
Besides low test scores, especially in reading, Fort Worth ISD is facing declining enrollment, an $80 million budget deficit, questions about curriculum and uncertainty about possible policy changes being considered by the Texas Legislature, including on school safety and a voucher program.
Jackson is against vouchers and does not want it passed in the Legislative session. Carlson doesn’t think government money should go to private schools because of the strings attached. However, she thinks there’s a possibility for a different approach.
“We could give them their tax dollars and let them shop public schools,” she said. “I would be OK with that.”
How much have the candidates raised?
Jackson has outraised Carlson in campaign funds, but Carlson has spent over $46,000 from her personal funds for her campaign, mostly on advertising.
As of April campaign finance reports, Carlson has raised $400 in political contributions from three donors, all of which are listed as retired in their occupation.
Jackson has raised $31,605 and loaned herself $25,000 for this campaign. One of her biggest donors is the law firm Linebarger, Goggan, Sampson and Blair, which donated $2,000 and is contracted for the district’s tax collection services. She also received $2,000 from Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association.
Cantey Hanger law firm directed the superintendent search, and donated $2,000 to Jackson.
In PACs, Jackson received $2,500 from both the Good Government Fund and For the Children. Great Cities Great Schools — former trustee Judy Needham’s PAC — donated $10,000 to Jackson.
Carlson’s conservative past
Carlson knows she’s in a nonpartisan race, but she said she isn’t going to shy away from her Republican past.
“I don’t run away from my conservative credentials, because there’s too much out there,” Carlson said.
She was the GOP county chair from 2000 to 2005 and also worked for about 20 years as a lobbyist in Austin as part of the Texas Eagle Forum on conservative issues, specifically climate change.
She joined the Texas Eagle Forum because of Phyllis Schlafly, who fought against the Equal Rights Amendment becoming a constitutional amendment in the 1970s, Carlson said. She is a former president of the right-wing organization, according to PolitiFact.
Jackson has concerns about partisan politics entering local races, she said.
“Right now in the United States of America, we are seeing that partisan politics are entering local politics,” Jackson said. “People with the knowledge and the heart and the experience need to be in these local seats because the biggest change you can affect and impact is at the local level.”
Carlson has attended two school board meetings, she said. However, she thinks she can combat declining enrollment in the district and the rising deficit — since Texas school funding is tied to attendance, increasing enrollment has a direct impact on the deficit.
“I believe people are leaving because students aren’t learning,” Carlson said, citing low reading scores in the district. “I don’t think it’s the teachers. I think it’s all this extra stuff that we’re putting into our classrooms.”
Carlson cited the district’s racial equity department and climate change in curriculum as a problem.
“We’re pushing so much stuff on our students instead of talking about reading, writing and arithmetic, giving them the basic tools to be successful in life,” Carlson said. “I would do everything I could to make sure they’re actually being taught.”
When asked about climate change in curriculum, she said she hasn’t looked at what is in Fort Worth schools, but when her children were in school she saw it in subtle ways, like in math problems.
The school board race is not Carlson’s first campaign. In 2012, she ran against Matt Krause and Barbara Nash in the Republican primary for District 93 of the Texas House of Representatives, according to Ballotpedia. Krause won the race.
Jackson’s 13 years on the board
Jackson is seeking another four-year term for a specific reason: “I’m running because my children in east Fort Worth need me.”
In the time she’s served on the board, Jackson has helped hire two superintendents — Kent Scribner and Angélica Ramsey.
Jackson is proud to have lowered the tax rate in the district around 4.6% — from $1.3432 per $100 valuation in 2021-22 to the current rate of $1.2816.
Although the rate is lower, the tax bill of residents typically rises because of higher appraisal values on homes from the county.
The board is aware of criticism that trustees shouldn’t touch the tax rate, Jackson said.
“When values are up, you’re rich, when they’re down, you’re poor,” she said. “We can’t run a business that way.”
During her time serving, Jackson is proud of building improvements in east Fort Worth and getting a Teaching and Learning Center.
Some of those improvements include additions and renovations to Polytechnic High School and Eastern Hills High School as part of the 2017 bond project.
But, over the years Jackson has seen enrollment decline, the deficit increase and accountability ratings dip and rise. To combat this, she said the district has hit the reset button.
“We have a new superintendent, many new staffers, and I think the sky’s the limit for us right now,” she said.
East Fort Worth is home to Carlson, who said she grew up in a working class family and graduated from Polytechnic High School. Her husband, John, attended Trimble Tech High School.
Carlson is one of four daughters and her father has a seventh-grade education, she said. Her own education includes about two years worth of college credits. Now, she and her husband are business owners for Carlson Engineering Inc., located in the Diamond Hill neighborhood on Fort Worth’s Northside.
Though she grew up in east Fort Worth, Carlson and her family lived in Grapevine for about 25 years and her children went to public and private schools in that area. They moved back to District 2 and bought the house they currently own in 2006, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District.
Jackson also is a Fort Worth ISD graduate and a lifelong resident of Cowtown. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and her master’s degree from the University of North Texas.
Both of Jackson’s children graduated from Fort Worth ISD. Jackson is the executive director of the nonprofit Fort Worth SPARC, which organizes summer and after school programming for kids.
Early voting begins April 24 and ends May 2. Election Day is May 6, and District 2 voters will decide what kind of voice they want on the board. They can choose one who is asking for more time to serve the eastside, or one who wasn’t planning to run, but answered a call from a parent.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.