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Fort Worth ISD board candidates focus on communication, declining enrollment

Three people sit at a table with microphones in front of them.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
Fort Worth ISD school board candidates Tobi Jackson, Mar'Tayshia James and Quinton Phillips speak to constituents at an election forum on March 30.

Fort Worth ISD is navigating declining enrollment, afinancial deficit and a new superintendent – all while trying to ensure a good education for thousands of children.

Three of four school board incumbents up for reelection on May 6 have candidates attempting to unseat them.

What candidates attended?

District 2 trustee Tobi Jackson was first elected to the board in 2010. She works as the executive director for Fort Worth SPARC, a nonprofit providing after school programs and resources for students in Tarrant County.

Quinton Phillips was first elected in 2019 and works with community organizations on cultural diversity and leadership. He represents District 3. According to the Fort Worth ISD school board website, he’s a founding partner of the nonprofit Community Frontline. He spent nearly a decade working as a juvenile probation officer.

Mar’Tayshia James is hoping to earn her first term on the school board, but this is not her first campaign. James ran for City Council in 2021 and lost to Gyna Bivens. She is president of the Echo Heights Environmental Coalition. She is seeking the District 3 seat.

CJ Evans was first elected to the board in 2019 and is seeking a second term. She represents District 5, which is part of west Fort Worth. Evans is a lawyer.

Josh Yoder is a managing director for Level Four Insurance and has lived in District 5 for a decade, according to his campaign paperwork.

Kevin Lynch is a first-time candidate and is a parent in Fort Worth ISD. He is a medical device salesperson who lives in District 5.

Candidates gathered March 30 at the Texas A&M Law Schooldowntown to discuss their campaigns. The forum was cosponsored by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Fort Worth Report, KERA and civic engagement group Steer FW.

District 6 trustee Anne Darr was not included in the forum because she did not draw a challenger and will keep her seat on the board. District 2 candidate Pat Carlson and District 3 candidate Valeria Nevárez declined to attend.

Have you registered to vote?

The Fort Worth Report put together a guide on how to make sure you can vote in the May election. The deadline to register to vote is April 6.

District 2, 3

The candidates said they saw a need for better communication in the district. Mar’Tayshia James wants to see more of the district’s successful programs highlighted, such as Aviation Technology at Dunbar High School. Tobi Jackson wants to set the record straight on reading scores. Quinton Phillips wants more community engagement.

The District 2 and 3 candidates will eventually represent much of east Fort Worth, including historic areas like Stop Six and Poly. But once they’re on the board, trustees have to all come together to solve issues like declining enrollment.

Fort Worth ISD is losing thousands of students a year — which translates to a significant drop in state funding — and it’s contributing to a deficit. Superintendent Angélica Ramsey plans to restructure administration to cut jobs with the board’s approval.

Trustees have to be willing to put their own skin in the game to fight declining enrollment, Phillips said. He said he works to convince both his community and family to send their children to Fort Worth ISD.

For James, parents should know more about the good things happening in schools because that will encourage them to keep students in Fort Worth ISD.

Much of the forum went back to student academic performance. Jackson said that in a meeting, trustees were told 19% of third-grade students will meet grade level on standardized testing this spring. However, she said, that was using the highest metric. When other metrics are added, such as approaching grade level, more students are passing.

Approaching grade level is considered passing. The Texas Education Agency describes it as “students are likely to succeed in the next grade or course with targeted academic intervention.”

Parental involvement is another issue candidates addressed. Phillips wants to make sure campuses are warm and welcoming to parents. James echoed the sentiment and said parents shouldn’t just hear about their kids when there is a discipline issue, but also when they’re doing a good job.

Staff needs to be cognizant of the kind of jobs parents have and needs to have multiple ways to reach them, Jackson said.

Candidates said that communication needs to be part of the plan when the district closes schools, which it will inevitably have to do.

“People care about their schools,” Jackson said. “They’re in their heart. They’re in their soul. They’re in their mind and probably song. People have memories in schools, people have memories of Farrington Field, so the first thing is getting through to everybody and finding out which schools are comfortable closing.”

While some schools close, others will be rebuilt. Voters narrowly approved a $1.2 billion bond and Jackson said the district will have to look at what campuses the district needs most.

As a Dunbar High School graduate, James said she would be heartbroken to see her alma mater close, adding that many parents don’t know about school closures and what might happen with the campuses.

The narrow passage of the bond program spoke volumes to Phillips. There was trepidation in the community on whether the board can be trusted with those dollars, he said.

“But now that that trust has been instilled, now it’s about transparency,” he said.

Transparency also comes into question with the board’s conflict of interest policy.

The school board’s conflict of interest policy allows trustees to receive up to $2,000 in campaign finance decisions without recusing from the vote that involves those vendors. Few conflict of interest disclosures are filed in Fort Worth ISD, an investigation from the Report found.

Trustees quietly rolled back a conflict of interest policy in 2017 that was more stringent on trustees filing disclosures and what they can accept in campaign donations.

Jackson strongly believes the district’s policy is the best in North Texas, mostly because it lowered the limit from the state recommended $2,500 to $2,000.

Vendor selection is done through a procurement process in the district that involves the superintendent making vendor recommendations, Phillips said. He wants to let people do their job.

The board should hold the superintendent accountable and make sure she delivers on the procurement process, Jackson said.

“When we get overly involved, children lose,” she said. “So we have to remember to follow the rules and we also have to be at the table when those rules are set and make sure that we’re doing the right thing.”

James will not just hold the superintendent accountable in vendors and conflict of interest, but herself and other trustees as well, she said.

District 5

C.J. Evans believes Fort Worth ISD can be the best large urban district in the state, but she knows it will be a long road to get there. Kevin Lynch believes the board has some hard decisions ahead and needs to make the right choices for kids. Josh Yoder emphasizes the need for the district to listen to parents.

Candidates hoping to win the votes of much of the westside of the district want to see fiscal responsibility and academic excellence.

“When we are an A+ district, enrollment will stop declining,” Evans said. “My continued promise is to remain hyper-focused on getting our elementary reading and middle school math numbers up.”

To combat declining enrollment, Yoder said he knows what the district shouldn’t do: Pit parents against each other based on family values. Instead, the district should refocus on education.

“And by that I mean math, science, reading, social studies and arithmetic, something that everybody in here regardless of economic class, regardless of race, can agree on,” he said. “You know, why are we losing attendance? It’s because we’re fighting on social issues inside of schools that are designed to educate our children.”

Trustees need to look at declining enrollment and see where resources need to go to improve the district, Lynch said.

District 5 includes Tanglewood Elementary School, which has a financially flush Parent

Teacher Association and resources like armed security guards. Evans said programs like that are not a result of the district giving those schools more money, but money parents invest.

PTAs are important, Yoder said, but parents need to feel like trustees are listening to them at board meetings.

“(When) you have one trustee sleeping, another looking at her laptop, and the other is not paying attention at all, do you think they want to donate money?” Yoder said.

Like many of the school district’s constituents, Evans didn’t vote for the bond. She said she thought the size of it was fiscally irresponsible even though she knows improvements are needed in some schools. But now, the scope of it is set and she thinks it’s important to remain transparent as it moves forward.

Continuing to expand the footprint of the district with bond money, but not selling properties is a problem for Yoder. He said there hasn’t been transparency on what the bond money will be used for.

Lynch is a member of the citizen oversight committee for the bond.

“It’s our responsibility as a district to have a master plan so people know where that money’s going,” Lynch said. “We’re competing with charter schools, we’re competing with private schools, we’re competing with home schools and people leaving the district to go to the suburbs. I think we have to look at putting a product that competes with all of those and with that I think we have enough money to do some really powerful things and then look at building new schools on existing campuses and we’ve got to figure out how many of those campuses we actually need.”

Yoder emphasized there is a need for more parental involvement and said he’s spoken with parents about why they’ve pulled students out of the district.

“I know parents who have pulled their children out because they don’t want them looking at an iPad in second grade all day long. I know parents are pulling out because of the mask laws,” Yoder said. “We all have our ideals. We all have our principles. Let’s come together around education and say OK, it’s OK for you to wear a mask. It’s OK for me to not wear a mask.”

The district has to focus on improving third-grade reading scores, Evans said.

“We need to also continue to improve our currently strong academic programs, our athletics, our fine arts, we need to stay strong where we’re great and get better where we’re not academically,” she said.

There has to be a sense of leadership and a common goal on the board, Lynch said.

“To me, academics is what we’re here for,” Lynch said. “And we need to focus on that and with that, have financial responsibility and use the resources we have on things that are proven to work and focus on one goal together and put our efforts there.”

Missed the candidate forum? Here’s where to watch the recording.

The forums were open to the public and livestreamed on the Fort Worth Report’s Facebook page and the Fort Worth Report’s YouTube channel.

To watch the forum, click here.

Looking for more candidate forums? Click here for a list of other area forums for school board, City Council and other municipal races.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at 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.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily Toreador at Texas Tech University. To contact her, email