A domain name intended for a school enrollment program trolls people to school board candidate Nancy Rodriguez's campaign website. Jim Schutze

Local News

Odd Online Shenanigans in District 2 School Board Runoff

Then again, shenanigans aren't really a federal offense, are they?

This is not at all the way I’m supposed to write a story. I’m supposed to tell you what’s going on. But I’m afraid I may have to flip this one around. Maybe you can tell me what on earth this is.

Let’s at least start with the question so we know where we’re headed. Why did Dallas school board candidate Nancy Rodriguez rush out and buy an internet domain name hours after the school board discussed buying it in a public meeting?

Wait. There’s another question. Why does the website, intended to be part of a centralized enrollment system for all Dallas schools, now flip people over to Rodriguez’s campaign website for the Dec. 8 runoff election?

Wait. There’s at least one more. Why won’t Rodriguez give it back to the district right away, since the program for which it was intended is already up and running?

OK, well now look what you made me do. I thought of two more. Why won’t Rodriguez explain any of this? And I can’t even print the final question, because it’s a vulgarism, and I quit being vulgar. Recently.

I wrote about Rodriguez here recently (after I quit being vulgar), saying that, in what is supposed to be a non-partisan race, she is running a sharply partisan campaign in her Dec. 8 runoff against incumbent Dustin Marshall for the District 2 school board seat. And, no, I wasn’t being all finger-waggy about her campaign being partisan. I just thought it was odd for her to run as a Democrat, since her voting record in Texas primaries looks pretty much exclusively Republican.

Rodriguez and her husband jumped me online for being a knot-head, and they could be right. Anyway, I dredge that all up again here, because now, as I bring you this second weird Rodriguez story so close to the election, it would be fair for you to wonder if I have an agenda or an ax to grind. I don’t think I do. I just think this is odd again. But I could be a knot-head.

It goes like this. The Dallas school system has different kinds of schools — old-fashioned neighborhood schools, the prestigious magnet schools, the specialized “choice” schools, Montessori schools, single-gender schools, maybe some others I don’t know about. Every type of school and all of the individual schools have their own admissions criteria, application processes, and waiting lists.

The district has mounted an exhaustive effort in recent years to ferret out race and class bias that may deliver unfair advantages and disadvantages to kids. One conclusion has been that a really complicated enrollment and admissions process, spread out all over the internet, gives a big head start to children blessed with what is called “agency.” My term for it would be helicopter parents.

When my kid was in DISD, we always defended ourselves by saying, “We may be helicopter parents, but we’re not Blackhawk Down.”

But what about the kid whose parents work multiple jobs, ride the bus, exhaust themselves getting the rent paid and food on the table and maybe aren’t all that computer savvy? How do you level the admissions/choice playing field for that child?

At a November 5 board briefing, district staff unveiled a whole new system called “Choose Dallas ISD” where it’s all in one place. There is no more hunting and pecking around on the Internet or spelunking through the school district’s cavernous website.

You go to one place. You can click through all the schools, what they do, where they are, how long the waiting list is, and so on. It’s one-stop shopping, translatable into a bunch of languages, a great example of how the internet can be used as an intelligent tool for fairness and racial equity.

But the website name is wonky. It’s called dallasisd.org/choosedallasisd. So during the public webcast of the briefing, outgoing school board member Miguel Solis asked staff if they could make it even easier to get to. Since the program is called “Choose Dallas ISD,” why not grab a domain name for choosedallasisd.org?

“An even quicker way is if you told a parent, ‘You want to enroll your kid in DISD? Go to choosedallasisd.org,’” Solis said.

And while he was talking about it, Solis checked with godaddy.com, the domain registrar and web hosting company, and found that the domain name was available. Nobody else had taken it yet. So at approximately 4 p.m. on November 5 in the board’s public briefing, Solis said of the domain name, choosedallasisd.org, “It’s free right now.”

But not for long. According to GoDaddy, Rodriguez became the owner of choosedallasisd.org at about 10 p.m. that same night. When district staff tested the domain name online the next day, they found that it automatically re-directed to nancy4disd.com, Rodriguez’s campaign website.

The district’s problem was that the consolidated enrollment program for which the domain name would be useful was already underway. It is now in operation with a closing date of January 31. The period when the name would be most useful is right now.

I was told by a source within DISD that a district staff person, whose name I was not provided, called Rodriguez immediately to see if there had been some sort of mix-up. I was told that Rodriguez told the staff person that she now owned the name. My source would not give up the name of the staff person who called Rodriguez, so I was stymied without a name to call to verify the story. Maybe.

I was told that the staff person asked Rodriguez if she would give the domain name back to the district. My source said Rodriguez either refused or said she might consider conveying it back to the district after the runoff election on December 8.

I texted Rodriguez on Tuesday, Nov. 24. In my text, I conflated url with domain name, which is not quite right, and I said “board meeting” when it was actually a board briefing. Knot-head.

My text was:

“Jim Schutze here, D Magazine. I am aware that shortly after the Nov. 5 school board meeting when the board discussed registering choosedallasisd.org as a url, you bought that name. I am aware that you purchased this url, that the district asked you to give it to them and that you declined, saying you would not discuss surrendering the url until after the runoff. Can you call or email me to give me your side of this?”

She texted me back right away:

“Hi Jim, I don’t believe there was a board meeting on Nov 5th? I don’t know what discussion you’re referring to. I am pretty sure that I did not watch any meeting on the 5th since I was busy preparing for my runoff election since we took November 4th off to rest. I haven’t purchased any URLs recently and I’ve had my nancy4disd.com since the beginning of the year and maybe a little before.

“Now, Brian Lusk did call me earlier today and I was trying to figure out what exactly he was talking about. How did you know that he called me? Did he call you to tell you he called me? That’s odd. If you can give me some more information on what this is about, I would be happy to speak with you.”

Aha! Brian Lusk. This is how reporters find out stuff. Now I had somebody to call. Dr. Brian C. Lusk is chief of strategic initiatives for the district over the school choice program. I immediately set about trying to reach him.

I sent Lusk an email telling him he may have had a phone conversation with a board candidate who was unable to understand what he was saying. I know I personally would take that as alarming news. It took us a few days to get together because of the holiday weekend.

In the meantime, I texted back to Rodriguez: “So you didn’t buy the url, and/or you are unaware that the url sends people to your campaign page?”

Radio silence.

On the Monday after the holiday, I spoke to Lusk on the phone. He confirmed that it was he who had called Rodriguez to discuss the domain name. He said she had agreed to convey the domain name to the district “here in the near future.”

I asked later for clarification on “near future” and was told Lusk’s impression was that the district might hope to get access to the domain name sometime later in December.

I texted Rodriguez:

“I reached Dr. Lusk this morning. He confirmed what you told me — that he called you about the choosedallasisd url. He told me you and he agreed that you will convey the website to the district ‘in the future.’ Is that true? Can you tell me when? Will you give it to the district or sell it?”

More radio silence.

I texted her again and offered her several possible explanations for what she had done, asking her to choose one: She thought it was a clever trick. She did it for some philosophical reason. She intends to squat on the name until DISD cuts her a big fat check.

Radio still silent as of this writing.

This is kind of like my first Rodriguez story. I didn’t think it was a huge federal offense for her to posture herself as a big Democrat when she seemed more like, well, a big Republican. I just thought it was odd.

Now this. I have no idea what she’s up to. If you do and I’m being a knot-head, please tell me. Really. I’m mystified. As it stands, I sum this all up in two words. We-urd.

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