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LISD candidates discuss issues
By Chris Roark, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Lewisville ISD Council of PTAs hosted a candidate forum Tuesday at Career Center East to allow each of the seven candidates running for LISD Board of Trustees a chance to share their views.
All seven candidates -- Paige Shoven, Tracee Ali, Kathy Duke and June Ehinger in Place 1 and Cornel Bekker, Trisha Sheffield and incumbent Vernell Gregg in Place 2 -- were in attendance.
Election Day is May 12, and early voting runs from Monday to May 8.
What needs to be done to turn around the school finance situation, and as a board member, what steps would you take to help turn it around?
Sheffield said educating the public on how bad the financial situation is would be a good start, along with helping elect state legislators that put education first.
“Until then, we need to work with what we have,” Sheffield said. “We need to engage our corporate community. We have the Lewisville ISD Education Foundation that exists solely to support our schools, but I feel like we haven’t fully developed that relationship and aren’t working as closely with them as we could.”
Ehinger said LISD needs to look at new revenue options, including partnerships and creative ideas.
“I’ve mentioned where school districts have gone with a city and floated a sales tax,” Ehinger said. “It’s called MAPS For Kids. It happened in Oklahoma City with 16 communities. It was a resounding success. It didn’t increase people’s taxes, but it was a sales tax that enabled 16 districts to do things they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”
Shoven said there is still some budget trimming the district can do.
“Eighty-four percent of our budget is for payroll, but there’s still 16 percent that’s not payroll,” Shoven said. “And even in that 84 percent, I think there’s still some cutting that can be done. They’re cutting at the central administration level, and I think there are ways to find $20 million and not hurt the children. That’s the biggest goal.”
Shoven said one more year of trimming should work and that she hopes the 2013 legislative session will lead to a better funding system.
Bekker said LISD is a high-density, low-income district and that it should be trying to attract high-income residents to bring their property taxes into the district. She said parent involvement is also key.
“A recent study has shown that for every parent that is involved for a year, that adds $1,000 in funding to a child’s education,” Bekker said. “So if you involve the parents, you involve the children also.”
Bekker said corporate involvement is another idea.
Ali said streamlining programs is a good place to start.
“I think there are a lot of places where we can take a second look at programs we already have that are already successful, but possibly streamline them a bit,” Ali said. “And that would mean looking at them every couple of years to make sure that it still needs to be the way it is.”
Ali said outside involvement, such as with parents and various companies, is also key. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of filling out a grant application,” Ali said.
Gregg said reaching out to the legislators is worth examining, though state mandates means LISD must rely on saving itself.
“Part of the plan from the strategic design team is to have more partnerships, and I am in favor of that. I know of several companies that I think will partner with us,” Gregg said.
Gregg added that grants aren’t being given out as much as they used to but said the district must still apply for them.
Duke said communicating with legislators is crucial, especially from community members.
“We have a strong leadership team. We need to trust them to talk to the teachers to find out where cuts need to be made,” Duke said. “If we talk to teachers, they’re going to give us ideas. We don’t want to cut pay. So we have to do that.”
Duke said continuing the relationship with the education foundation is important as well because of the support it provides.
What are the district’s most pressing issues, and what suggestions would you offer the administration to help solve them?
Gregg said closing the achievement gap is the top issue.
“There is a wide gap between our minority students and the Anglo students,” she said. “This is a great district, and [the gap] should not be.”
Gregg said the district has implemented programs, such as Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, which she recommended, to help get students prepared for life after high school.
Duke said better communication is one of the top issues, as well as the school finance situation. She said getting the legislature to give districts more local control is key. Diversification is another issue.
“In other countries, the kids know three, four or five other languages,” Duke said. “I think that is a way we’re going to keep our kids moving forward to help in that achievement gap.”
Sheffield said the top issue is school finance.
“How do we develop our community partnerships,” Sheffield said. “I think we have to look at how we can work better with the Lewisville Education Foundation to do that.”
Sheffield said another concern is people’s perception of schools based on accountability ratings based on standards by the Texas Education Agency.
“We need to change that focus so that the community has a clear picture of what all of our schools look like,” she said.
Ehinger said a better revenue stream is the top issue. She said while diversity is a strength, it can also be a challenge.
“There are language barriers out there, and there are some children out there who don’t have technology while other children do,” Ehinger said. “We need to be aware of that and try to level the playing field.”
Shoven said the district’s perception of itself needs to be addressed.
“What would I say to the board members? Get out and talk to everybody,” Shoven said. “Let them know that we’re hearing them, that we see what’s going on, and let them know that we won’t stand for one school to be seen as a lower level than another school. We need to let people know that what’s happening at one school is just as great as what’s going on at another school.”
Bekker said balancing financial issues with success is a challenge.
“One of our biggest challenges is preparing our kids for tomorrow without leaving some of our kids behind,” Bekker said. “It’s going to take creativity and a lot of personal involvement from the parents and our industry leaders.”
Ali said growth is the biggest challenge with the impact on rezoning and new schools on the community coming with it.
“Thinking further out and possibly letting the community know years in advance so they can prepare better, I think is important,” Ali said.
Do you support open enrollment?
Bekker: Yes. “Parents would take interest in the school, and it will be something they aspire to get their children into, not something the kids have to go to.”
Ali: Yes. “Parents would be more involved, and the students would be more involved.”
Gregg: Not at this time. “I don’t think we have the capacity. However, if we had the room for certain programs not offered at all campuses, then I would be in favor of it there. Or if we got a math academy or early high school program. For something like that, I would be in favor of it.”
Duke: No. “It can cause havoc in population, it’s hard to track and it doesn’t end up equal in the end. We need to continue to build our schools so they have all the programs they need.”
Sheffield: No. “If you have a campus that is crowded and one that is not, and a parent wants to send their child to a campus that is not near capacity, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But overall I don’t think it’s a good idea. We build our community through our feeder programs.”
Ehinger: “There is a process in place for transfers within the district to another school. Our administration carefully looks at the applications, and there is a timeline involved. But as far as opening the doors to everyone who wants to go to Hebron High School, we need to be careful because it will come with overcrowding situations.”
Shoven: Yes. “I support the choice that [Dr. Stephen Waddell, LISD superintendent] did in Birdville. It has not divided the community, and it has not broken down walls. It’s allowed parents to do what’s best for their family and their children. We need to allow the parents -- a transfer policy is a great way to start -- some flexibility.”
What is your plan to attract and retain quality teachers and do you support a pay increase for teachers?
Ali said she supports increased pay and that she supports performance-based pay. She said a student’s improvement, based on grades, school pride and positive comments from counselors, parents and coaches, should be factors.
Gregg said she would like to increase teachers’ pay and to help offset the $17 increase in insurance. She said LISD may address that during the next budget process.
Duke said the district needs to look at its fund balance to give teachers a raise.
Sheffield said she would like to give raises but cautioned promising pay increases until it’s determined how it will impact the fund balance. She said it’s important to avoid an emergency later where the district has to lay people off.
Ehinger said to retain the top teachers, LISD needs to address the pay scale and should look at creative revenue options to do so to provide additional benefits. One example she suggested was a one-time stipend.
Shoven said the teachers deserve a pay increase. She suggested looking at the fund balance, examining the possibility of a stipend and other ways. She said putting insurance cost increases into the budget on a regular basis to absorb the increase.
Bekker said she supports more teacher pay and said she would favor a performance-based increase, though the performance shouldn’t be solely connected to student performance. Her idea to retain teachers is an incentive plan in which teachers stay with the district two to three years before they reap the benefits of it.
Would you favor LISD adopting more courses in foreign language and religious history?
Each candidate supported having a foreign language elective.
As far as the religious courses, Duke said she liked the idea but said the question is financing it. Sheffield said it should be left to churches. Ehinger urged caution in offering a course like this but said it could be done. Shoven supports it if there is a student demand for it, if there are teachers to lead the class and if it doesn’t exclude other religions. Bekker said one option could be to have a broad overview of religion, but she warned of some people not being open minded for such a course. She said it should be campus-to-campus. Ali supports the religious course but said it should be all-inclusive. Gregg said she would support it after looking at the Bible curriculum, which the State Board of Education approved, and if there is a demand for it.
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