I realize that we are remiss in not getting our thoughts or recommendations out in the 2012 school board races in time for early voting. The problem this year is not that we're disengaged. On the contrary, I think that this year's races are about choosing the greater of the good candidates. In some races, you find that candidates are just unqualified, or show up with ideological baggage, or stupidity. That is not the case this year.
Still, when you vote, you must choose just one. So although we'll skip endorsements this year in the races, we could just as easily have endorsed multiple candidates running against each other. Hopefully some of the discussion will help you make up your mind.
The Place 1 seat is the seat currently held by Trustee Tom Ferguson. He's not running for re-election, so the seat is open.
This article has the basic info on the candidates.
The following are purely my observations and thoughts:
Tracee Ali is by most measures qualified to serve. She has a Masters degree in Counseling, works in higher education, is involved in volunteer work, and has kids in the district. The problems I see with her candidacy are that she has not been in the district very long, she waited so long to file. Ali doesn't have a campaign website (just a Facebook page) and she doesn't seem to have a high profile outside of her neighborhood, where she serves on the PTA. The feeling by some that we've talked to is that she and her neighbor, Cornel Bekker were upset with the actions of the board in their rezoning actions for Meridian. (Though I've not confirmed that with them). I don't think Ali has a chance this time, but could pull votes away that could affect the outcome. I hope that Ali stays involved. She could still serve on a future board.
Dr. June Ehinger is a retired educator with many years of experience, even working for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. I have no doubts that she would bring some knowledge to the table that could be useful. Ehinger was an early favorite to me just because the more I learn about public education, the more I realize that it's much more complicated than most people think. I thought that her knowledge of education would give her an edge.
But one of the most important things the school board has to deal with is our budget, which is impacted more than any other factor by Texas' screwed up school finance system. Ehinger made the comment at the Lewisville Task Force forum, and supposedly again at the PTA that the district could consider a creative solution involving a partnership with the cities in the district, and sales tax options. While that may work in Oklahoma, where she recently transplanted from, I'm fairly certain that is not even legal in Texas, much less practical to try to get 13 cities to raise their sales taxes to give to the district.
Ehinger's involvement in whatever capacity - whether on a board or committee, or as a trustee someday will be an asset to the district, but maybe she should stick around a bit longer and join us for the budget workshop this coming summer to try to get a better feel for how it works. It won't hurt to spend more time getting to know the district. All of that being said, if she somehow pulled off a win, I wouldn't lose any sleep. She's capable, and would probably pick up on Texas school finance, and the quirky nuances of our district very quickly. Ehinger also supports the new Strategic Plan, which I happen to be proud of, so that's a plus.
Kathy Duke served on the school board for six years, being unseated in 2010 when all three incumbents up for re-election lost. Duke has stayed involved in LISD, serving as the Chair of the Bond Oversight Committee, and has been very active in the community. She is a nice person, and generally well known and liked in the community. One of the perceptions she will have a hard time overcoming is that she was a rubber-stamp for the policies of former Superintendent, Dr. Jerry Roy. The board that she served on flouted open meetings laws, and rarely had open, honest discussion in school board meetings, where most things sailed through unanimously. A number of active Lewisville parents are still upset about the decision to make two 9/10 campuses for Lewisville High School, a process that by all accounts was seriously flawed in terms of community buy-in and communication. In her defense, Duke says that she thinks she was lumped in with Tommy Kim and Fred Placke, and that she didn't share their philosophy.
Duke doesn't list a college degree on her campaign materials, but serving 6 years gives her a lot of knowledge about school finance. She says she thinks districts ought to press the legislature to grant more local control; I agree. She says kids need to learn foreign languages; I agree. She says communication needs to improve. I think it has improved vastly over what it was when she was on the board before. She might still be on the board, had the communication been better. But there is always room for improvement - especially with regards to school finance.
Paige Shoven has been a tireless volunteer with PTAs, and a thorn in the side of the school board over some zoning decisions that have not been handled all that well. I don't for a second doubt her commitment making the schools the best they can be.
The sense I get from reading her campaign materials and hearing her at forums is that she understands a good bit about school finance, and the problems we face from state funding shortfalls. But I worry a little, based on some of the wording of her campaign materials, that she thinks there is still enough inefficiency to be rooted out to make a dent in the shortfall that we're being handed.
Don't get me wrong: I appreciate budget hawks, and a stubborn insistence on continually seeking efficiency improvements. I just hate to see anyone in 2012 thinking that they are going to find much else to cut that hasn't already been cut to the bone. Shoven said "There are ways to find $20 million and not hurt the children". I don't think so. Remember that Lewisville ISD is being shorted by the State of Texas for $54 million this Biennium. The facts are that there will be cuts, and there have been cuts, that will affect the classroom. We've shed teachers and will continue to do so until we can operate with the funds we're given, or the voters approve a tax increase. Even cutting 100% of central administration wouldn't make up for the shortfall, but we have those folks for a reason. Their support enables teachers to do what they do.
Maybe you have to say a certain amount of those things to reassure voters that you're not going to run off hog-wild with their money, and to convince them you can come up with a solution.
Shoven does not list a college degree in her campaign materials. She did say that she attended Kilgore college, and studied Business administration for three years.
I am fond of Paige as a person, and respect her willingness to stand up for what she thinks is best for the kids. I think that if she were elected, she would be another fierce advocate for doing no harm when it comes to rezoning. I do think the board has favored some neighborhoods in the past, while rubber-stamping rezones for Lewisville neighborhoods with little comment. Shoven is intimately familiar with that, and I think would focus on fair and consistent dealing when it must be done. Shoven reminds me a lot of Brenda Latham, but I don't think Shoven is Latham's puppet. These are both passionate, independent women who want to fight for what they believe in. It could be interesting to see the two of them debate if they end up on the opposite side of an issue. Lastly, Shoven does say she supports the Strategic Plan, which is a plus. (For what it's worth, I've not heard other candidates say they oppose it - just saying I've heard Shoven and Ehinger say they support it)
The thinking of most of the people I've talked to about this race is that Kathy Duke is the favored candidate. With the connections she has made over the years, she'll have a big network of supporters turning out her vote. Shoven is the underdog, but will probably do well in Lewisville. Highland Village, Duke's base does have a contested Mayor's election this year, which should increase her turnout over last time, when Highland Village voters were less motivated to get to the polls.
I can't really quantify this, but I have a feeling that Ehinger and Ali's voters would otherwise lean more towards Shoven, just due to Shoven being outspoken about rezoning issues, and Ali's Meridian neighborhood and Ehinger's Castle Hills having both been through recent rezoning battles.
As far as my personal vote on this one, I'm running out of time, but still fairly undecided but leaning towards Shoven. I'm definitely going to be fine with Duke (as long as the old board dynamic is permanently gone) or Ehinger (after a crash course on Texas school finance). Ali, I just don't know, but her credentials seem fine, so I can't say one way or the other.
I'll try to write about Place 2 tomorrow. I hope this has been at least somewhat helpful.
This is an open forum, so if you feel strongly about a candidate, or have your own observations, please post a comment.