Q&A: Meet the candidates running for Eanes ISD Board of Trustees

Early voting for two of Eanes ISD's Board of Trustees positions will start April 25. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Early voting for two of Eanes ISD's Board of Trustees positions will start April 25. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Early voting for two of Eanes ISD's Board of Trustees positions will start April 25. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Five candidates are vying for places 6 and 7 on the Eanes ISD Board of Trustees in the May 7 election. Place 6 incumbent Heather Sheffield will be up against businessman Jim Withers, while Place 7 incumbent Ellen Balthazar will be against substitute teacher and multilingual liaison David Barrutia and real estate firm founder Jay Lamy.

The last day to apply for a ballot by mail is April 26. Early voting will run from April 25 through May 3, and election day is May 7.


Candidate responses may have been edited for length, style and clarity.







Heather Sheffield



Experience: Eanes ISD School Board Trustee, Certified Teacher with a business degree, founder of Eanes Advocates, President-Elect of Rotary Club of Austin Westlake, Westlake Chamber of Commerce Board and 2019 Westlake Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, Leadership TASB, TASB Legislative Advisory Council (1 of 4 Trustees statewide), Central Texas School Board Association and School Board Advocacy Network member, Junior League of Austin Sustainer, and National Charity League Patroness. Eanes ISD Experience: Envision Eanes, District Leadership Team, Calendar Committee, Special Education Parent Working Group, Eanes Education Foundation Campus Rep, Legislative Priorities, Teacher Appreciation, We Are Eanes. Proud parent of two EISD students.


Occupation: Director of Outreach, Advocacy, and Client Relations at Powell Law Group


Candidate Website: www.heatherforeanes.com


More_info: Board of Trustees Place 6





Why are you running?



I’m running for re-election because I love Eanes ISD. I believe that our students deserve an exemplary education. The next few years will require focused, experienced leaders with a deep understanding of our district and school finance. I’ve proven that I have that experience and knowledge. My commitment to this community is to continue the work I’ve started to improve the educational experience for all students with the passion and purpose that I am known for. I’m passionate about doing what is best for kids, teachers and our community and would appreciate your vote.



What is your top priority for Eanes ISD?



My top priority is not only maintaining the excellent educational experience but improving it for all students. Eanes ISD faces financial challenges under the constraints of the Texas school funding model. It is difficult to provide a high-quality education when state funding fails to keep up with inflation and our district is required to send back over $100 million dollars a year to the state. Continued educational excellence will require great teachers, parent/community support, and Trustees, like me, with a deep understanding of our district, programs, school finance and advocacy. I have the knowledge and I’m up for the challenge.



What other priorities for the district are important to you and why?



Retaining our amazing teachers and staff while attracting highly qualified staff is a top priority. As a former teacher, I understand how important this is. Without great teachers, we can’t maintain our exemplary educational system. Improving the mental health of students and teachers is critical. We must provide support and a safe space to teach and learn. I’m proud of improvements to our student support department and the work I have done regarding dyslexia and special education but there is still more I’d like to do. We must identify students with learning differences and get them intervention as early as possible.












Jim Withers



Experience: Undergraduate and graduate degrees in finance from The University of Texas. Previously served as president of the board of a local preschool. Successful finance and leadership experience directly relevant to School Board.


Occupation: Real Estate Investments. 2011 - 2021 owned automotive repair business. Managed diverse team of employees. Mission was to provide life and career growth to employees and excellent customer experience.


Contact_info: [email protected]


More_info: Board of Trustees Place 6





Why are you running?



I have been asked to run for this office by friends in the EISD community. I would be humbled and honored to utilize my skill set and passion to serve this community that has blessed my family with so many friends, amazing teachers, and an amazing education, and look forward to running a vigorous campaign to win. The campaign will be about unity from all corners of this district, and the goal is to bring the community back together after several polarizing years. The current board and Dr. Tom Leonard have faced tremendous challenges navigating the district during a trying time. I believe that a fresh perspective on unity in our district and supporting our teachers and kids is needed. With love and respect for one another, we will have respectful, meaningful, conversations to help us better understand how we can work together to build a better future for our students and restore our confidence in who we are as a community and the great promise of the Eanes School District. As a parent of kids that have attended Eanes schools at the elementary and middle school levels for a span of seven years, I plan to spend a lot of time creating a sense of belonging for everyone by listening to parents, teachers, students, and community members. The community is divided over issues that should not be dividing, and we should focus on the many opportunities that can unite us, and that is why I am running.



What is your top priority for Eanes ISD?



I will focus on students who are struggling and meet every child where they are. Every child is unique, and our goal is to make sure every child is successful. Educating the whole child is crucial, and School Clubs and Extracurricular activities will be a priority. With the powerful influence of social media and the pressure of staying at the top, now more than ever, we need to make sure a child’s life outside the classroom is just as fruitful as the one inside. I will be advocating for more mental health support and career training for students as well.



What other priorities for the district are important to you and why?



I have three other important priorities: Teacher support, unity and the budget. Teacher support: It is more important now than ever to take great care of our teachers. Teaching conditions are challenging with COVID in addition to hiring competition from the private sector. With a servant leadership approach, we must provide teachers the best compensation possible, best culture and working conditions, and offer exceptional training and continuing education opportunities. We will celebrate teacher accomplishments and work anniversaries. Unity: Love. Listen. Transparency. Communication. Eanes needs a leader who will work with all corners of the community to come together and focus on goals of EISD that we can all agree on – quality, safe, well-rounded, loving education for every child. I will lead with empathy and combine that with an effort to make concrete improvements. Budget: With a business owner background and an expertise in management and finance, I will bring a fresh business perspective to EISD that will promote greater fiscal responsibility and transparency.












Ellen Balthazar



Experience: Have built excellence for 21 years as Trustee of EISD, crafted and lead the partnership between Westbank Community Libraries and EISD to save, celebrate and share the history of our unique Eanes School area, mother of two WHS graduates and grandmother of five students in EISD pipeline, church, school and community volunteer, master's degree


Occupation: Retired corporate executive (Frito-Lay, PepsiCo International, Procter & Gamble) and non- profit CEO (Any Baby Can of Austin)


Contact_info: [email protected], 512-789-4630


More_info: Board of Trustees Place 7





Why are you running?



I’m not running for re-election because this job has been easy over the last couple of years. . .I’m running because it has been hard. Keeping schools open and kids learning has had its challenges during the pandemic. For me, it has re-enforced how important exemplary public education is to our community and how my experience, stability, integrity and confidence in our staff contributes significantly to the continuation of excellence in the Eanes Independent School District.



What is your top priority for Eanes ISD?



Post-pandemic reconnecting. We have come through turbulent times, but in EISD we have kept schools open and students learning. The anxieties of the past two years will not disappear overnight. It’s time to regroup around academic and social-emotional needs of all our students. Scores are strong, but signs of stress are there - increasing applications for academic supports and spiking referrals for mental health services. We must optimize tools to identify needs and time for teachers to differentiate instruction, insure we create spaces where students feel they belong, and purposefully rebuild the parent communities that have historically supported our campuses.



What other priorities for the district are important to you and why?



Being creative in retention of staff, not only with salary and benefits, but by extending a supportive culture. PLCs, Connect Time, and Institute for Excellence are examples. Gas cards, childcare and workforce housing should be explored. Having the budget to provide the education we want, and expect, is always a challenge. In my tenure we have implemented numerous strategies to drive excellence: tax ratification elections to REDUCE the tax rate while keeping more local tax dollars, bond proposals to reduce expenses from our operations budget, transfer policy to balance enrollment, promotion of Eanes Education Foundation, and carefully managed reserve funds.












David Barrutia



Experience: Educator: 20-plus years of local, national and international experience across early childhood, K-12 and higher education, in both public and private sector, as a teacher, counselor, administrator, school founder, and other roles. Please see website for more. Degrees/Certificates: BA (psychology and biology), MPA (public education and public health policy reform), Public Education Leadership Program (PELP), Texas Certified Paraprofessional, Ed.D. candidate. Eanes ISD Civic Service: Envision Eanes Advisory Committee (unanimously elected minute note-taker, and member of the Educator Sub-committee, Community Sub-committee, Spanish Immersion Pilot Study Committee); Eanes Elementary Mustang Dads' Club; Eanes Elementary Heritage Day Volunteer; Home Classroom Parent; Kindergarten Class Photographer; Cub Scouts Dad; Organizer of Eanes Elementary PTO 2021 On-Campus Social: Dia De Los Muertos; Destination Imagination Parent Volunteer; 2021 Fall Mustang Mixer Volunteer Greeter.


Occupation: Eanes ISD substitute teacher; and multi-lingual liaison for multi-national company


Contact_info: [email protected]


More_info: Board of Trustees Place 7





Why are you running?



I am not running. I am taking a stand. I am here to make good on a promise that was made to our teachers during my advisory work for our school board. Assigned to study our district, the Envision Eanes Advisory Committee surveyed faculty and staff at each campus. A district-wide pattern emerged of teachers afraid of retaliation and skeptical about the impact that their input would make. I promised their voices would be heard, and while our school board may have buried our advisory report, I am still standing here.



What is your top priority for Eanes ISD?



Envision Eanes uncovered a culture of fear among our teachers, those whom Eanes Education Foundation (EEF) refers to as heroes at “What Matters Most” fundraisers. There is a lesson here. The district’s “Green Umbrella of Kindness” can turn into toxic positivity when problems are not addressed for political reasons. The inaction taken by our school board is a disservice to our community. Fighting for our teachers takes courage and humility. Since our report was published during the pandemic, I have become an EISD substitute teacher. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”



What other priorities for the district are important to you and why?



We need more parents to be involved in their children’s education, to advocate for them, to help them, to move them forward. District administrators have a low bar for what they have to provide. Their obligation is to do what is appropriate, not what is best for your child. I will prioritize parent education, and pledge to uphold our pillars of democracy - openness, accountability and transparency - to keep you fully informed and knowledgable because only together with you, as an active public participant, can our school board properly function. Look not at yesterday to lead us into tomorrow.












Jay Lamy



Experience: I am a former investment banker. I am currently a real estate broker and developer. I am an entrepreneur. I have served on St. Gabriel's board for four years; served on numerous non-profit boards including Any Baby Can, Crossroads Scholarship, the JPII Family Center, and more.


Occupation: Co-founder of boutique commercial real estate firm, AQUILA Commercial


Contact_info: [email protected], 512-270-0541


More_info: Board of Trustees Place 7





Why are you running?



I am running because I looked at the challenges facing the district over the next few years and I analyzed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the Eanes Board. I realized that my personal strengths in entrepreneurship, finance, and strategic planning fill a skill set that is needed and address the opportunities and threats facing our district. The Board has good coverage in other areas so it feels like it could be a perfect fit as I can help them round out their team. Most private schools, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations fill gaps in their boards to make sure that they are well versed in all areas. I was selected to serve on the St Gabriel’s School Board for this very reason.



What is your top priority for Eanes ISD?



Unfortunately, there has been a lot of division in Eanes and I want to bring people together. That means parents and parents, parents and teachers, and parents and administrators. If we come together right now (yes, that is from The Beatles), and bring a little transparency and love back to the community, we can then achieve the rest of our goals.



What other priorities for the district are important to you and why?



So, in a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sort of way, if we come together it elevates us to financial freedom from state recapture. We can expand upon our stewardship base in the community and take our endowment to eight figures and beyond so that we can address the needs of our district today and in the future. This second foundational element will allow us to recruit the right teachers and keep the right teachers by paying them for their great performance. Eanes is a great community with parents who care deeply about their kids. If our parents and teachers can work together and show mutual respect, they will be able to help our kids discover, nurture, and maximize their talents and passions. This is the pinnacle of success and as I have two kids in elementary school and one sophomore in high school, I have the motivation to lead our district to bring every single soul to reach this pinnacle.







By Grace Dickens

Reporter, Lake Travis/Westlake

Grace is the Lake Travis/Westlake reporter for education and city government. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2021 after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in journalism and geography.