Three candidates are vying for Pflugerville ISD Place 2. Election day is May 6. The candidates, in alphabetical order include Jacob E. Betz, Tony Hanson and Charlie Torres. Community Impact Newspaper asked questions of each candidate. Their answers are printed with limited editing.
Editor’s note: The candidate profile printed on page 37 of the April issue of Community Impact Newspaper contained an error. It should have stated Betz works in sales and marketing where he manages hundreds of accounts. Betz’s wife, Lisa, has been an educator in Pflugerville ISD for almost 12 years.
BETZ: Jacob was born in Austin and moved to Pflugerville at the age of 2. He began his schooling at Pflugerville Elementary, moving on to Pflugerville Middle, then Park Crest Middle upon its construction, and continued in the district until his graduation from Pflugerville High in 2001, where he was an active member of school athletics, playing with the varsity soccer team for three years, as well as fine arts programs, where he served as band President. Jacob also had the honor of serving as Parliamentarian on Student Council his senior year.
Jacob attended The University of Texas for three years where he studied government and history. While at UT he was a member of the Naval ROTC Battalion, serving at times as both Honor Guard Commander and Drill Team Leader. Jacob continued his studies and ultimately graduated from Concordia University Austin in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts and a focus in International Relations and History. While at Concordia, he had the privilege to serve on multiple committees, including the University Relocation Committee and the Concordia History Committee. Jacob served as a university liaison to Congress in both 2005 and 2006, traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress.
In 2012, Jacob attended Texas Fire Academy in Hays County. During his six months in training he focused on emergency management and crisis response. That same year he graduated top of his Emergency Medical Technician class with an EMT-B classification and a certification in Structure Fire Fighting.
Jacob served as Vice President on the Board of Directors of the Pfluger Haus Foundation, from 2009 to 2015. Jacob currently serves as Technology Administrator with FIrst Texas Volunteers, the volunteer group working to preserve and restore the Battleship Texas. He has been an active volunteer with the First Texas Volunteers since August of 2011.
Jacob currently works in sales and marketing where he manages hundreds of accounts. He works daily in the optimization of operational efficiencies and market strategies, striving to build stronger small businesses in the home technology field.
Jacob is dedicated to his family. He and his wife Lisa have three beautiful children ranging in ages three to eight. Jacob is a Purple Belt in Taekwondo training weekly at Round Rock ATA with his two older children. Jacob's mother Jennifer was an educator for 25 years, with the last twenty two years at Pflugerville Middle School, retiring in 2016. Jacob's wife Lisa has been an educator in PfISD for almost 12 years and two of his three children currently attend elementary in PfISD.
HANSON: I have been a longtime resident of the Pflugerville community, as well as the district. My wife and I are raising two daughters in PfISD, a 12th grader and a 7th grader. I was a founding member of the mentor program at PfISD. Since that time, I also developed and initiated a high school mentor program at my agency. In our first year of participating with Reagan Early College High School, the agency was awarded the "Outstanding Mentor Award."
I have participated on the 2007 PfISD and 2015 city of Pflugerville Bond Review Committees. I have served on the Austin Alpha Foundation board, as well as chairman of the Deacon Board at my church, Youth Minister and Associate Minister.
I have a degree in accounting, as well as certifications in internal auditing and information systems auditing. I also have financial compliance and managerial experience.
TORRES: During my spare time from work I have volunteered over 35 years in the communities I have lived in. I have lived in Pflugerville for eight years and before in Portland, Texas for 25 years. I served on the Gregory-Portland ISD school board for 12 years, 1991-2003. My work duties are negotiating collective bargaining agreements for employees that are represented by the international union, Communications Workers of America, resolving issues through the grievance process with the labor relations team of a company or through the arbitration process.
2. What are the major issues you see facing the Pflugerville ISD and what are the solutions?
HANSON: Some of the major issues facing PfISD are its rapid growth, attracting and retaining quality teachers, and uncertainty of state funding. To address the projected additional 500 to 800 students expected annually for the next 10 years, the district will need to ensure it stays in front of the growth of the district by building facilities today that are viable for tomorrow. The average age of the district's facilities is 18 years old. As the buildings get older the maintenance to maintain them will also increase and it usually increases dramatically.
To attract and retain quality teachers the district will need to continue to strive to provide salaries that are competitive. It was during the 2014-15 school year that the teacher turnover rate was approximately 19 percent. That rate was slightly higher than the state average of 16.6 percent for the same reporting period. The district will need to continue to provide innovative ways to improve the professional and personal lives of its teachers. Whether the improvements include increased professional development or training days, benefits or possible tax incentives.
To address the uncertainty of state funding, the district will need to continue to be wise in its planning and critical of its expenditures. While the legislature has indicated that it is considering adding $1.6 billion back to school districts, PfISD most likely will not get all it needs. While this is a step in the right direction, the district is poised to receive $5.3 million as allocated from the house education bill over the next two years.
TORRES: The city is growing really fast which is adding more students to our schools. Classroom sizes are larger and that affects instructional needs of a child. Our great teachers do an awesome job but it puts a lot of stress on them and it is hard for the teacher to get each child to succeed to his/her highest potential. In order to have smaller class sizes I would need to work with the board members and administration to dissect the budget and find the finances that will support adding additional teachers. A partnership with ACC needs to be considered so our children that want to have a technical or medical field job can be readily available to transition into the workforce after high school graduation.
BETZ: Health & Safety - Students, teachers, and administrators must work together to develop a climate of health and safety that facilitates a positive impact on our campuses, our neighborhoods, and our community at large.
Efficiency - From how time is spent to where money is allocated, Pflugerville ISD must function as efficiently as possible in order to yield the greatest benefit to our students, teachers, and community.
Paths to Success - Each student's path to success is unique. Pflugerville ISD must focus not only on graduating students, but ensuring that the path to graduation affords each student with the knowledge and resources needed to be successful regardless of the path chosen after graduation.
3. What are your thoughts on PfISD becoming a District of Innovation?
TORRES: I have reservations on this DOI, I have learned of some negative points and some positive points. I am on that committee and I will make sure that I study all aspects of the DOI which was created when part of Chapter 12 of the Texas Education Code was amended. Districts can already file for waivers on certain items of the TEC but under the DOI, this provides the district will be exempt from certain sections of the TEC that inhibit the goals of the district.
BETZ: One of the recommendations that the Texas Education Agency makes to districts considering adoption of the District of Innovation plan is that the district “involve your stakeholders.” I believe this is extremely important and something that we must do a better job of executing. Our “stakeholders” are our children, our teachers and staff, and our community as a whole.
There is far too much ambiguity surrounding the District of Innovation concept—what it is and what it allows the district to do. We must educate our community on what a District of Innovation is and how PfISD would use it and then the district must be willing to listen in return to what it means to those it will impact. When you are talking about making sweeping changes to the foundational policies that shape a school district, you cannot do so without ample communication and this requires two-way dialogue. The district should not dictate to the public why a District of Innovation is necessary, but educate them on the benefits as well as the potential drawbacks, and then work with the public to determine if this is the best course of action overall.
Though I can see some of the potential benefits of becoming a District of Innovation, without clear direction and communication to our “stakeholders” it could rapidly become a slippery slope that proves detrimental to our children and teachers. I cannot blindly support anything that could result in damage to our educational environment or the deterioration of the quality of our PfISD employees’ work environment. More work must be done before any decision can be made on this subject.
HANSON: The district should continue to explore this option. It's my understanding that the District of Innovation program will provide PfISD "local control.” It will give the district greater flexibilities that have been afforded to other schools. I wait to hear the results of the plan from the committee that was formed, which is comprised of district staff and the community. The committee's plan will then be reviewed and approved by the District Academic Advisory Council. Because of the cross section of people involved and the steps in this process, this process should provide some good insight into this program.