Election Q&A: Candidates for Plano ISD Place 1

Plano ISD board of trustees Place 1 candidates Shafik Ben Guesmia, Lauren Tyra and Semida Voicu answered questions about their goals. (Community Impact staff)
Plano ISD board of trustees Place 1 candidates Shafik Ben Guesmia, Lauren Tyra and Semida Voicu answered questions about their goals. (Community Impact staff)

Plano ISD board of trustees Place 1 candidates Shafik Ben Guesmia, Lauren Tyra and Semida Voicu answered questions about their goals. (Community Impact staff)



PLANO



Plano ISD Place 1










Shafik Ben Guesmia



Occupation: CEO of contract management firm Cemendus Inc.


Contact: 214-695-2694; ben@cemendus.com




Why did you decide to run for the Plano ISD board of trustees?



SBG: I grew up going to a public school,and I strongly believe in the power of public education. Our school district is threatened by a high recapture payment that might be of tremendous consequences on our school district, and we are, as parents, to support substantive actions to have better reforms and avoid budget constraints and deficits. We must keep improving curriculums and school programs to allow as many students as possible to reach their full potential. Only 63% of our students meet or exceed standard in math—why is it not 80% or 90%? Same situation for reading—why are we not in the 90%? We can certainly focus more on our curriculums to better prepare our students to take on college degrees. I am father to three exceptional children. My daughters—the first graduated last year from Plano West, and the second is at Clark High School. My son is at Carlisle Elementary. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and to sincerely thank Plano ISD teachers, staff and board of trustees for giving our communities great schools!



How has your experience prepared you for board service?



SBG: My experience is in legal, journalism and, in the last two decades, in contract management. This combination prepared me to better understand policies, to conduct deep and thorough analysis of facts to make well-informed decisions, and to determine the immediate and future impact on our school community.



What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the state's recapture system, which redistributes tax revenue from property-wealthy school districts to those with lower property values, and why?



SBG: We must prevent an increase in recapture in the coming years. Since 1993, our school district paid in recapture $1.9 billion to the state of Texas, while in the meantime, [we] had to borrow money subject to an interest rate for building repairs, technology update and the purchase of buses! The facts are that the recapture system is not based on redistributing an excess in tax revenue from the “wealthy" to other school districts with lower property values, but [on] setting the recapture in a blind payment creating budgets restraints and deficits and debts to the targeted school district. There is a balance to be found here! From my point of view, the last House Bill 3 was a first positive echo to our school district claims, but some districts were exonerated from recapture payment when Plano ISD is still burdened with it.



What do you think are the biggest issues facing Plano ISD today, and how do you plan to address them if elected?



SBG: The increase in recapture payment had an immediate impact on our school district budget resulting in restraints and deficits. This is a major issue in my opinion. Budget cuts due to lack of funding may hurt our school programs and, therefore, our students and our teachers. I will support substantive actions to have better reforms to the recapture system. We have to be able to address and fulfill the needs of several categories of students. Students from economically disadvantaged families, neglected students, and students exposed to violence and hurt emotionally and psychologically are the most vulnerable and are, for certain, more at risk of dropping out of school. This fact alone represents 26% of the overall school population. We need to establish new programs and/or to optimize the existing ones to face this alarming situation. There is also the academic challenge to better prepare our students to take on college degrees. There are some areas of improvement at the curriculum level that we must focus on. Our teachers and staff must be able to accomplish their daily missions in optimal conditions, and we are to be able to offer better financial compensation packages. We are to be very competitive in this area. In my opinion, these are the main areas we must focus on as parents, but it is obvious that there are other issues that will require our commitment and efforts, with the first priority given to students. Please do not hesitate to call me at 214-695-2694 with questions or concerns so I can answer and hear you directly to be your voice at the board of trustees, if you elect me to do so.



What else do you want voters to know about you?



SBG: I would give the world to see our students thriving in the best school environment possible and graduate high schools well-equipped to take on the college degree of their choice.










Lauren Tyra



Occupation: venture capital scientific analyst


Contact: 469-248-5143; laurentyra4pisd@gmail.com




Why did you decide to run for the Plano ISD board of trustees?



LT: I am running for the Plano ISD board of trustees to ensure all Plano students have the best opportunities possible. My husband and I both attended Plano schools from K-12. I attended Christie, Harrington, Carpenter, Clark and Plano East. My husband attended Mendenhall, Bowman, Williams and Plano East. After graduating from Plano East, we both attended the University of North Texas. I pursued a Ph. D at UT Southwestern, and my husband served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army before pursuing an MBA and later a law degree. The solid foundation that Plano schools provided to us has been a material source of our success as adults, in education, our careers and my husband’s military service. We returned to Plano to raise our family knowing that PISD schools would be a big part of that journey. Plano ISD created better opportunities for us, and we hope it will do the same for our two children. I want to join the PISD board of trustees to ensure those opportunities remain available for all children and young adults in Plano schools.



How has your experience prepared you for board service?



LT: My training as a scientist prepared me to work with the board of trustees as part of a team, building consensus and using data to drive decision-making. Scientists often work in teams on research projects spanning several years, so I have experience with collaborative work that takes time and patience to pay off. Now that I work in venture capital investing, I have learned to work effectively as part of a diverse, multidisciplinary team with people of different educational backgrounds. In managing a startup portfolio, I provide guidance and oversight to companies we have invested in, much like the PISD board of trustees provides guidance and oversight to the district. Being the mother of a deaf child has immersed me in the world of early childhood intervention and special education, in addition to the joy of raising a gifted child. People very often judge my son based on his perceived disability rather than his actual abilities, and I have been steadfast in advocating for his needs. My experience advocating for my son and understanding that different children and young adults have different needs has prepared me to advocate for all children and young adults across PISD.



What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the state's recapture system, which redistributes tax revenue from property-wealthy school districts to those with lower property values, and why?



LT: I believe students across the state deserve the very best quality public education we can offer. Many of our fellow Texans will move to Plano seeking better jobs, opportunities and schools for their children. In 2018, Plano ISD paid the third-highest recapture to the state of Texas, while nearly 1 in 3 Plano students qualified for free or reduced school lunch. As a potential trustee for Plano ISD, I would advocate for more of our tax dollars to remain within the district to better serve our students. I believe the state Legislature should consider education funding reform that includes consideration of a district’s need rather than basing recapture entirely on property value. The legislature should also consider instituting outcome measures to ensure state funding is promoting excellence in education for every student. Finally, the state should consider funding sources that could provide predictable and sustainable sources of school financing with an emphasis on transparency.



What do you think are the biggest issues facing Plano ISD today, and how do you plan to address them if elected?



LT: Delivering effective education to a large and diverse student population is a significant challenge. Every student has different needs and circumstances, including gifted education, special education, economic need, family circumstances and unique learning needs, to name a few. As a board member, I would work together with other board members and PISD staff to identify technology and education programs to help teachers deliver better education to students. It is important that these programs be outcome-driven, delivering the results that meet Plano’s high standards. Another challenge is preparing students for careers in fields that are requiring more STEM skills. Need for these skills is increasing in traditional STEM fields as well as nontraditional STEM career fields. Preparing graduates with STEM and technical skills, regardless of their plans to enter the workforce or attend college, is an accelerating need across education. I believe we need to increase skills-based learning and ensure our students have valuable internship and technical learning opportunities across the spectrum.



What else do you want voters to know about you?



LT: Voters can visit me at www.laurentyra4pisd.com.










Semida Voicu



Occupation: small-business owner


Contact: 972-984-9357; semida@semidaforpisd.com




Why did you decide to run for the Plano ISD board of trustees?



SV: I believe the success of our students should be the mission of PISD. We have a diverse population of students, and we need to facilitate academic success and growth for all. High school students are just as important as K-8th grade. Parents are concerned that the hybrid model of two days a week direct instruction instituted at the beginning of the school year is not sufficient, causing academic loss, and is not equitable in choice. We should be responding to the hopes of the children [and] the concerns of parents, the teachers and the community to insure a viable, prosperous and healthy school and future. PISD needs to provide an equal path for academic success for all students. I want to work to maintain and surpass those goals. This school year has been very difficult due to the pandemic. Everyone has been affected. The need of academic support, social interaction with peers, equal access to return to school and parental choice should be the cornerstone of PISD policy. We need transparency and open communication with parents. Parental choice should be equal for all students in all grades.



How has your experience prepared you for board service?



SV: I am invested in PISD and education on a daily basis. I have three students currently in PISD. Two are in high school on the hybrid, two-day, face-to-face instruction model, and one is a virtual student in middle school. I am a member of the career and technical education committee for PISD. I am vice chairman of the Community Relation Commission for the City of Plano. I have been involved in Rasor, Hendrick, Clark and Plano Senior PTAs. I am a small-business owner who works to negotiate the best outcome for my clients. I have a fiduciary duty to put the needs of my clients first, and I will hold to the same standard of care for the students of PISD.



What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the state's recapture system, which redistributes tax revenue from property-wealthy school districts to those with lower property values, and why?



SV: I agree with PISD’s position that we need to reduce the recapture burden. 34% of PISD property taxes goes to the state. This issue is a legislative priority for PISD. HB 3 was a positive step, and we need to maintain that funding. Texas Legislature needs to make this a priority.



What do you think are the biggest issues facing Plano ISD today, and how do you plan to address them if elected?



SV: One of the biggest challenges facing PISD is declining enrollment numbers. 2,045 students have unenrolled so far this school year. That is a cost of $20 million dollars. Forty percent of those students were prekindergarten and kindergarten students. The district expected a decline per previous projections due to the natural cycle of cities. A loss of this magnitude has a major impact on the budget in the short term and the long term. The issue is, how do we get those students to come back? Do we know why they left? What model of education did they choose if they unenrolled but still live in Plano? An exit interview might be a method of obtaining some information. Asking what the concerns were for the parents is critical. Asking what the school could have done to alleviate the desire to withdraw is important information. Asking what measures we could take to return these students to our ISD needs to be a major discussion and focus. I believe open dialogue with parents, active listening to parental and student concerns, and clear communication could have alleviated some of the loss. We need to retain our students, and we need to retain our teachers.



What else do you want voters to know about you?



SV: My husband and I are both immigrants from Romania. My parents instilled the belief that education will create opportunities. I worked full-time during high school, paid my own way through college, where I graduated with a B.S. in psychology. I have an MBA in management. We are raising five children in Plano because we chose to live in a safe city, a city with abundant and unique resources for our children and an excellent education system. I believe Plano is a "City of Excellence," and we need to ... continue to be the leader in academic standards in PISD.






By William C. Wadsack
William C. Wadsack is the senior reporter for the Plano and Richardson editions of Community Impact Newspaper. He previously served as managing editor of several daily and weekly publications in North Texas and his native state of Louisiana before joining Community Impact Newspaper in 2019.


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