Stolle’s only opponent for the seat is Semida Voicu.
Community Impact Newspaper sent Stolle a set of questions regarding his candidacy. This article is part of ongoing May 4 election coverage and does not constitute an endorsement of the candidate. His answers have been edited for publication style.
1. Why did you decide to run for this position?
The answer to this question is simple: I believe in the power of public education and have spent much of my adult life in service to this belief. I am the product of public education. I am a certified teacher in the state of Texas with four years of classroom experience. I have served PISD for eight years as a trustee, and I am proud of the work we have done during my tenure. I want to continue serving on the PISD school board because I believe in its mission; I believe in its product; and I believe I am the right person to keep PISD as one of the preeminent school districts in the state of Texas.
2. What experience—professionally or politically—do you have that would prepare you for this position?
From a professional perspective, I have had two careers, both of which provide valuable experience for a position on the PISD board of trustees. My first career was in education. I am a certified teacher in the state of Texas, and after college, I spent four years teaching high school English in Palestine, Texas. I draw on that experience every day to make decisions at the board table. Each time we address issues, I analyze the impact the board’s decision will have in the classroom, on teachers and on students.
My second (and current) career as a finance attorney has provided me two important tools through which I can make valuable contributions to the board of trustees. First, my background in finance allows me to delve into and truly understand PISD’s budget and finance strategies and the state’s flawed school finance system. Second, as a transactional attorney, I negotiate for a living. Operating on a board of seven people is not about imposing your will on six others. It is about consensus. I understand individual board members may not all see an issue the same way at the beginning of a conversation, but I have faith—and my experience of eight years supports this faith—that through discussion, analysis and understanding, the collective board of seven can reach consensus and do what is best for PISD and its constituents.
From a political perspective, I have served on the PISD board for eight years. I have a knowledge of the district and an understanding of the issues it faces only experience can provide. This, along with my professional background in finance, gives me a unique perspective. Several years ago, PISD trustees began talking about “taxparency.” We wanted taxpayers to know why their property tax statements were increasing and where that money was going. In the infancy of our taxparency efforts, I wrote a white paper detailing the recent history of the state’s use of recapture dollars, overreliance on these recapture dollars and use of local property value growth as a means of reducing its share of education spending. This white paper was one of the seeds which allowed a grassroots effort by a handful of PISD trustees to grow into a statewide movement. As the state Legislature begins its discussions on reforming the school finance system in Texas, it is critical for PISD to have board leaders who understand this system, the flaws therein and the unintended consequences a large-scale reformation can produce. Reformation does not equal a better deal for PISD or its constituents.
3. If re-elected, what are some specific policies you would like to implement in PISD?
If elected, I will continue to push for expansion of our prekindergarten programs. Research reflects that students who do not read at grade level by third grade will have a significantly more difficult time keeping up with their peers as they progress to graduation. Having programs available for children to start school “kindergarten ready” is a critical component to making sure all of our students are at grade level by third grade. This is especially important for our low socio-economic families.
I will push to see our International Baccalaureate program expanded to middle school. We currently have an elementary IB program at Huffman Elementary School and a high school IB program at Plano East Senior High School. I would like to see that program connected K-12, so families who want the IB experience through their entire educational career can do so.
Finally, I will push for the expansion of our dual-credit offerings and our career and technical education courses at the high school level. Whether a student pursues a college degree or a skill, trade or profession immediately after high school, our current programs prove that PISD has the resources available to make these students successful. My goal would be to make sure we continue expanding these offerings and options.
4. Are there specific areas in the district’s budget that you would consider funding more or funding less?
This is a difficult question and one which proves where experience is important. As PISD’s recapture obligations grew over the years and as operating expenses continue to rise, our funds available for the budget stagnated. For the past two budget cycles, Plano ISD has adopted a deficit budget. The deficits have been small, and through prudent fiscal management and cost-saving measures, we have eliminated the deficit during the then-current budget cycle rather than using the district’s fund balance, but this caused the board [to] review all costs and expenses from a “zero-based” budgeting perspective. Stated simply, we have a finite amount of money, and spending more in one area means you must spend less in another. I believe in spending more for pre-K programming, but that means we have to spend less elsewhere. The question is, on which students do we spend less, and what will the impact be on those students. So, if the question is whether I would consider spending more or spending less on specific areas—certainly. I am open to any and all conversations about the budget, but I can’t commit to spending more on my desired programs without truly understanding the impact it will have elsewhere. That understanding can only be developed when discussing the budget as a whole with district staff.
5. What else do you want constituents to know about you and your background?
I am a champion for public education and for PISD. When my parents moved me from Plano after elementary school, I was devastated. It was the only home I had known. What I found, however, was the education I received at Davis Elementary School provided me with a significant advantage over my new classmates who didn’t have the benefit of a PISD background. I carried that discovery with me as I grew up and started a family of my own, and after law school, when my wife and I made our way back to Dallas, I knew where I wanted my children to attend school. All three of my kids progressed through Jackson Elementary School, Frankford Middle School, Shepton High School and Plano West Senior High School, with one graduating in 2014, a second graduating this year and my youngest graduating next year. I feel truly blessed for the education they have received and believe there is no better school system in the world to prepare your children for the future than PISD.