Incumbent Eron Linn has served as trustee since 2015. He is facing challenger Vanessa Pacheco in RISD's first-ever single-member district election—the result of a recently settled lawsuit that restructured the district's electoral process.
The forum was hosted by League of Women Voters-Richardson and moderated by Richardson City Council Member Steve Mitchell. Questions for the candidates centered on teacher salaries and retention, campus safety, the importance of fine arts, parent engagement, equity and inclusion, special education services and RISD's neighborhood schools model.
The board's recent transition from an at-large to single-member district system was the basis of Mitchell's first question, which asked candidates to describe how they would balance the priorities of District 2 with those of the district as a whole.
Mitchell replied that the board's practice has always been and will continue to be that it evaluates policies based on how they affect students districtwide. That will not change as result of this new format, he said. Pacheco agreed there would not be a conflict.
Linn positioned himself as a proven champion for the district, referencing his advocacy in several areas, including special education. He said he is proud of recent special education staff increases but believes there are times when students are mainstreamed prematurely.
"In many cases, those [special education] supports need to remain because that child is functioning a whole lot better with those supports there," he said.
Pacheco said she believes she could lend a diverse viewpoint to the RISD board. She said she can relate to students and parents who speak English as a second language and that she would expand diverse teacher recruitment so instructors can better converse with minority parents.
"We have an extraordinarily diverse community; they need to be engaged in their own language," she said.
The candidates had different answers for how they would improve academic performance across all campuses. Reduced class sizes and longer class times were suggested by Pacheco, while Linn referenced a recent overhaul to district curriculum as the pathway for success.
Both showed support for continuing the district's neighborhood schools model, which Pacheco said keeps families together and allows parents to be involved in their child's education.
However, as space begins to dwindle and many classrooms meet or exceed capacity, Pacheco said the district needs to evaluate its real estate to identify areas where classrooms can be added.
"We need to create more spaces in those neighborhoods," she said.
Linn agreed that neighborhood schools are what makes RISD great but that an associated policy is still needed.
"We have the boundaries but not the policy," he said. "We are moving toward that goal."