Election Q&A: Get to know the candidates for the Round Rock ISD board of trustees

Round Rock ISD voters will decide in November which candidates will fill four open seats on the district's board of trustees.

Eleven candidates, including three incumbents, will contend for Places 3, 4, 5 and 6. There are seven members of the board serving staggered four-year terms. The terms for Places 1, 2 and 7 are set to expire in 2020.

Key
*
 Incumbent


Round Rock ISD Place 3









Amber Feller
Occupation: director of quality management
Experience: bachelor’s—Texas A&M University, master of education—University of North Texas

www.facebook.com/amberfellerforrrisdschoolboard
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Feller: My highest priority is ensuring the safety of the children. This includes hiring counselors and consistent SROs and implementing internal safety measures at the schools. My second priority is academic achievement. Every student needs to be prepared for college or be career-ready by the end of high school.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Feller: Growth presents significant fiscal challenges due to overcrowded schools. The board must work look at areas of future growth and, most importantly, be fiscally responsible with the tax dollars. I believe a collaborative approach between community and staff should be used to determine equitable enrollment plans.


What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Feller: First, I have an extensive background in education—a master’s degree of education, former teacher and parent to three RRISD children. Second, I currently work as the director of quality management where I analyze problems and their root cause and then develop solutions.






Danielle Weston
Occupation
: Air Force Veteran, HR professional, SAHM
Experience: active duty and private sector leader, RRISD and nonprofit volunteer, Blue Star Mom, problem solver

www.facebook.com/electdanielleweston
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Weston: Attracting and retaining top-tier teachers is my top priority. I ran an HR dept. ... I have ideas. Also, I commit to working hard to restore trust and transparency to the school board. Finally, RRISD can live up to the reputation that attracted my family here eight years ago and be fiscally disciplined.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Weston: My children attend our most populated campuses. ... I understand growth. Some of our 50+ campuses are growing while others are shrinking. Voters expect responsibly managed capital improvement and new construction projects from our trustees.  I will demonstrate respect for every taxpayer dollar.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Weston: I am a veteran with five children, a couple of college degrees and private-sector business experience. I spent my life serving my community and solving problems. I commit to restoring trust and transparency to the school board. Most importantly, I think critically and have common sense!





Round Rock ISD Place 4









Stuart Litwin
Occupation
: part-time quality engineering consultant
Experience: semiconductor engineer, citizens bond committee, HOA and congregation boards, Undoing Racism,  AARP-TCE

www.stuartlitwin.com
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Litwin: My first priority is transparency—getting information from the district office is difficult and often requires a Freedom of Information Act request. Second priority is improving economic/racial equity to ensure our A rating includes all students.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Litwin: Round Rock ISD needs to continue to build new schools and new classrooms to keep up with the growth. Administrative head count needs to be kept at a minimum using economies of scale where possible, and the focus should be on hiring new teachers.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Litwin: I am a semi-retired engineer, so I make data-based decisions and have the time it takes to do the job. I have three daughters who successfully went through RRISD, graduated college, and are in the workforce. Therefore, I can focus on the needs of the entire district without favoritism.






David G. Schmidt
Occupation
: retired educator, retired military, dad
Experience: taught at college level, school district management, 2018 Citizens Bond Committee leader, RRISD volunteer and parent

https://dgs4rrisd.org
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Schmidt: As a board we need to address all school security and safety concerns; find alternatives to forming an ISD police department that won’t divert funds from education and will provide the best possible protection; end out-of-control spending and deficit budgeting. I will be the taxpayers’ voice.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Schmidt: We need to be honest about the true capacity of our existing schools. The district has manipulated capacity figures for years, and that doesn’t serve anyone. We must have an honest discussion about boundaries. I’m not against building new schools, but that should be the last option, not the first.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Schmidt: My military service and life experiences have prepared me for this position. I have attended nearly every board meeting since April 2017 and addressed the board on issues. I was appointed to the 2018 RRISD Citizens Bond Committee as a Citizen Leader. I will vote ‘no’ on the 2018 bond.






Cory Renee Vessa
Occupation
: nonprofit director
Experience: nonprofit director, PTA executive board member, 2018 Citizens Bond Committee, Texas Senate policy analyst

www.vessa4rrisd.com
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Vessa: Solving next year’s $25-30 million budget deficit is my number one priority. I will fight for our district by educating and mobilizing our RRISD community to express our discontent that the state took $55 million of RRISD’s tax dollars and refuses to adequately fund education. Last legislative session, the state cut $2 billion from education funding and is expected to cut even more this session starting in January 2019. If it does, RRISD will face significant M&O property tax increases or painful cuts to teachers and staff. Together, we can make education funding a priority for the state.

I will educate and engage the RRISD community so that the board is transparently executing the community’s will rather than its own. The district is facing some very difficult decisions. Should we deal with growth by building new schools or expanding current ones? Should we have our own district police department or continue relying on city and county law enforcement? These are tough questions with good arguments on both sides. The board must educate and encourage input from the community to ensure the choices made are based on the community’s priorities.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Vessa: As a trustee, I will handle our growth by gauging the priorities of the citizenry and adding capacity according to their values. If low taxes are the highest priority, we should expand existing schools. If smaller school size is the highest priority, we should build new, moderately sized schools. But this shouldn’t be the board’s decision. It should be the community’s choice because it impacts every resident.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Vessa: I have a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin. I worked for the Texas Senate as a policy analyst and developed the experience and skills to effectively fight for more money for our district. I know how the process works and how the key players think and operate. I am well known and respected in my community for educating my neighbors on the issues facing our district in an unbiased, informed and respectful manner. My website and Facebook page reflect my transparency because I explain my opinions on most major topics.






*Edward L. Hanna
Occupation
: business banking—vice president
Experience: banking, finance and business administration, degree in management information systems from Prairie View A&M University.

www.edwardlhanna.com
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Hanna: I believe that we must remain diligent with ensuring that we are protecting the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff. We must continue to identify and repair weaknesses in our response and evacuation processes. The access points of our schools, especially portables, are of the highest priority. I also believe that we must try prevent potential dangerous situations by focusing on the mental and sociological health of our students. When we take a holistic approach, we exponentially increase our probability of success.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Hanna: As the district continues to grow and our current schools deal with capacity issues, the trustees will have to make major decisions to address our expanding student population. The community and district will have to work together and formulate and execute a strategy that will undoubtedly include new schools to relieve overcrowding and meet the needs of new students in the district.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Hanna: As a current trustee for the past 18 months I know the role. Along side my fellow trustees I've learned the system of governance which includes oversight, policy, performance, budget, and infrastructure, among other things. This experience has given me the capacity to help move this district forward as we continue to deal with all issues and to be a good steward of taxpayers' dollars.  Ever since moving to Round Rock over six years ago I've served this community in several volunteer roles and I look forward to continuing serving the kids, teachers, and tax payers as trustee.





Round Rock ISD Place 5









Amy Weir
Occupation
: grants manager, Texas Bar Foundation
Experience: 2013 Leadership RRISD graduate; member 2014, 2017 and 2018 Citizens Bond Committees; active PTA member since 2004, including past president at Deerpark Middle School and McNeil High School

www.amyrrisdplace5.com
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Weir: My top priorities are student services and safety, teacher support and retention, and budget planning for several years into the future.  I will move to bring all discussions into open session board meetings to increase transparency so parents and community members can participate and have input in school board decisions.

Round Rock ISD is going to be facing some tough choices as we move into budget cycles where the district’s payment into the state’s Chapter 41, or “Robin Hood” plan, are increasing yearly.  We need to be budgeting for several years down the road to ensure we can support our teachers and students at the highest levels without overburdening our taxpayers.


My top priority would be to address the fiscal shortfalls by finding additional sources of revenue and cost savings to support our students and teachers.  My second priority is bringing all discussions into open session board meetings so the community can participate and have input in school board decisions.


How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Weir: While parts of RRISD are experiencing high growth, other areas are decreasing. Total student population is increasing by only about 1 percent a year. The issue facing RRISD is ensuring that tax payer dollars are used effectively to update older facilities and build reasonably priced new facilities in high growth areas.

Fiscal responsibility and ensuring our current schools are updated and utilized efficiently is the real issue facing RRISD, not growth.  Ensuring RRISD utilizes existing seats is prudent. I will work to maximize tax payer dollars by investing in updating older facilities in coordination with building new reasonably priced facilities in high growth areas to fully utilize capacity needs.


What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Weir: I have participated on 2014, 2017, and 2018 Citizen Bond Committees; visiting and evaluating the needs of multiple campuses. I have served campus PTAs continually since 2004 and participated in 2013 Leadership RRISD. My experience will allow me to work with district leadership to achieve measurable fiscal and academic goals.

I am a product of Texas public education, as is my husband and our five children. Two of our children are graduates of RRISD now studying in Texas public universities and three still attend Round Rock schools. I have spent countless hours volunteering in RRISD schools, in scouting, and for other community groups. Being a member of the RRISD board of trustees will allow me to contribute in a more meaningful, positive, impactful way and to advocate for all RRISD schools.








*Suzi David
Occupation
: marketing with Sodexo, World Leader in Quality of Life Solution
Experience: four years as a Round Rock ISD school board and a Texas Association of School Boards master trustee

www.suzidavid.com
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
David:Closing the achievement gap by focusing on the whole student by setting goals to strive for high student achievement with students from diverse social and economic backgrounds and ensuring our students are served with the best social and emotional learning foundation that will enhance students' ability to succeed in school, careers, and life.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
David: As RRISD has grown over the past several years we need to continue to look forward at projected growth in detail to ensure we are planning fiscally and responsibly on what we will need to sustain our growth and help us determine what we will need for our students’ educational future.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
David: I am proud to say I have worked diligently these four years to ensure each child has every educational opportunity to be successful with their educational needs. I have the knowledge and experience as I have dedicated over hundreds of hours to RRISD as a parent volunteer and trustee.





Round Rock ISD Place 6









Ching Choy
Occupation
: software developer
Experience: software developer for 10-plus years, involved in RRISD from just a board meeting attendee to citizen bond committee member

www.chingchoy.com
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Choy: First, I would like to go around to all the learning communities to learn about their needs. I will obtain facts and data to support each learning community's needs and funding to address the issues.
Portables: I will work with other trustees to immediately reduce all portal usage. My goal is to put portables back to its intended usage: temporary classrooms and storage.

School size: There are may large schools from elementary to high school. I will work with other trustees to define a fix school size and upheld the standard for all learning communities.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Choy: From my participation in the Citizen Bond Committee I have learn that RRISD purchases land ahead of time to address potential need for a new school. This is a good move and saves taxpayer money. RRISD should define school size and once the school is projected to hit the capacity, a new school should be built. To be able to plan ahead and build ahead will save tax payer money due to currency inflation and material cost inflation.
School zoning is a hot button issue. RRISD should have trustees that are not afraid of touching the school zone. If it make sense to rezone to ease student population from one school, we should do it.  Rezoning should be based on defined criteria, facts and data.  I will not cave into individual or group demand when comes to zoning schools.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Choy: 'Unique' is the word that separates me from the pool of candidates. I am an engineer. I have worked at the software industry for over ten years. I have completed small and large projects. I have learned that once you have a set of measurable criteria and success metric, take in all the facts and data, you will be able to create a good product. I will bring this working model to the board. All decisions should be based on facts and data. Once a decision is made based on facts and data, it stands all criticisms.






*Steven e. Math
Occupation
: insurance company underwriter/actuary
Experience: 35 years

www.facebook.com/math4trustee
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Math: Be a good listener. Engage the entire district on all school district matters. Seek to improve transparency and fiscal responsibility during upcoming times of decreasing state funding (net of Chapter 41 recoupments). And most importantly, make sure that our kids are in a safe learning environment.

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Math: Replace portables and increase brick-and-mortar capacity at existing schools that are expected to increase in student enrollment. Review school boundaries to make optimal use of exiting capacity across the district. Responsibly build new schools, if necessary.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Math: I am the only trustee from the Westwood learning community. While I am always looking out for the best interest of all students across the district, I serve as a sound voice of reason for parents and stakeholders in my community. I have and will continue to strive to unite the community as we take on challenging RRISD issues.






Jarrad Brenek
Occupation
: Intel—datacenter sales
Experience: 2018 Strategic Plan Committee/2018 leader on districtwide subcommittee of the citizens bond committee

www.facebook.com/jarradbrenekrrisdschoolboardtrusteeplace6
What would be your top priorities if you are elected?
Brenek: Review of portables (safety and security/ROI), more counselor support to help identify issues before they become significant and disciplinary action is taken, equity for all students so everyone has the same opportunity for success, review of High School 6, parent engagement

How should Round Rock ISD handle its future growth?
Brenek: The district needs to focus more on growth projections when building or modifying schools. Too often we place a heavy focus on portables where in my youth they were called temporary buildings.  We continue to under build or rely on portables, and that needs to change.

What do you think uniquely qualifies you for this position?
Brenek: I participated in the 2018 Strategic Plan Committee as well as the CBC and understand the critical needs of our district. Living on both sides of the district has also given me a unique perspective, and I would like to make sure all students have an equal opportunity to succeed.


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