Clear Creek ISD board candidates face off during candidate forum

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Candidates for the Clear Creek ISD board of trustees are concerned about school safety, state financing and local tax dollars, according to their responses given at a candidate forum April 4.

At-large Position B incumbent Ann Hammond is running for re-election against newcomer Scott Bowen. Position 1 incumbent Laura DuPont is running unopposed for her own chair.

All three showed up to the forum to answer questions from moderator Glenn Freedman with EduSafe Systems. Selected questions and answers, edited for length and clarity, are below.

Early voting begins April 22. Election day is May 4.

The school board is responsible for CCISD’s governance. The superintendent and his or her staff are responsible for operations and management. Do you consider this an important distinction?

Hammond: Yes. The superintendent manages the district’s day-to-day operations.

That is not the board’s job.

The board’s job is to make sure there is a plan in place. We’re the superintendent’s boss, and he’s our only employee. We give him targets and evaluate him on them. We should never cross that line and start doing the superintendent’s job.

DuPont: I agree.

I would add if you get too many hands in the pot, things are not going to be good.

There are seven people on the board, and if too many, things go awry and makes it difficult to give the superintendent clear direction. It’s our job to point residents in the right direction of who should help them when they have problems or concerns.

Bowen: I agree in the sense that the board’s role is governance. At the same time, trustees serve the function of being the voice of the community.

If a parent tells a trustee about problem, the trustee should investigate and see if it’s evidence of something being done incorrectly. That isn’t management but making sure management is occurring correctly. It’s a back and forth that takes a long time to develop.

I do think just because the superintendent is managing the district doesn’t mean trustees shouldn’t be looking what is happening in schools.

The National School Board Association said one qualification of a good school board member is he or she is data savvy. What data are the most important for you to have and why?

DuPont: “Absolutely you have to be data savvy.

Data can show a lot of different things at different times. We need to understand what to look at. One of our jobs is to do that by talking to community partners, teachers and students to find out what really is important. I can’t answer what is most important, but data showing student growth are important.

Bowen: As an engineer, looking through data is what I do for a living. I’d look at hard data, such as graduation rates and number of students taking advanced testing. I’m not a huge believer in polling or surveying because it’s subjective and can be manipulated. Most important is ethically gathered, objective data.

The more information we have, the better.

Hammond: There’s so much data available to board and community, such as the community-based report which is based on what the community wants to know and see about the district. I’m really proud this district has a community-based assessment that takes into account more than just STAAR results.

Children are not test scores.

What’s important to me is data that show growth, demographic data, socioeconomics data and test data. I don’t ever want to be the person who labels a campus or district by a test score because that gives bad picture of how they’re doing.

What would be your top two or three priorities for CCISD for the next three years?

Bowen: My biggest priority as a new board member would be to learn. As a new member, you don’t know what you don’t know yet. You need to absorb the information you have access to and learn to work effectively as a team with other board members.

In terms of policy, I would want to make sure the school security recommendations are implemented well. I would also like to see the special education recommendations from a recent audit implemented as well. We have to respond to what happens with the budget with bills going through the Legislature. We have to make sure schools are adequately funded.

Hammond: Certainly, safety is the No. 1 priority. Implementing school safety recommendations is important, and the district is starting to do that by hiring 30 extra counselors and officers.

STEM is a priority for me as well in this area. This next year, we will add a whole elementary school as a STEM campus and want to see that be successful. In next three years, I hope for more of that.

Of course, funding and getting financing right is important, too.

DuPont: The trustees need to look at themselves and see what we can do to grow as a board and individuals to further support the district.

I agree safety and funding are huge issues, and we have some good processes down. I would say within safety, looking at emotional needs of students is most important because that impacts school safety more than anything.

We need to leverage parent and community groups and continue with community-based accountability to see what data we need to examine as we look to the future.

The board is responsible for approving the superintendent’s annual goals and assessing his progress. What two or three areas are the most important components of that assessment?

Hammond: One of  a superintendent’s target is special education. That’s a target area we’ll be looking at critically at to make sure it’s achieved.

We’ve implemented blended learning, and we’re tracking how that’s going on the couple campuses it’s at.

It looks pretty successful at Clear Lake City Elementary.

If it’s successful, I want to expand it so it’s successful everywhere else.

DuPont: When we do the superintendent’s assessment, we have that aligned with our seven strategies for district. We take each of seven areas, one of the most important being student success, and look within.

I think the other piece is we look on a whole is what student success is and how the superintendent is doing at leading everybody in the district.

Bowen: My approach would be to make sure the district is being managed with integrity. I think hiring and turnover is a big thing we need to look at as financing changes. Teachers have other opportunities, but we want to hang onto good, qualified, experienced people to make sure district is managed well.

Student success is obviously paramount as well. We need to make sure every group of students are all doing well.

Do you favor the use of public tax dollars for uses such as school vouchers, tuition tax credits, or private schools?

DuPont: No. We went to Austin to talk to lawmakers about this. We don’t want public tax dollars going into private areas, which is what the voucher system is set up to do, with no or little accountability.

Bowen: I think it would depend on the program or details, but it’s not an idea I’m opposed to at all. We chose to live in CCISD because schools are good. I’m fine with people who live in different areas without great public schools having the option to go to private schools. I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

Hammond: Public funds need to be in public schools. We’re fortunate we’re in a district that is very high quality. Public schools, including those in this district, offer residents many choices for whatever education or post-secondary choices they want to pursue. I don’t want those public tax dollars to go elsewhere.

A parent group blasts you personally and aggressively on social media about a decision you made as a board member. What do you do?

Bowen: I would talk to them privately to see what made them feel mistreated. I would like to figure out what is causing that disagreement. If it’s because they’re a disagreeable person, it would end there.

But if there’s a deeper issue that needs to be addressed, I’d want to figure that out. There are going to be times people feel like they lost out in decision made, such as boundary disputes. I want residents to feel that they’ve been heard.

Sometimes people will win, sometimes people will lose.

Hammond: Typically, I don’t engage on social media because that’s not the place to do that. During a conversation with someone, they just want to be heard, and understanding them is critical. If you don’t have understanding, there’s always going to be anger among parents. That’s been proven true to me over the years.

They need to be heard, and I always try to hear whatever you have to say.

If anger continues, I would cut it off with an apology, but most of the time, if you listen and understand what they’re saying, even if you can’t solve it, that’s important to them.

DuPont: I’d agree with both answers. We sometimes make decisions and can’t tell all the reasons behind it due to legal or other reaons, which can be frustrating for people who don’t have all the information. Still, we have to listen to their side.

Listening is a big part of everything.

What legislation would you like to see passed to benefit CCISD?

Bowen: House Bill 3 is a step in the right direction. At the state level, I want to see the property tax share decrease and be replaced with other revenue sources, such as state funding or sales tax revenue. We’re so dependent on just a couple revenue sources that we’re left in a weak position, which can have bad effects.

Hammond: The state used to provide a much larger portion of education funding, but now local dollars makes up about 70 percent of the budget. HB 3 is going to help solve some of the inequity and balance local versus state, depending on what the Senate does.

A better flow of funding from the state is in CCISD’s best interest. Everyone in community would appreciate lower taxes.

DuPont: HB 3 has a lot of really good things. It will bring more funding back to the districts.

It’s in our constitution that the state will fund education. State and local dollars used to make up a 50-50 split for education funding, but now only 28 percent of the budget is funded by the state, and the majority of the rest is local.

Obviously that balance needs to change.

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Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for a few years, covering topics such as city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be an editor with Community Impact. In his free time, Magee enjoys playing video games, jamming on the drums and bass, longboarding and petting his cat.
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