Q&A: Race for Magnolia ISD board of trustees Position 3 features incumbent Gary Blizzard, Sean Ricker

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Incumbent Gary Blizzard and candidate Sean Ricker are running for the Position 3 seat on the Magnolia ISD board of trustees in the May 4 election.

*Incumbent

Gary Blizzard*

Hometown: Magnolia

gblizzard@magnoliaisd.org

Top priorities: fiscally responsible school funding, competitive teacher compensation, students’ college and career readiness

Briefly describe your experience for the position for which you filed.
[I have] served as part of the Magnolia ISD Parent Leadership Committee, have experience as a trustee on the school board since 2012 and [I] graduated in 2016 from the Texas Association of School Boards Leadership Program earning the designation of master trustee.

Why are you running for re-election to the Magnolia ISD board of trustees?
I believe all of us are commanded to use our unique God-given gifts to serve others in some way. My hope is to help make some positive impact on the lives of the youth in our community through board service. One pure joy of being on our school board is the up-close opportunity to see many students grow, develop and achieve through the outstanding instruction of our teachers. Our children are our future.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges for Magnolia ISD in the coming years?
School safety and security, school funding, outstanding instruction and programs that provide a competitive education

What do you believe is Magnolia ISD’s greatest strength?
Our teachers and their dedication to their work are MISD’s greatest strength. Also, MISD shares a strong sense of community and a culture and focus on helping kids to be successful while maintaining the highest morals, ethics and values.

What do you believe is one area in which Magnolia ISD can improve, and how do you plan to help the district work toward improving in that area?
MISD should have a continued focus on allocation of funds toward the classroom. Our school board helps by considering alternative funding sources, such as through open enrollment, as well as by providing a conservative and responsible approach to our budget.

Magnolia ISD has seen a declining percentage of revenue from the state over the last several years. In light of this, how would you approach maintaining a balanced budget, and what would be your budget priorities for the district?
We maintain a balanced budget by our careful and prudent approach, and our continued priority is a balanced budget that focuses on allocation of funds toward the classroom.

Sean Ricker

Hometown: Magnolia

832-510-4048
www.rickerfortexas.com

Top priorities: incentivizing top-performing teachers, streamlining administrative processes, school safety

Briefly describe your experience for the position for which you filed.
[I work as a] maintenance manager; former U.S. Navy veteran; worked in the fields of project management and engineering

Why are you running for election to the Magnolia ISD board of trustees?
I’ve got two young children. The youngest will be in the school system soon, so you don’t always think about schools until you have children. They’re there, and we all see it on our tax bills, but as I started looking at the school system as a whole, [I saw districts] drift a little bit away from being student-centered and focused on educating to becoming a little bit more bureaucratic. [I want] to try to take a part in turning everything back around and reminding everyone the goal of the school system—the only goal—is educating children and doing what’s best to make sure that a quality education and a safe education is taking place.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges for Magnolia ISD in the coming years?
One big challenge is the inevitably variable state funding that we have. We of course rely on it. Right now it varies between 30 and 40 percent of our annual maintenance budget, and when that varies, of course it has a direct impact on our ability to take on our maintenance and operations activities that we need to do. I think [the district must get] as efficient as possible with the money that we do have to start freeing up a surplus to account for those down years, saving money away for that inevitable year where the state will be down [in its funding amount.] Of course [making] it back up when the state comes back up [in its funding] is going to be a big challenge, because right now we run basically a zero-surplus budget. … so [we must work] within what we have. Of course nobody wants to see their taxes raised. If you compare us around … the state, we’re pretty lean on maintenance and operations, but our interest and sinking [rate] is rather high, which puts us in the top third of the state. I think where our taxes are currently is reasonable, and we should be able to work within that, so maintaining the current tax rate is important to everyone, regardless of the children.

And I do think school security is a challenge that will come with a limited budget. But I think there’s things that can be done and should be done that don’t necessary require large amounts of money to implement.

What do you believe is Magnolia ISD’s greatest strength?
I think the ISD as a whole [community], it seems to be a very active community. We still have that small-town mentality. [My family has] been here for about six years now, and I’ve seen it grow quite a bit, but there’s still a lot of engagement at school board meetings; there’s a lot of interest whether it be events at the school or events recognizing students and folks in the community or whether it be [the] budgeting process and asking questions like that. I think for as small of a community as we are, we do get a lot of good engagement in the community.

What do you believe is one area in which Magnolia ISD can improve, and how do you plan to help the district work toward improving in that area?
It kind of gets repetitive to keep saying … to recognize the teachers that are exceeding expectations, the good teachers in the district—to keep them there. Again, quite frankly if you looked at the budget now, you’d say there’s no room to do incentive pay, so that’s going to be the problem to try to solve is to free up money in the budget to be able to do that. So I think that’s one of the biggest things the district could move toward. I think it’s something the state’s trying to move toward; there’s a bill in the House that’s going to incentivize districts to implement these kinds of plans. I know the governor’s touted it heavily as well. Again, the way to do that is going to be to lean and streamline processes that aren’t directly involved in the classroom—so your administrative processes and rolls and tasks—to be able to free up those funds to be able to do merit-based or incentive-based [pay]—whatever wording you want to use—for recognizing those top-quality teachers and keeping them there in the classroom with our kids.

Magnolia ISD has seen a declining percentage of revenue from the state over the last several years. In light of this, how would you approach maintaining a balanced budget, and what would be your budget priorities for the district?
Well, if you look at revenue, the state has dropped off—it’s constantly fluctuating. But if you go back to 2013, we’ve actually had a steady increase year after year [of state dollars]. … They haven’t finalized the 2017-18 school year yet, so I’m curious to see how that plays out. … We had a really high year in 2012, but starting in 2013 where the state dropped off a lot—we’ve actually been steadily increasing year after year even if you adjust for inflation. … We are actually increasing operations funding per student in the district for the last five years. So because of that, I ask myself why we can’t generate more of a surplus or find that money to implement things like school safety or teacher incentive plans. … We just need to do our best to be prepared for those fluctuating highs and lows every year [from the state].

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Anna Lotz
Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in the Tomball and Magnolia communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.
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