The five candidates battling for Fort Bend ISD board position 7 gathered for a forum at the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce office April 12. Laura Ramirez, Sonja Leonard, Shirley Rose-Gilliam and James Davidson are challenging Fort Bend ISD trustee Dave Rosenthal.

Position 3 trustee Jim Rice is also running unopposed for his third term on the board. Moderators asked questions ranging from board policy to truancy and academic achievement gaps between socioeconomic groups.

During a discussion of trustees’ roles in relation to school administrators, Rosenthal said that a misunderstanding of the difference between policy and management had led to frustrations in the past. He cited the decisions this year to extend school days and the district’s move to end the Reading Recovery program as two examples.

FBISD board of trustees candidate Sonja Leonard, right, speaks at a forum. FBISD board of trustees candidate Sonja Leonard, right, speaks at a forum.[/caption]

Rosenthal said that in the case of Reading Recovery, administrators were responsible for a managerial decision, not the board.

“We set the district goals,” said Rosenthal, who is a geophysicist. “I don’t need to be the expert on that subject. I need to be able to ask tough questions.”

Leonard, a speech therapist, said having trustees with a background in education was important.

“My point of view is it’s hard to know if you’re being hoodwinked or not if you don’t know the background [of issues],” she said.

Former FBISD employees Rose-Gilliam and Ramirez said their long-awaited opportunities to get involved with the board came after they transferred to work at Alief and Houston ISDs, respectively.

“I would like to come in and bring the educator viewpoint,” Rose-Gilliam said.

Ramirez said she was motivated after seeing educators on Alief’s board of trustees.

“That really inspired me to see [that] educators—we are on the front lines of education,” Ramirez said. “You leave your heart where you served at.”

When moderators Jane Clarke and Daniel Menendez asked candidates about truancy in the district, all five said they thought the situation had improved since the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation of FBISD’s truancy referrals in 2012. But Davidson said he saw room for improvement when handling cases.

“Instead of it being in the courtroom, once the students do come back, and there is the legal issue, I’d rather it be done in the classroom,” he said.