Community Impact Newspaper hosted a forum Thursday at the Klein ISD Multipurpose Center for candidates seeking two positions on the KISD board of trustees in the Nov. 6 election. KISD trustees serve three-year terms.
Position 3 was occupied by Bill Pilkington, who is not running for re-election. Seth Batiste, Vijay Patel and Chris Todd are vying for the seat.
Position 4 is occupied by Steve Szymczak, who is running for re-election against two challengers, Julie Benes and Wade G. Fennel.
Here are edited excerpts from the candidates’ responses to questions posed during the forum and a video of the event.
With the failure of the Tax Ratification Election in June 2018, how do you think the district can meet its financial needs in the 2019-20 academic year and beyond?
Batiste: “Some years ago I worked for APQC, American Productivity and Quality Company … we did benchmarking, working with companies to reduce staff. But that’s not what we need for Klein. That was horrible to read about people losing jobs. What I wrote here is something that can help the district. I do advocate partnerships; I’ve started partnerships in the past. I’ve worked with Rice University, A&M University and other businesses. What partnerships? Math and science area; NASA is a great partner … looking at ways to help reduce the cost in that way I think will be crucial and beneficial.”
Patel: “As my job I do crisis management. [If] something went wrong, what do you do? Examine, and you find the root-cause analysis. In this particular situation, the TRE failed so let’s examine it. As a community, we as a staff who are behind this thing, to provide necessary resource … in the money part, people know that investing is better. [In] 12 years, you put that money toward the child and you will see that money paying tenfold.”
Todd: “Clearly doing more with less is not an option … we’re going to have to become wise about what we’re actually doing, we’ve cut somewhere over $30 million out of the budget and at this point in time teachers and paraprofessionals are hurting from that because it had affected them. But I suspect in the coming days we’ll be able to evaluate what those cuts look like and see where the cuts were too deep, maybe other places they can cut more … and we’re going to have to evaluate everything we do against one premise: Does it meet the standard of Promise to Purpose?”
Szymczak: “The 2018-19 budget has been approved; the cuts have been made. Most of the cuts were attrition, positions that actually had not yet been filled so there wasn’t an actual person involved. If this continues we’ll have to look at different alternatives. The beauty of our system is citizen vote, and the result of that vote is a function of the purpose for the vote and how well either side presented its case … we needed to do a better job of listening to the pubic as to what is a priority.”
Fennel: ““The TRE really seemed to polarize the community and … we should have done a better job of educating the community as to the need for the TRE, and how you do that? You just need to communicate better in any way you can. We need to be more transparent about the financials of the district and convince folks the need was there. We didn’t eliminate full-time employees but did we eliminate substitute teachers … clearly, we’re in pain. … We need to look at everything and make sure all programs are effective.”
Benes: “In the short term we need to raise funds as much as we can from alternative sources: more grants, more community involvement, more corporate involvement. In the long term we need to advocate strongly for the way our public education is funded. It’s not working for the state, we need more money kept in the district, we need to take an active role in doing the best we can to make that happen. In the short term we need to make the cuts that we can that will have the least impact on our kids’ education [and]our teachers.”
Is there anything the school board could be doing better, and what would be your role to improve it?
Batiste: “We shouldn’t as a board assume success … we learned some lessons from the last referendum. A cultivated message is crucial for our community. The message needs to be clear. A board also behind closed doors should be free to disagree. I think boards should work professionally with one another but feel free to offer opinions. The last thing is any changes that are made, districtwide, should be in culture. There should be a culture of change. Once we make a decision we should make it part of the culture.”
Patel: “Different points of view, different backgrounds, different thinking, out-of-box thinking. One of the things that links in that picture of [Promise to Purpose] is innovation; that comes from understanding what’s going on … Bringing in a different approach would help to prepare our children, and it is our duty to prepare them.”
Todd: “The No. 1 thing the board can do is to evaluate what policies are and are not working and to act on those. Further, we have to begin acting for the next year’s budget, post-TRE, have to decide what we’re going to decide what’s going to happen with the current financial situation. The board’s going to have to take that.”
Szymczak: “The 800-pound gorilla in the room is the failed TRE. In hindsight, as we know, people that watch 24/7 cable news, there’s always someone to blame. The buck stops with the board. In retrospect, we failed. You could say we were overconfident. There was some discussion about the date we picked … people thought it might have, must have appeared sneaky to some people. We can open our ears … Perhaps we should listen more as a board.”
Fennel: “I think the board can possibly be more transparent. I agree with the celebration of all the successes … but I’d like to know about the gaps and the challenges and the efforts to address those. I think we need to make the community aware of what we’re doing about those challenges and gaps, and maybe they can help. I’d like to see more partnerships with local and regional businesses.”
Benes: “I would like to see curriculum updated and improved. I’d like to have more emphasis on the gifted and talented program [and]the special education program. I want to see the needs of every student met, and I think we need to put our time and resources there. We need to work and build stronger coalitions with the community … We need to foster those relationships.”