Q&A: Meet the candidates running for Fort Bend ISD Trustee Position 7

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Incumbent Dave Rosenthal faces off against Ferrel Bonner, Christine (Tina) Michie, Holland Poulsen, Monica Riley, Nadine B. Skinner and Rudy Sutherland Jr. in the race for Fort Bend ISD trustee Position 7 on May 4. Their area encompasses the east division of the school district, including parts of Sugar Land, Missouri City, Arcola and Fresno. Community Impact Newspaper asked candidates their thoughts about the Sugar Land 95, public education funding, future school planning and challenges facing the district.

Ferrel BonnerFerrel Bonner
Occupation: Retired military veteran and small business owner
Experience: FBISD Board Leadership Academy, FBISD Facilities Steering Committee, FBISD Capacity Audit Committee, FBISD SL 95 Advisory & Subcommittees, Commissioner Fort Bend County Historical Commission, former PTO Member
Top priorities: Balancing of district, equity in education funding, board accountability and transparency
Phone number: 832-645-2741
Website: www.ferrelbonner.com

Tina MichieChristine (Tina) Michie
Occupation: Math tutor
Experience: Fort Bend County election official and volunteer deputy registrar, community involvement and activism, event organizing
Top priorities: Working with the community with interaction and input; bring back the academic, advance and honors systems; financial transparency; make sure every school has the same opportunities no matter the school.
Phone number: 713-419-7176
Website: www.facebook.com/VoteTinaMichie

Holland PoulsonHolland Poulsen
Occupation: Educational consultant
Experience: 25 years in education; administration and supervision, University of Houston, Clear Lake; M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction, University of St. Thomas, Houston; Bachelor of Science Multidisciplinary Studies, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
Top priorities: Equity in education from both an individual student perspective and a larger systems perspective, recruitment and retention of a diverse and highly qualified population of teachers
Phone number: 832-723-3134
Website: www.hollandpoulsen.com

Monica RileyMonica Riley
Occupation: Recently resigned from FBISD
Experience: 12.5 years seasoned parent educator and 20-year community leader
Top priorities: Create a strong community engagement system and policy, require education and program equity in every FBISD school, ensure educators are well supported and initiate a budget review audit.
Phone number: 281-410-5719
Website: www.VoteMonicaRiley.com

Dave RosenthalDave Rosenthal
Occupation: 8th grade science teacher, civil engineering recruiter, real estate agent
Experience: Seven years on the FBISD Board of Trustees and one of the three current board members who led a non-disruptive transition from the previous administration six years ago; petroleum geophysicist for nearly 30 years; full-time certified classroom science teacher at Stafford MS 2016-17; volunteer docent (educator) at the Houston Zoo 2001- 2006
Top Priorities: 1) Effectively overseeing the district’s budget. Depending on state funding solutions currently being discussed in the Texas legislature, FBISD could be forced to make some very difficult decisions when balancing the budget. The board must ensure that funding is used wisely and efficiently to provide for the needs of all students, so that each student exhibits year-over-year growth. 2) Ensuring safe, quality, and effective learning environments and resources that will allow all students to reach their full potential and exhibit the attributes of FBISD’s Profile of a Graduate.
Website: www.davefbisd.com, www.facebook.com/ReElectDaveRosenthal2019

Nadine SkinnerNadine B. Skinner
Occupation: Writer
Experience: Middle School PTO Parliamentarian; Elementary School PTA Secretary; Parents for Academic Excellence treasurer, president, and secretary; FBISD GT Parent Advisory Committee; FBISD SE High School Boundary Planning Committee; High School Theatre Booster Club volunteer; high school PTO Mmember; elementary school safety committee volunteer; former room parent; PTA and PACE Newsletter writer; parent member of Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented; college fair representative in FBISD and Alief ISD; Girl Scout troop volunteer; Fort Bend County volunteer voter deputy registrar; B.A. in geosciences; M.S. in geophysics.
Top Priorities: 1) Equality: We must provide equity of programs across all campuses and to students no matter where they fall on the educational spectrum. It should be our job to encourage learning, not to suppress it. 2) Stability: Consistency in school zoning builds stronger communities. Long-term, fiscally responsible planning for schools should be our goal. 3) Safety: We need more resources dedicated toward safety, and we must keep our students and staff safe inside and out. We have to not only prevent dangers from entering our schools, but we need to acknowledge the crises in our schools: bullying and mental health. 4) Transparency: Nothing good ever comes out of secrecy. If we are doing the right things, there is nothing to hide.
Phone Number: 281-787-4638
Website: www.nadineforbot.com

Rudy SutherlandRudy Sutherland Jr.
Occupation: Father, small business owner; entrepreneur and advocate; business coach and autism evangelist
Experience: BBA / MBA, accounting and finance, University of St, Thomas; certified management consultant; executive director, CMS WorkSource Solutions Inc.; founder, congressional advocacy group Voice of Small Business in America; former president, Home Owners Association; former basketball coach, upward associate, children’s ministry, 2nd Baptist Church; former executive BMC Software, Reliant Energy, Enron, & NASA; former dean of FlexNet Program and professor; former adjunct professor, University of St. Thomas; retired officer, United States Army
Top priorities: Top priorities: Free appropriate public education for all students; increased priority and support for special need children and their transition into becoming productive citizens; intelligent and thoughtful rezoning in FBISD that makes sense; repairing the $44 billion Texas Permanent School Fund; increased security on all school campuses; ensure all elementary schools have a PPCD Program with qualified teachers; enhance the special education program for all grade levels; single member districts; and increased teacher pay
Phone number: 832‐983‐1441


How would you have managed the Sugar Land 95 reburial process?
BONNER: I say, “Do no Harm, Protect and Preserve.” I am currently on the FBISD Sugar Land 95 Advisory & Subcommittees, where we work to ensure that these individuals whose resting place had been disturbed and whom have endured so much–are properly recognized, reinterred and memorialized. As a commissioner on the Board of The Fort Bend County Historical Commission, we have intervened on the behalf of the SL 95 to reinter where they were unearthed and to provide an appropriate memorialization.

MICHIE: I think this issue would have been different if we were talking about Holocaust victims, instead of a convict leasing program, which was basically another form of slavery. I would have tried to get the other board members with me to contact as many other parties as possible, including the state. I believe the land is a part of history. I understand financial issues do come up, but we can’t forget our past, and I think it’s the right thing to start the healing process.

POULSEN: One of the most important responsibilities of a school board is providing financial oversight and maintaining financial stability, which seemed to lead to a moral conflict in regard to the Sugar Land 95 reburial process. In haste to move forward as planned with the scheduled construction, respectfully memorializing the exploited African Americans, was temporarily set aside. Time should have been taken to listen to the community and ensure that all avenues were explored before moving forward. Conversations, decisions and resulting actions should have remained transparent so that the community was privy to the entire decision-making process.

RILEY: I would have notified FBISD legal department, halted progression at the site, communicated with developers, the City of Sugar Land, Fort Bend County, historical organizations, FBISD families and requested for a “call to action” meeting. By creating a partnership between all the entities, this would ensure the process would be handled with human dignity, respect, and safeguard from any hostility that could arise. I would have sought out any possible funding sources to assist with the affiliated cost to preserve the remains and their resting place. This would minimize unnecessary legal expenses of taxpayers’ dollars.

ROSENTHAL: I believe everyone agrees that the atrocities committed against those who were likely part of the Convict Leasing System were reprehensible. I met Reginald Moore at a board listening tour workshop shortly after site development began. Not growing up in the area, I had no idea that the Convict Leasing System existed, and Mr. Moore educated me about the history. I told him I was empathetic to his cause and would be happy to discuss ways to memorialize these people should their remains or artifacts be found on the site. FBISD took Mr. Moore seriously and hired an archaeologist to inspect the construction work at a cost of $25,000 per day. When remains were discovered, there was agreement between the district, City of Sugar Land, and Mr. Moore to reinter the bodies in a dignified respectful manner in the nearby Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, which is a Texas historic cemetery currently under the care of Mr. Moore. Once sentiments seemed to shift, there were calls to leave the remains at the site, and memorialize the cemetery where discovered. State law prohibits a school district from owning or operating a cemetery, so unless another entity intervenes, this is simply not possible. With 20-20 hindsight, I wish the district would have explored agreements with other governmental or private entities to purchase the burial site and memorialize the deceased at that location. The costs of designing and constructing the Technology Center around the abandoned cemetery is estimated to cost approximately $18 million. This cost does not include more than $5 million in funds already spent in connection with the district’s efforts to work around the cemetery. Unfortunately, the district does not have $18 million in additional bond funding available. At this time, parties involved are exploring whether Fort Bend County can legally own and operate the cemetery. It is my hope that the county helps the district find a lawful solution to the problem, and that we can complete the CTE center as the crown jewel of FBISD’s strategic plan to provide opportunities for students who may not wish to attend a four-year university.

SKINNER: No matter how painful our history may be, it is our responsibility to acknowledge it. The Sugar Land 95 never asked to be found. When their discovery was made, it never should have been a question as to the right thing to do. Moving them to the Imperial Farm Cemetery was never the right choice, which focus groups also agreed with. Yet, FBISD continued to fight over what should have been an easy choice to make–keeping the Sugar Land 95 at their original burial site. FBISD may not be in the business of running a cemetery, but they are in the business of education. Every seventh-grader in FBISD takes a Texas History course. The Sugar Land 95 are part of our very local Texas history. This burial site and memorial would make a great field trip and/or study site for all our seventh-graders where they can learn from this discovery. We may not like what the Sugar Land 95 represents, but it is our history. And history should not be, and cannot be, ignored.

SUTHERLAND: I personally believe the 95 bodies found should remain “until” they might be moved to a respectful burial site where they can be memorialized. However, I don’t believe the school district should have determined Old Imperial Farm Cemetery as the reburial place within its “interlocal” agreement without input from the task force members on a burial option.

What changes should the Texas Legislature make on funding schools?
BONNER: Understanding that this is a very sensitive issue, I believe that the state should increase its portion from approximately 33 percent. However, the issue is where do the offsets come from (property taxes, business/franchise taxes, sale taxes, exemptions?).

MICHIE: The state should give more to funding to schools; in return, this would lower property taxes.

POULSEN: Historically, Texas has inadequately funded public education and left local school districts burdened with inferior financial means in order to provide students with the potential to reach their achievement. The Legislature has failed to adequately finance public education, which leads to negative academic and economic consequences for many districts. Over the last decade, despite continued growth in total student population, the proportion of funding the state contributed declined by over 12 percent. The Texas Legislature needs to pass comprehensive reforms in order to ensure that Texas youth are well-educated, safe, and provided with equal opportunities.

RILEY: The Robin Hood tax should be removed. The impact of the recapture causes the undercurrent system oppression that could bankrupt larger educational districts. The state needs to support public education and provide adequate funding to our local school district in an equitable manner.

ROSENTHAL: The most challenging part of being a trustee is understanding school finance and its effects on the budget. The state funding system is so complex and convoluted, very few experts completely understand it. Unfortunately, the current system creates too many unknowns on a yearly basis, making it difficult to accurately predict revenue in order to budget for programing, staffing, and salaries. If nothing else, the state needs to create a system where revenue is predictable from one year to the next.

SKINNER: There is no investment that can be better made than toward education. As property taxes rise throughout FBISD, the contribution from the state of Texas to our local schools has only decreased. The state ends up saving money on education instead of reinvesting it in our students, school programs, and in our FBISD teachers. Money that the state has earmarked for education should remain earmarked for education regardless of what the property values do in our district. We should not lose state education funding because of a rise in property values. When the state does not invest in the education of our children, the wrong message is sent. It shows that the state is not investing in our future.

SUTHERLAND: I support a change to the state Constitution that requires the state to pay at least half the cost of funding public schools; this also speaks to my support for repairing the $44 billion Texas Permanent School Fund.

How do you see Sugar Land running out of available land affecting future school planning?
BONNER: I believe that based on recent PASA data, there will be some growth over the next 10 years. My biggest concern is how would this growth or lack thereof, impact East Fort Bend County’s minority students, schools and communities.

MICHIE: There is no popular answer for this. Answers to this include rezoning or eminent domain. However, the school district should have communication with Sugar Land City Council and Missouri City City Council so there can be a plan for the years to come.

POULSEN: Sugar Land’s Land Use Advisory Committee, a citizen committee, has spent the last five years collecting data in order to develop policies that will guide future land use decisions. The Land Use Plan should be utilized by FBISD to help make decisions about future prospects for schools that will need to be built. There should be adequate time and fiscal consideration in projecting future growth in FBISD in order to ensure there are provisions for adequate land acquisition since Sugar Land is approximately 93 percent developed at this time.

RILEY: We must redefine how we do public education and how we preserve the fundamental use of our current facilities. We must be prepared to possibly build extensions, offer open enrollment, acquire land and pre-existing buildings based on future projections. Multipurpose building use, online education and staggered schedules can be an asset and optional. Unfortunately, because of stigmatism at certain schools, people do not have a desire to transition their students to a wide variety of campuses. We need an expanded campus opportunity, while understanding community pride.

ROSENTHAL: Of course, FBISD is more than just Sugar Land, and spans across several cities in Fort Bend County. According to the latest PASA report presented to the board in February 2019, there will be 10 years of substantial growth throughout the district, concentrated in several areas. We are projected to add another 10,000 students by the 2028-29 school year. Once the district becomes officially landlocked, the need for building completely new schools in master-planned communities should subside. However, until that happens, the district needs to continue to focus on acquiring affordable and suitable land in high-growth areas. In addition, I believe the need for rebuilds, as we are doing in Meadows Place and Lakewood, will become necessary, especially as older neighborhoods gentrify.

SKINNER: One way to address the lack of land in the Sugar Land area is to look toward the buildings that we already do have. We may have to look at schools with lower capacity numbers to help us rebalance growth from other high-growth areas. We do have to be mindful when doing this, however. We must make sure that any rebalancing is done fairly, with community involvement, with time for families to plan for these changes and with an eye toward future growth in the area. We also do not want to see a single student affected by rebalancing more than once. We must have long-term planning that looks at the bigger picture.

SUTHERLAND: Consolidation will become necessary, and current schools will develop denser student populations, and intelligent, thoughtful rezoning in FBISD that makes sense will become paramount. However, input and bi‐lateral communication from/with the public must be a substantive priority and not just a token gesture.

What is the biggest challenge facing FBISD, and how do you plan to address it?
BONNER: My goal is to move this district toward #OneFBISD. I believe the greatest challenge for us as a district is the lack of political will to do so. This will require strategic approaches 1) equity in education funding across the district: adequate instructional materials, qualified and certified teachers and strong leadership; 2) board accountability and transparency: we as a district, in effect and to some extent, have become dysfunctional and are plagued by a lack of trust; 3) balancing the enrollment within this unbalanced district which currently resembles the serving of two districts. This is inherently unfair and has caused unrest within communities. Most importantly, we cannot allow our minority students, schools and communities to continue to pay the price! I have faith in our communities because they understand that as we all work together to address the issues of our district, that there will be some difficult decisions to be made and there will come some discomfort as we transition to a more balanced and equitable district. I caution that we must not become so entrenched that we forget that as a county and district, we should be thinking about future generations of students and schools within this county. If one student is affected, then it affects all of us. After all, these are all our students, schools and communities. As a candidate for FDISB trustee, we require a trustee with courage, leadership and integrity. I am the candidate!

MICHIE: I think the biggest issue overall is planning. As a former FBISD student and having seen the country grow, we need to have the foresight and address issues as soon as we see them, not as they become a problem. Such planning needs community input and involvement.

POULSEN: One of the biggest challenges facing FBISD is the expected growth of the district over the next 10 years and anticipated needs in regard to serving the current and future students based on these projections. FBISD needs to be fiscally responsible with every decision made and needs to continue the effort to ensure equity among specific student populations and individual campuses throughout the process. Also, it is crucial to retain and support highly qualified teachers throughout the district in order to continue to provide students with an exemplary education as one of the fastest growing school districts in Texas.

RILEY: There is more than just one challenge we face as a district. But the long history of educational disparities is the most critical. Specific populations lack relevant and useful resources, financial limitations, educator over-load, and lack of district accountability. These aspects are the reason for the primary challenge. We must build capacity for partnerships, community unity, bring equity to the east side of FBISD and most importantly, work to become a transparent school district. If not, our efforts will remain in a vicious cycle.

ROSENTHAL: FBISD has many teaching and learning initiatives happening throughout the district. Programs such as the Early Literacy Center and Student Ownership of Learning are two of the major initiatives showing great promise for our students and teachers. In addition, we must continue to ramp up our focus on special education and GT services to meet the needs of those students, all of which will require more resources, including staff. FBISD must figure out a way to continue to expand and sustain these programs. It is important for the board to continuously monitor the effectiveness of all FBISD programs, to ensure that scarce resources are well spent, and to fund those programs that have the most impact. This ties directly to the budgeting cycle, which is why the 2019-20 and future budgeting cycles are absolutely critical.

SKINNER: There are many challenges facing FBISD now, but they all stem from one central problem: The refusal of the current administration and Board of Trustees to stand up and do what is right. If we have overcrowded schools, we can do something about it, but only if we are actually willing to make a change. If we have problems in our schools with mental health, we can only do something about it if we acknowledge the problem exists. If we have campuses and students that are forgotten, we can’t do anything until we start to remember them. I will never forget to stand up for what is right.

SUTHERLAND: Without a doubt, school budget and finance. With accounting and finance background, I plan to work with my fellow board members and the state officials to make education an economic priority. My agenda includes support for HJR 24 to change the state Constitution to require the state to pay at least half the cost of funding public schools and focus on assisting in collaborative repairing of the $44 billion Texas Permanent School Fund.

 

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Christine Hall
Christine Hall joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2018, and covers Missouri City and Fort Bend ISD. She previously reported on health care innovation for the Texas Medical Center, was a freelancer, and held various news roles at the Houston Business Journal.
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