Fort Bend ISD trustee candidates square off at community forum
By Betsy Dolan
Six candidates who are running for two positions on the Fort Bend ISD board faced off in a community forum at the University Branch Library April 18.
Two trustees are seeking re-election – Jim Rice, position 3, and Dave Rosenthal, position 7. Rice also serves as board president.
Vanesia Johnson is the sole challenger for Rice’s seat, while there are three hopefuls vying for Position 7: Cynthia Lenton-Gary, Rodrigo Carreon and Deciana Enaohwo.
The event was sponsored and moderated by Save the Academies, a parent task force concerned about the future of the district’s Academy program.
Q: What are the biggest issues affecting teacher morale and how will you address them?
Rice: We have been struggling with budget cuts, teacher reductions and increased STAAR requirements. We have the most diverse county in the nation and the most diverse district in the state. We have to get our funding stabilized so teachers know they have a job next year.
Lenton-Gary: Teachers are telling me that they have a lack of support from the administration. They are overworked and underpaid, they are tired of teaching to the test, dealing with discipline issues and being buried under paperwork. We need to create a teacher group that will tell us what is really going on.
Rosenthal: Getting rid of Dr. Jenney boosted teacher morale immediately. Our new superintendent (Charles Dupre) is a people person and we are confident that he will run this district from the bottom up and that is something that did not happen under the previous administration.
Q: What needs to be done about school safety and are you in favor of teachers carrying guns?
Carreon: It is a shame that Congress didn’t feel school safety was important issue. I would like to beef up security with more officers in schools and metal detectors if necessary. Teachers shouldn’t carry guns.
Enaohwo: I believe in collaborating with first responders so that we would be as prepared as we could be in the event of another Sandy Hook. I’m not in support of teachers carrying guns.
Johnson: Sandy Hook is the reason I decided to run. We do not need our teachers gunned up. We need to focus on the prevention element and make sure that every campus has a mental health team as well as an incident command team and more security officers.
Q: How would you improve the district’s low performing schools?
Rosenthal: We need to get the right leadership in the schools and give them flexibility. In some of our low performing schools that flexibility and leadership has been lacking.
Carreon: We need to get highly skilled teachers into the low performing schools and more principals who are bi-lingual.
Enaohwo: I would like to see more collaboration with community colleges and workshops to prepare students for college.
Rice: 38% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. We need more resources in our lower performing schools, we need more parental involvement and we need those parents or caregivers to make sure that students are doing their homework.
Q: Does Fort Bend ISD need to re-zone?
Johnson: The district does not need to re-zone. We need an assessment of what we have, growth projections for the next decade and figure out how we can maximize what we have with minimal impact on the kids.
Enaohwo: Fort Bend ISD is growing and I believe that re-zoning is something that needs to be considered.
Lenton-Gary: We have schools that are overcrowded and others that are under capacity. Before we build new schools we need to use the facilities we already have but we also need to consider and respect existing feeder patterns.
Rosenthal: We need to consider re-zoning. The board has authorized a facilities assessment and the results will be used to see what we have. I agree that we need to respect existing feeder patterns.
Q: Public school funding was dramatically cut two years ago. How will you deal with budget challenges?
Johnson: A business ideology has ruled our district. We need a new management style, a “bottom up” approach where we put priorities on the students and not on the vendors.
Lenton-Gary: We can’t pay our teachers and our para-professionals what they are worth. We can’t fund the programs that we want. I’m praying that the $5.4 billion that was cut will be given back.
Rice: Fort Bend ISD joined with other districts to file suit against the state of Texas. We had to file that lawsuit for the state legislature to take the school funding issue seriously. Our state representatives are the ones who really fund us so let them know what you expect from them.
Carreon: We need to write to our elected state officials and demand that they restore public education funding.
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