When the Fort Bend Pastor’s Council announced a town hall meeting to explore the differences between single-member districts and at-large member districts for the Fort Bend ISD, community groups publicized and supported the Friday night event.
Upon hearing one pastor say he saw no problem in the district and after listening to an hour-long lecture on why non-voting African-Americans were the issue so there was no need for a single-member district, half the room walked out calling the session biased and misinformed.
During the question and answer period where more than 50 questions were collected, the tone grew contentious as some questioned the pastors “agenda.”
“I have a lot of skepticism. It was literally a staged event to indoctrinate the masses,” said Venesia Johnson, founder of CASE, (Citizens Advocating for Social Equity) and part of the coalition pushing for a public vote on single-member districts. “They were saying the same things as Kristin (former FBISD board president Kristin Tassin) who is opposed to a single-member district. The pastors were like her minions to squash our movement. This was a direct oppositional movement to our stance, which is exciting. We must be a threat.”
Tassin was present, answering questions along with the pastors, but no supporters of the single-member side had the microphone.
The Fort Bend Pastors Council held the three-hour session Thursday night at Christian Bible Church, home of pastors council president Rudolph White.
At one point Pastor Donald G. Burgs Jr., senior pastor of the Alief Baptist Church, told the packed room that instead of trying to collect 15,000 signatures to put the matter on the ballot, they should be using their energy to find ways to get out the vote in communities.
“The Fort Bend Pastors Council does not support single-member districts. The African American population represents 28 percent of the district. We are the majority and we must operate as a majority, from our strength,” White said. “This is not a civil rights issue, but we are not leaving our home to get out the vote.”
According to demographics, blacks represent 28 percent, Hispanics 27 percent, Asian 26 percent and Anglos 16 percent. But the majority of the FBISD seven-member board of trustees is predominately white with only two racial minorities on the board; African-American Addie Heyliger and Indian-American K.P. George.
White said, “everything is not racial. We all want representation.”
Burg said the pastors council does not support single-member because it hinders growth.
“They lose sight of all the children in the community,” he said, citing the controversies within the Houston Independent School District, which has single-member districts. State Rep. Ron Reynolds, who has led the charge for single-member districts, said opponents often cite Houston instead of the nearby Lamar ISD, which also has single-member districts and has no discrepancies in education levels.
On the matter of getting out the vote, Johnson said blacks are not the only ones staying at home during elections and added that the issue is not just getting out the vote but having “fair representation from trustees so that all board members are addressing education discrepancies.”
Pastor White, reading from a fact-sheet highlighting FBISD talking points, noted the FBISD has invested in the Willowridge and Marshall feeder patterns to the tune of more than $3.58 million for their literacy center.
School board meetings, however, have been rife with parents complaining that their side of the district is ignored and schools on the west side of the district have more programming and newer schools. Marshall High School students have complained that they don’t have working computers and have daily substitute teachers for crucial AP classes needed for college.
They also complain that the district takes good teachers from their schools and sends them elsewhere, leaving their students with new and inexperienced faculty. During the community-wide facility planning meetings, scant mention was given to schools on the east side, prompting parents to get vocal and collaborate with other parents who said they were surprised to hear of resource problems in the east side schools.
In the most recent bid for a school bond, the district announced innovative plans for an early childhood literacy center in the Marshall High School feeder pattern that drew appreciative applause from the Friday night crowd.
The pastors’ council and Tassin also noted that the district has a training academy teaching interested members on how to become a good board trustee.
The FBISD Leadership Academy is taking applications through Aug. 17 for adults interested in learning about the FBISD through the nine-month academy. For more information, see www.fortbendisd.com/boardleadershipacademy.
Since they did not have access to the microphone, parents discussed the meeting Friday night in the parking lot.
“People were leaving and I was saying please don’t leave. Let’s have our say, we are here to speak on behalf of the parents who can’t be here like the mother working two jobs to feed her kids and keep them in school,” said school volunteer and community activist Monica Taylor.
Marshall High School parent Alison Metz said once the teachers are trained at Marshall they are sent to Clements and Elkins.
“So then you have the students saying, why should I invest in this class when they’re just gonna take my good teacher,” said Metz.
White said before the meeting ended with prayer, that he did not want to divide the community.
“The issue is getting people to the polls,” he said. “If you can’t get your people to vote, the issue is moot.”