When state Rep. Ronald Reynolds called a community meeting to discuss changing the way the Fort Bend Independent School District governs, he only heard from two school trustees.
That lack of interest in other viewpoints, said Reynolds, is a telling example of why there needs to be single-member districts.
“The only one here was African-American. Why weren’t the others here? These are all their constituents here. That doesn’t say they are open to listening to other ideas. This is not a racial issue, it’s about equity,” Reynolds said after the meeting.
On Monday, Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees President Kristin Tassin told the Fort Bend Star that it would violate the state’s open meeting laws for a majority of the board to attend such a meeting. She also said that she and several other board members had scheduling conflicts with the meeting time.
“I have personally met twice with Representative Reynolds on that, so it’s really not accurate to say he’s only heard from two board members,” Tassin said.
She said the board’s position has been made clear that they would consider single-member districts if the community presented a petition to have it on the ballot for a vote. So far that has not happened.
FBISD Trustee Addie Heyliger, who is black and lives in Fresno, attended the session and the board’s only other racial minority, KP George, who also supports single-member districts, said he had a prior engagement. The seven-member FBISD school board is predominately white. The district is the most racially and ethnically diverse in the nation, said Reynolds.
“You look at the demographics. The district is majority minority but that diversity is not reflected on the board,” Reynolds said.
At issue, said Vanesia Johnson, is representation and buy-in from all trustees. Johnson, a former FBISD candidate who sat on the panel, said the school board has resisted single-member district because they do not want conflict among board members.
“But the last thing I want is a kumbaya board. I want intense dialogue about discrepancies and disparities in our schools. But I hear, that’s not our problem, call Addie, call the Texas School Board Association. We have a system that doesn’t make you accountable and accessible. It’s systemically designed that way,” said Johnson.
Realtor and panelist Tremaine Chatman echoed those concerns.
“I lived in Alief over 10 years, very diverse schools. Not too many schools are lacking. But in Fort Bend, on the east side, every school is lacking. Willowridge has mold problems, other elementaries with mold problems. You look on the west side, they are not having issues. It’s a big issue when you don’t have somebody represent you in your area,” Chatman said.
The meeting, held on the HCC Missouri City campus, attracted politicians pursuing votes in the upcoming May election and community residents concerned about their schools.
More important than single-member districts, said panelist the Rev. David Sincere, is the importance of a platform for candidates running and failing schools within the FBISD.
“We are in the middle of an academic crisis on the east side of Fort Bend County,” Sincere said.
He was referring to reports showing that 60 percent of students in the Willow Ridge feeder are not reading at an appropriate level.
“When we talk about single-member districts, we have to take some responsibility for what’s happening to these kids in the district in terms of being parents, community leaders, pastors and all the above. If these kids cannot read, they don’t have a future,” Sincere said.
“We need to fight for these kids,” he added.
The meeting was organized by Reynolds and the Rise Up for Representation Community Forum. The Rise Up for Representation Community Forum is a coalition of organizations including ACLU Texas, the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity – Fort Bend Chapter, Citizens Advocation for Social Equality (CASE), the Fort Bend CAN (Community Action Network), Fort Bend Employee Federation, Fort Bend Super Neighborhood 41, League of Women Voters Fort Bend, GATEKEEPERS and the NAACP Missouri City and vicinity.
Members left feeling excited about the possibilities.
“It’s gonna take a plan,” said Johnson. “Rise is about mobilizing the community for action. If we do have a problem, who can we go to when only two people adequately respond to us?”
Reynolds said he was pleased with the meeting.
“This was a good representation of the district and they really want to see us move toward a single member or a hybrid of a single member and an at-large,” said Reynolds.