By Landan Kuhlmann
When Fort Bend residents make their way to the polls May 4, the sheer volume of Fort Bend ISD trustee candidates may seem like ballot overflow.
Alas, it’s a bevy of candidates vying for the opportunity to represent Texas’ eighth-largest school district, all armed with their own ideas on how to serve the district’s 76,000 students in positions 3, 5, and 7.
Three candidates have emerged to challenge incumbent Jim Rice for Position 3: Afshi Charania, Sam Popuri, and Ashish Agrawal.
Ferrel Bonner, Dave Rosenthal, Monica Riley, Holland Paulsen, Nadine Skinner, Rudy Sutherland and Tina Michie have filed for the Position 7 chair.
For the unmanned position 5, five candidates have thrown their hat in the ring: Christian Sommer, Vivian Lam, Jason Dobrolecki, Allison Drew, and Pam Sutherland.
Candidates took part in a public forum at the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce last week. A moderator peppered them with questions about pressing issues such as standardized testing, methods of school funding, school choice/use of vouchers, and more.
Agrawal believes now is the time to refresh the talent on the FBISD board with someone who can creatively tackle the series of challenges facing FBISD. His focuses are on board transparency, equity and excellence in how the board handles issues. Agrawal is an active leader or member of several resident committees for his homeowners association.
“When you vote for someone, you need to know that they are respected within the community,” he said. “If you live somewhere they respect you, it means you can represent for a broader spectrum like FBISD.”
Rice, however, said FBISD has shown the ability to grow and adapt, and that experience is necessary for continued evolution.
“We’re always working toward that – that’s not a promise, it’s a fact,” he said. “I believe I have the skills and the knowledge and desire to see our district continue to grow.”
Charania said any decisions should exhibit common sense and that the interest of students should be a top priority.
“I strongly believe that quality education is the key to raise successful and contributing citizens of tomorrow,” she said.
As a parent, Popuri has dedicated himself to his two kids – and said he wants to do the same for all FBISD students.
“As a candidate, I’m very passionate about what I’m doing,” he said. “…But you also need to have a vision along with your passion, and the qualifications. I know how committees work, and that experience is also needed.
Dobrolecki’s mission for running for Position 5 is to ease friction and contention between FBISD and its board.
“We have wonderful people on our board of trustees who have their heart in the right place. I just want to mend those fences,” he said.
Pam Sutherland is driven to run to ensure Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for all Special Needs Students.
“I’m a mother first. I will work diligently to ensure that every student and every campus have the same opportunities,” she said.
Sommer believes his experience in the business world can help the board.
“I’m going to make decisions based on fact and opinion, not based on emotion,” he said.
Recent FBISD grad Lily Lam believes her recent experience in the system provides her a unique standpoint from which to help solve education issues.
“Our job is to alleviate as much of these challenges as possible so they’re proud of where they graduate and where they’re from,” she said.
Drew is seeking Position 5 in order to give back to the community she said has so generously supported her children’s educational growth.
“As a psych nurse, I can talk to people about very difficult issues in a respectful manner, and I’m always looking to find that common ground to see how we can move things forward,” she said.
One key prong of Michie’s campaign is that academic, advanced and honors programs should be back in the district’s schools.
“Every kid is different, and we need to give those children the opportunities to succeed. We need to give our kids wings to fly on if they can do the work,” she said.
Bonner has served on both the FBISD Facilities Steering Committee and FBISD Capacity Audit Committees and is now a member of the FBISD Board Leadership Program.
“We can get all the awards we want, but until we get to the underlying issues facing the district, those awards mean nothing,” he said.
Paulsen has lived in Fort Bend for the past 21 years with her family, and been a teacher since 1993.
“I think it’s important to have somebody who’s been in the trenches of education and understands the impact this board makes,” she said.
Rosenthal was has served on the board for six years.
“A stable board is good for children and the district. We don’t need a changed board. It’s not perfect, but we have the experience and we know what it takes,” he said.
Among Rudy Sutherland’s key points of emphasis are increased priority and support for special-needs kids and their transition, rezoning, enhancing special education and increased teacher pay.
“This would be my full-time job. I have a service to my sons, who will be going through this school system like your kids,” he said. “I’m dedicated. I’m in it.”
Riley has previously worked with HISD as a parent educator to provide a multitude of life-skills classes.
“I make things happen. I do my very best to work with all people across the district to bring it equitable programs and work with district leadership to ensure our kids have the best opportunities,” she said.
Skinner has decided to run because she believes she understands best that it’s all about the kids.
“I’m not afraid to say what’s right, and I’m not afraid to make bold decisions. I’m not afraid to fight for what’s right for my kids and your kids,” she said.