FBISD board president says board not behind it
By Joe Southern
State Rep. Ron Reynolds last week filed House Bill 132 to create single-member districts for the Fort Bend Independent School District Board of Trustees.
“This bill will require that each board member be elected in single districts and one at-large,” the Missouri City Democrat said in a press release.
Although Reynolds has long sought single-member districts as a campaign issue, the president of the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees said the board isn’t behind it.
“The district did not ask for this bill, but the important question is, is this something the community wants?” said Kristin Tassin, president of the board of trustees. “The current system serves the district well because trustees work for students throughout the district, not any single geographic constituency. I have not heard community support for any change.”
Reynolds said he has heard a lot of calls for single-member districts.
“Last month a community meeting in House District 27 showed overwhelming support for the creation of single-member districts to elect school board trustees,” Reynolds said in a press release.
When asked for more specifics, Reynolds told the Fort Bend Star that the issue has broad support.
“Please be advised that this issue has been vetted for years,” he said. “The Missouri City NAACP brought legal action against FBISD back in the 1980s. I’ve spoken with numerous stakeholders, elected officials and community leaders that are in total support of single-member districts.
“For example, Congressman Al Green, Senator Borris Miles (in fact he filed the companion bill to my bill), Commissioner Grady Prestage, Judge Joel Clouser, Constable Gary Majors, Councilman Don Smith, FBISD Trustee KP George testified in favor of single member district’s at our public hearing this session. FBISD Trustee Addie Heyliger is in favor. The Fort Bend Pastor’s Association is in favor. I’ve done polling and the majority of my constituents are in favor.
“We already elect our Congressman, State Reps, State Senators, Commissioners, HCC Trustees, Missouri City Councilman, Sugarland City Councilman by single member districts. HISD and LCISD already elect their trustees by single member districts. Trustee Neeta Sane also supports it. Also, Commissioner (James) Patterson and (Missouri City) Mayor (Allen) Owen favor a change to the current way that we elect FBISD trustees. They want to change it to three east, three west and one at-large. Each person would only be voted on by their boundary. It’s a compromise that I’ve been working on with Commissioner Patterson and it’s supported by the mayors of Meadows Place, Missouri City, Arcola and each commissioner,” he said.
Tassin said she would welcome a petition for single-member districts if that’s what residents want.
“Current law allows interested community members to file a petition requesting that the issue to be placed on an election ballot for voter consideration. I have asked Rep. Reynolds to bring us a petition. We have not received anything to date and have not otherwise heard widespread support for a change,” she said.
Reynolds said he plans to do that. “I plan to start a petition drive within the near future. I’m going to continue fighting for single-member districts until it’s done,” he promised.
Tassin acknowledged that Reynolds has the right to introduce legislation, but hopes that he would pursue local options.
“We definitely believe in local control, but the law allows four ways to create districts: 1) legislatively; 2) school board vote to put it on the ballot; 3) petition of voters to put it on the ballot; and 4) judicially by filing a federal lawsuit challenging the system,” she said. “A lawsuit was filed against FBISD in the 1990s. The court ruled against the claim and declined to create districts.”
In his press release announcing the filing, Reynolds explained his reasoning behind single-member districts.
“FBISD is Texas’ seventh largest with close to 73,000 students. Out of the top eight school districts, only two do not have single member districts, FBISD being one of those. Fort Bend ISD is the most diverse district in Texas, the student population is 32.08 percent African American, 27.22 percent Hispanic, 21.74 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 15.29 percent white. Currently, there is only one African American trustee, one of Indian descent and no Hispanics.
“Fort Bend’s antiquated at-large system is no longer beneficial to our students and families. Fort Bend County state representatives, county commissioners, constables and city council members are all elected from single districts. Strengths of single-member districts rest in close ties between representatives and constituents, the accountability of representatives to the voters, and constituency service,” he said.