Friday, October 23, 2015

Sampling the Ballot, Part II

This is a simple, mostly non-partisan, off-year election. And yet we couldn’t get through the ballot in a single post. Sorry about that. Anyway, yesterday we covered Texas state propositions and Harris County propositions. What’s left on my local ballot are school board trustee elections.

School Board

There are four positions on the ballot for Cy-Fair Independent School District. Sometimes they’re called trustees, sometimes board members. CFISD had a “board candidate forum,” which is about two hours with the candidates, if you’d like to see for yourself. But on the ballot they are “trustee candidates.” It’s a “board of trustees,” so that includes it all, I guess.

To begin, I’m not a fan of our school board. I’m not a fan of public education, so add that in. But here we are, in one of the most conservative counties, in one of the most conservative states, in a section of the county that is among the most conservative sections. But our school board is notoriously tied to liberal policies, educational associations (not a good thing), and cronyism. Most of the board has been supported by a PAC, with rather large money, considering that school board positions are unpaid.

The other side will point out that they get awards—they are the most efficient; they are best liked by administrators. They are efficient because CFISD gets a lower per student allotment from the state than other school districts nearby and across the state, and they are required by law to balance the budget. So they are forced to be efficient. But let’s give props for that. If administrators like them, it might be just that they’re giving them everything they want, but that may not reflect at all on the classroom outcome.

In the forum, these six candidates appeared: Thomas Jackson, Christine Hartley, Darcy Mingoia (all current board members), Natalie Blasingame, Debbie Blackshear, and Pam Redd. There are four positions. Incumbents Thomas Jackson and Christin Hartley run unopposed for positions 1 and 2 respectively. Darcy Mingoia is running again for position 3 and is challenged by Dr. Natalie Blasingame. And the position 4 trustee is not running again, so the new candidates are Debbie Blackshear and Pam Redd. Positions 5, 6, and 7—John Ogletree, Don Ryan, and Bob Covey—are not up for re-election this year.

The easy way is to go in order. But I won’t; I’m starting with position 3. In addition to the forum, which I watched online after the fact, I saw them both in person at the most recent Tea Party meeting. I wrote about Darcy Mingoia last time she ran, in 2012. She was not my choice. She seems to be a decent person, more interested in the business end than the details of the classroom.
Darcy Mingoia, CFISD candidate, position 4
photo from Cypress Tea Party Facebook page

Last time around I was bothered that she (and nearly every candidate) got the order of priorities wrong. I think you’re accountable to the taxpayers and parents. The job is to get the best education possible for the money budgeted. You will want a good environment and good teachers in order to accomplish that. But doing the bidding of a teachers’ organization is the wrong approach. This time that question didn’t seem very relevant. She said, “Obviously we’re accountable to the taxpayers. But…” She’s certain they’re doing a very good job, and this is one of the best school districts around.

You lose me there. We looked at the school district info when we moved here and decided where to live. It was highly rated. But two years in, we found it so intolerable we pulled our kids out to homeschool for the duration (ten years). I haven’t been that tuned in to schools since, but we have a granddaughter in the local elementary school right now. It’s a new school, but it was built like all the others with open classrooms—even though that has been discredited everywhere for decades and has been proven painfully troublesome here in this district. It’s cheaper to build large rooms without walls. No matter that children have to remain quiet at all times, to avoid disturbing the other classes within earshot. Having a teacher or guest read a book aloud is iffy (I know from experience). 

Also, the elementary school still tells teachers whether a student is performing at grade level or below grade level. But if your child came in performing two grades above grade level, you don’t get any kind of grade to let you know they’re still progressing. I found the program for gifted students sub-par for high school, middle school, and elementary school. It appears that is still the case. (I want to add here that we're quite pleased with our granddaughter's main teacher; I haven't met her other teacher, but the parents have, and teachers are not a problem for us this year.)

Natalie Blasingame, CFISD candidate, position 4
photo from Cypress Tea Party Facebook page
Natalie Blasingame at least addressed the gifted challenge. She is in favor of adding options. Her big thing is dual-language schools—not to be confused with bilingual education, which is a way of teaching non-English students until they learn enough English to be more mainstreamed. Dual-language is an immersion program for teaching additional languages to English-speaking students. Her daughter attends a dual-language program, but it was not available in our district, so she goes elsewhere. (We’re watching a friend try this out in another state.)

She answered my question about gifted students by saying, the way it happens is by dealing with each student individually. Now, that is something that the schools truly need. I don’t know how they get there. But Dr. Blasingame has been an educator—a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent. She at least knows the challenges from the trenches, and has looked at options. I think she would be the only board member with an education background, and I believe they said the first board member ever to have been an educator in the district.

So, in the Position 3 race, I’m voting for Natalie Blasingame.

Now, for the others. The short answer is, I’m not voting for anyone else.

Of course unopposed positions will get in without my vote. But they will do it without my feeling forced to say, “What a great job you’re doing!”

You may want to disagree. When Thomas Jackson first ran, it was with PAC money, and in connection with Mr. Ogletree, whom I see as the enemy of parents and taxpayers on the board. So I did not favor him. However, he presented himself well at the forum that year—and again in this year’s forum. He’s data oriented and very reasonable. I was leaning toward giving him my vote, but I was reminded that he was instrumental in pushing for the $1.2 Billion bond last year. That’s an incredibly sized bond, and was going to building more open classroom schools, and for a great many things that aren’t capital expenditures. I voted against it. It passed nevertheless (they almost always do).

Christine Hartley also ran with PAC money, and attached herself to other PAC candidates. I wasn’t convinced then that she was what our schools needed, and I’m sticking with that impression. I think she must make an incredible PTO president or Band Mom. She’s a pleasant person with a lot of energy. But she resents anything that challenges the god that is public schools: school choice, charter schools, private schools, homeschools. So, she may not be aware she declared me an enemy, but I recognized the categorization. So, again, she’s not getting my vote.

The Position 4 race has two newcomers. These are non-partisan positions. But I have been told that Pam Redd is considered a weak Democrat (has voted in at least one Democrat primary, but not a long steady record of doing so). Debbie Blackshear votes Republican. She spoke at a Tea Party meeting last month (which I missed). Pam Redd didn’t show; she later told our Tea Party president that she’d had a previous commitment. But that’s not what she’d said when she was scheduled to speak, and she didn’t get back to him to let him know she wouldn't make it. Since the main ways of reaching the public in person are at the forum and at our Tea Party, she blew off an important opportunity.

So Debbie Blackshear ought to be an obvious choice. But I found her unimpressive at the forum. And a friend suggested that some other business connections make her suspicious. I don’t know enough to be certain. It may turn out, if she wins, I will know her better upon re-election. But for now I’m not willing to give her a vote.

Here’s a little additional impression from the forum. School choice is important to pretty much any parent who has a slightly non-standard child: smart, shy, slow, active, reading challenged, etc. A parent can’t wait through a bad year in hopes the next year will be better. A parent has to get the child out of something that isn’t working and into something that might be a better fit.

There is one small “choice” option in this huge district: Windfern High School of Choice. They talked about it a lot. Two of the candidates (Christine Hartley and Pam Redd, I believe) have had a child go there.

There are three Windfern schools. Two of them are alternative schools—where students get sent as an option other than dropping out. Fighting, or other major infractions, or failure to do the work—students get sent to Windfern. It’s not their choice. But that is not the same Windfern—which is 1500 feet away from the other two.

This “choice” school is for 11th and 12th grade students who are struggling to keep up and graduate, and might do better in smaller classes with more personal attention; or it’s for accelerated graduates, those who want to graduate early. The emphasis is on getting graduated. The set-up is more like a community college (according to the website). A student has to be recommended to the school by a faculty member from their assigned school. It is unlikely that any child that isn’t trying to graduate early would know about it or ask for it; they get directed there.

There are 250-400 students in this school of choice. There are 113,689 students in the district this year. So, that’s .2-.3.5% of the students. There’s a “choice” for 2 or 3 students out of a thousand. So, almost no one has any “choice.” And what there is doesn’t compare to my homeschool, for example.

If that is this board’s idea of plenty of choice, we need people who think differently.

No comments:

Post a Comment