I was privileged to co-moderate candidate forums for HISD District 4 and 3 on This Week With Sylvia Garcia this morning on UCTCRadio.com. For the District 4 race, there were some fireworks.
Challenger Davetta Daniels offered her experience and successes as a school leader as her qualifications for the position. Daniels feels that the incumbent needs to be replaced in order to “put the trust back in trustee.” Incumbent Paula Harris offered a track record of growth that must be continued as the reason she should be returned to the board, citing before and after numbers regarding drop-out rates and other statistics.
Things took a turn for the heated after the question was asked about the new ethics policy that was recently approved by the school board, which had been going through recent public scrutiny because of board member contact with prospective and current vendors. According to Incumbent Harris, the media hyped up the ethics issue as there were no findings that any improprieties had occurred between board members and vendors. Challenger Daniels responded by reiterating what had been in the press regarding a trip to Italy by Harris and an HISD vendor who is a friend of Harris. Regarding ethics, Harris pointed to an e-mail her challenger sent to her asking for a job, even stating that the challenger would not run against her if she gave her job. Harris called it illegal; however, Daniels stated that she did send it seeing how there were Principals missing in various schools.
When asked about support for the Apollo program, Incumbent Harris stated that she was in support of it and its intent to help those children with the most needs, even spending more on them. Challenger Daniels stated she supported some aspects of the program; however, was concerned about its cost and how the money for this program is being spent. Harris stated that the millions of dollars which funded Apollo was provided by private donations; however, Daniels was adamant about an accounting of the dollars.
HISD did not the raise property tax rate for this budget, but because the cut in K-12 funds by the Republican legislature will provide bigger challenges to school boards next year, would either of them support a tax increase?Challenger Daniels believes that board members need to look at how each dollar is being spent, i.e., vendor contracts. Harris stated that much like in this last budget process, everything has to be on the table. Harris reminded us that the next budget process begins in January.
A very intense forum for a very intense race for HISD-4. The best of luck to both candidates.
The HISD-District 3 Forum was a bit more subdued, yet informative. Challenger Ramiro Fonseca, a higher education professional, stated he was running to provide constituents with better representation, seeing a need to provide leadership on the various challenges the district faces. For incumbent Manuel Rodriguez, he would like to stay to continue the representation he has provided, noting the progress that the district has made during his time on the board.
On the Apollo Program both candidates were supportive, with incumbent Rodriguez calling the program an “emergency room” for what is ailing the school district. Challenger Fonseca, on other hand, called the program a reactive one which he would like to see turned into one that is more proactive and offered district-wide, including an increase in early childhood education investment.
On Ethics, Rodriguez stated that HISD has the strongest ethics policy of school districts in the area, and he is committed to transparency. Fonseca stated that he is also a supporter of transparency in government; however, that nothing bothered him more than seeing HISD being talked about in the media regarding ethics issues.
Finally, on the budget, Rodriguez pointed to the legislature’s cuts to K-12 funding being a direct result of HISD’s financial challenges; however, that the board was able to get by with losing only around 300 teachers. Fonseca reiterated his call for transparency, a commitment to ensuring the children are provided the best, and that everything is on the table for next year’s budget.
Looks like the voters of District 4 and District 3 have some choices to make.
Early voting begins on Monday, October 24. Click here for a list of Early Voting sites.
Thanks again to Sylvia Garcia for the service she provides to listeners and candidates. And thanks to the candidates for making my Tuesday a little bit more exciting–especially today!