Yesterday I had a chance to visit with Aaron Johnson, one of the five candidates for Leander Independent School District Board. My fellow Conservatives in West Wilco had recommended him, and after our meeting, I can see why.
A businessman (in sales and marketing) and father of four, Johnson is very familiar with the significant challenges the district faces. In fact, this isn't his first rodeo; he ran for a seat on the board previously. It's too bad he wasn't successful in 2006, since I think his input would have helped prevent LISD from digging the financial hole in which it currently sits.
As a parent, Johnson is very concerned about academic standards. His own children are enrolled in LISD schools, and he is interested in making sure they and their peers receive a quality education. Not satisfied with the term 'college ready,' Johnson wants to ensure graduating seniors are not just prepared, but encouraged to attend college, and does not think it the purview of the administration to decide which students are college bound. He recognizes that to some extent school board control is limited by State and Federal requirements, but has a very good working knowledge of what can be done at the local level.
Although adamant about high academic standards, Johnson is fiscally conservative and recognizes that merely throwing money at our education problems is not the answer. He is concerned about spending and borrowing levels as well as resident tax burdens, and wants to focus more spending on the classroom. The ISD will need much wisdom and financial guidance going forward; with $1.2 billion in district bond debt and two brand new school buildings that must stand empty next year, Johnson's background in economics and law should come in handy.
Originally, six candidates had filed for Leander ISD Place 6, but Clarence Ramsey Brown dropped out and endorsed Aaron Johnson. Both Brown and Johnson are known Republicans. The current Place 6 Board member, Jim Sneeringer, has also endorsed Johnson.
The other candidates include Nacole Thompson, whom I met the last time she ran for the LISD board; very nice lady, but definitely a Democrat. Gene Fruge lives in Austin, and in a previous run for LISD Board mystified voters with his campaign platform that seemed to consist entirely of a plan to build a theater in his area of the district. Kyle Ward is the Texas PTA representative who wrote an op-ed claiming education is on life support, and seems to agree with left-leaning school associations asserting there is no waste anywhere in school districts and therefore if budgets are reduced, they can do none other than fire teachers. (Please pay no attention to those new football stadiums and empty buildings). There has also been some noise about Ward's wife having been hired by the district just this year, which would violate rules for candidate eligibility. James Spires' platform is vague on budget issues, and he does not have any children in LISD schools. Spires' website indicates that he is among the 'spare-no-expense-for-the-children' mantra.
I found Aaron Johnson to be a very knowledgeable Republican, with both a vested interest in the success of the school district and concern for keeping residents' tax burden low. Interestingly, Round Rock ISD Board candidate David Dziadziola also has a background in economics, children in the district, and very similar stances on the issues. Happily for David, he has only one opponent, known liberal-Democrat Diane Cox. Both men are ideal additions to these respective boards, and I heartily endorse them.
Update: I have received numerous emails and comments regarding James Spires, one of which defends him and states he does oppose tax increases. To be fair, school board candidates are notoriously vague with campaign language, and this race doesn't look much different. Therefore we have to dig deeper to find out where these candidates stand. While one person has been willing to defend Spires, all other emails have been very critical of Mr. Spires. According to attendees of an area Young Republicans meeting last month, Mr. Spires stated that the district was doing a great job and he "would not change a thing." When asked for clarification, he repeated that there was "nothing" he would change. Other Republican activists reported to me that on questioning, Mr. Spires would only say he wants to "Make Education a Priority," and was unwilling to state his position on tax increases.
Also of note: A document distributed at an LISD Budget workshop on January 26, 2011, (pages 9 & 10) indicated that the district has been floating a tax rate increase trial balloon. According to this document, the original thought was to hold a tax-increase election in June. The document predicts revenue collections based on 1 cent, 6 cent, and 13 cent increases. Educrats love to refer to these as "Copper Pennies" or "Golden Pennies," depending on how they approve them (sounds really cute, doesn't it?) but these are tax increases on Leander ISD families.
Pages From LISD Jan 2011 Budget Workshop 0001