Friday, March 28, 2008

At the Candidates Forum for Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees

As is their habit, the Fort Bend Employees Federation, aka “the teacher’s union”, held a Fort Bend ISD candidates’ forum last night at the Sugar Land Marriott. The public was invited to this under-publicized event, and as a result, the room was filled with Fort Bend ISD groupies, others running for public office, and a bunch of students from a local high school.

And me.

And FortBendNow.

I went out of curiosity and not knowing when I would have a chance to see them all in one place again.

That last, however, the thing about seeing them all in one place, will have to happen sometime in the future because two candidates did not appear, turning this thing, for the most part, into a beauty contest.

Fort Bend Trustee Stan Magee studiously avoided the whole thing, as expected, because Magee has little regard for unions and unionized teachers. So that left the floor to his challenger in this election, Susan Hohnbaum. Now I don’t know the woman’s politics but from where I sat I could see this is someone we can all use. A veteran teacher, Hohnbaum is also cognizant of technology issues – technology as in teaching technology. There are some questions that I have, however, like how she intends to separate her current position as an employee of a construction firm from her position as a school board member who would be deciding about construction contract awards. Would we lose a vote if her employer bids for a district project?

Come on, who am I kidding? Hohnbaum or Stan Magee? There isn’t even a question of who to opt for here.

Time to let Stan truly retire and enjoy those grandchildren.

Another race to fill Cynthia Knox’s seat is between eternal candidate and activist Rodrigo Carreon and a former candidate for BOT last year, Daniel Menendez. This forum also saw no opposition candidate for that position. Only Carreon showed up. Menendez, it was explained, was called out of town on business.

Strike one. What comes first, the people’s business or your own business? Menendez pulled out of the 2007 BOT election when he found that his good friend David Reitz was also running for the same position. No one told 504 voters though (page 6). So now, Daniel wants to serve on the board with his friend David.

Maybe he won’t quit this time.

Daniel is running against Rodrigo Carreon, who DID show up to this forum, and to any forum he is invited to. Sometimes it is difficult to follow just what Rodrigo is saying because he is all over the map, but when pressed for an opinion, Carreon does not allow things like politics stand in his way. Statewide, Carreon says, school district superintendents are all overpaid. He did not favor the recent pay bump given to the present district superintendent.

This brings me to the only trustee position where both candidates appeared. Position 5 is currently held by Laurie Caldwell. She is being challenged by a relative newcomer, Dr. Jonita Reynolds, wife of attorney Ron Reynolds who recently lost his bid to unseat Dora Olivo in a very hard-fought contest for HD 27 state representative.

Ron was in the audience to listen to and in support of his wife.

Caldwell, it may be recalled, was elected in a reform movement in 2005 which brought in a “new majority” that later devolved into the “Gang of Four”. That gang consisting of former board members Lisa Rikert and Ken Bryant, and current members who are running for re-election, Stan Magee and Laurie Caldwell.

Two of that old gang are now gone. Stan? Who knows. He is always such a loner on the board these days, who knows what his fate will be?

But now, Laurie Caldwell, now that’s a study. She was often seen as a swing vote, sometimes voting with the gang, sometimes against it. In a pivotal vote in October 2005, Caldwell voted against the gang and then-district superintendent Betty Baitland was spared the axe that eventually befell her, prompting one political wag to quip “Let's hope that Laurie Caldwell sticks with those who brung her.”

Sad to say, that did not remain the case, and eventually Caldwell placed herself squarely against the continued stewardship of Dr. Betty Baitland, effectively ending that woman’s career in education.

Clearly, Caldwell will want to avoid recollection of those bad old days. She cites her attention to “the data”, her years of volunteer work for the district including 8 PTA presidencies, and now most recently, her work in Alief ISD as a special ed teacher after receiving an emergency certification. And oh, yeah, she owns Caldwell Critter Sitters.

She faces Dr. Jonita Reynolds. Reynolds’ delivery saw no commas, semicolons or periods. Once unleashed on the audience, she spoke of her credits and accomplishments non-stop. Educationally, the woman was made for this job. Her MA and PhD degrees, from the University of Houston, are in the area of Education in Administration and Supervision. And, oh yeah, Reynolds is Chief Executive Officer of a non-profit corporation that employs 400.

400 people.


TexasSusan said...

Jonita was born to do this job. Her attention to detail, organization skills, and ability to see the whole picture will bring ideas and inspiration to a school board long lacking in dynamic leadership.

She is all that and a bag of chips!

Ahhhh, intelligence on the school board - that's a fresh concept.

Anthony said...

Jonita Reynolds was impressive... very impressive. Let's hope that when elected she won't become one of those TASB zombies that many other promising candidates have become.