The forum was moderated by FBEF President Karrie Washenfelder, and the room was about 80% full with about 60 union members present.
Both candidates for the west side position, Position 3, were present but only one of the two candidates for the east side position, Position 7, made it to the meeting – somewhat disappointing.
Disappointing in that the candidate who didn’t make it to the meeting, and the one who didn’t submit answers to the union’s survey, Dr. Gerald Hawkins, is the only consistent Democratic primary-voting candidate on the ballot. Dr. Hawkins voted in the 2008 and 2010 Democratic primaries, giving him a leg up in my book. So I was not a happy camper that he didn’t show.
Hawkins’ opponent, Jim Babb, a Houston PD police sergeant, can best be characterized as an Independent, early voting in the 2010 Republican primary, but early voted in the 2008 Democratic primary.
They say that it is a non-partisan office, but from past performances I tend to like my Democratic board members (and former board members) and have had lots of trouble with their Republican counterparts.
So it is an issue with me.
But Babb, I think, despite the fact that he can’t seem to make up his mind on politics, has a proper pro-labor point of view, something that the FBEF was looking for. This came out in a long rant that he got on in the midst of answering a question on the district’s deficit spending, its $18 million budget shortfall, and its $98 million fund balance that sits in the bank collecting interest.
Summarizing, Babb wants to establish a baseline on what parts of the fund balance must be kept in reserve, and what can be used in discretionary spending. “I agree,” he said, “It’s great to have it there, but you know, if we need to use it we need to use it. And I would say if our fund balance is considered a rainy-day fund, I would say we are kind of in the eye of a storm right now.” The implications of his thought being, from his comments further on, that the district was about to undergo a Reduction In Force (aka layoffs) and that experienced employees were not only targeted but voluntarily leaving the district. A bad, bad thing in Babb’s opinion.
Now contrast that to the two bookends who are vying in the Position 3 race. While Clayton Alumbaugh is a former teacher and school counselor of many years in the district (who voted in the 2008 and 2006 Republican primaries, but did not vote in the 2008 primary at all), and James Rice (a Triple R Republican) is a businessman whose engineering company has participated in the building of several Fort Bend ISD facilities, both agreed that having $98 million in the bank while the district struggles with its finances seemed like a very good idea.
Indeed, the only two things that contrasted Alumbaugh and Rice were their attitudes toward the RIF. Alumbaugh took a pro-labor stance, and was all for going after the administrators:
“It appears that the reductions are going to be in staff where they are taking care of math teachers here and there where it’s going to increase the size in classes and it seems to me like everything that is going to be reduced affects the students the most. And it seems to me that if I were on the board one of the first things I would do would be looking at the staff in the administration building. I’d like to know how much money they make, how much education they have, what their job is, and whether we can get rid of them or not.”There was more, but you get the drift. You might think that this elicited a few Ooohs and Amens from the audience, and you would be right in the thinking of that.
Rice, on the other hand, was predictable. He played the Compassionate Conservative and played it well.
“When you say the words Reduction In Force we know that behind every person that might be let go is a family that has needs and bills just like all of us so it hurts to think that we would have to let anyone go. And I don’t know how they are planning to do the Reduction In Force we do have a challenge in wrestling with our budget and still providing the quality education. It takes teachers to teach the kids in our classrooms. And I don’t know I don’t have all the information right now on how they are going to go about with any Reduction In Force or even how many they will have. I think that on an annual basis there are about 500 people who retire or leave the district under normal conditions. And …but right now I’m not sure they know who is planning to do that in our economy. But I will say that our current economic challenge is a severe challenge and unfortunately I believe it is 78% of the total budget is dedicated for employees. So it’s hard to reduce $18 million without cutting in some of the employees as painful as that is.”
So just looking at this from a labor point of view, appropriate for this forum I think, it is pretty clear who pro-labor voters should opt for in Position 3.
In Position 7, I am willing to say that anyone the voters choose in that race will be just fine.