Candidates focus on funding
The race for three positions on the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District's board of trustees is heating up as the Tuesday, Nov. 2, election draws near.
The Houston Chronicle posed five questions that each candidate was invited to answer.
Here are the answers submitted by the two Position 7 candidates: Scott Adams, 35, a bank vice president/branch manager; and incumbent Bob R. Covey, 63, a vice president of sales for a steel distribution company.
Q: Due to a pending state budget shortfall that many legislators say could leave all school districts with the same, or less, state revenue in the next biennium, what is your proposed solution for the financial challenges facing the district, ie. revenue generators, budget cuts, etc.
Adams: Cy-Fair ISD receives a disproportionate level of funding from the state. Job one will be to correct this deficiency. Any cuts that must be made will be focused as far away from the classroom as possible.
Covey: The overall budget shortfall will certainly have to be addressed in the next legislative session. I am optimistic, due to our diligence of expressing our situation, that our Texas state legislators can and will avoid any further reductions in the education funding. They have already reduced the funding for Texas education to make a "hole" that the federal government indicated was necessary to participate in the "stimulus funds" for education last year, which only lasts for one year. With money in our reserves, they should be willing to replace those monies and avoid a reduction in education funding for our state. Our administration advised our board over four years ago that there would be this potential, and they began a reduction plan which has reduced our budget over $70 million. Yet we continue to grow. Their suggestions have not affected our ultimate goal of an "excellent education" for all children, as we are the largest Recognized district, which is the second highest rating by TEA, in the state and 97 percent of our schools are either Recognized or Exemplary and none unacceptable.
Q: The Richard E. Berry Educational Support Center: During its history, critics have called the district extravagant in spending $84 million of taxpayer dollars on a building they say does not directly impact children's education. But supporters say the district's booming student population calls for a large-scale facility that has space for many different types of activities - graduation ceremonies, teacher training programs and student competitions - so that the district does not have to spend money to rent facilities for those events. What is your stance on this facility?
Adams: I have no doubt that the district needed a facility. I do not believe we needed a facility that cost as much as the Berry Center. I believe we could have constructed an adequate facility that would accomplish all the needs the Berry Center fills for much less money. This is the type of over-the-top spending that I will not vote for. However, now that we have the Berry Center, we must manage it better. I would like to see a full-time marketing person in charge of renting out the facility as much as possible to generate a positive cash flow back into the district.
Covey: I am proud of the Berry Center facility. Although we are not a municipality, we are large enough that, if we were, we would be somewhere between San Diego and Indianapolis. A community of that size can certainly make good use of a multifunctional facility, considering that there are five facilities in one location (outside sport and competition field, theater, convention/meeting center, inside arena and district food distribution for the west side of the district). In building these together, we saved the district more than $4 million just on the parking lot alone. Our usage for 2008-09 was 2,700 events with 65 percent for Cy-Fair ISD and 35 percent for community rental usage. In 2009-10 it was approximately 3,000 events with 62 percent for Cy-Fair ISD and 38 percent for the community. This is reported under the Berry Center on the Cy-Fair ISD website, which all can read and review. Community remarks of complaints and compliments have been shared with the board. In an effort to address both, the administration and board have engaged the services of an outside firm to evaluate the Berry Center, and to provide an unbiased evaluation of the Berry Center. They have made suggestions for an increase in revenue, review of personnel and protection and lengthening of life of equipment and the facility. All of these are being taken into consideration and implemented as necessary and where possible by the administration and the board.
Q: There has been some talk in the community about Cy-Fair ISD board candidates supporting (or not) a division in the district. Is this part of your election platform, and why or why not? If so, please explain what do you mean by division?
Adams: I do not support any division of Cy-Fair ISD.
Covey: I do not see the benefit in the division of Cy-Fair ISD and do not foresee that it would be an acceptable option for our community members. In fact, it would seem that it would be more costly to even consider, not to mention the duplication of efforts and positions. State Sen. Dan Patrick has shared with the Cy-Fair ISD administration and board that a recent unsolicited report by Education Research Group has found that Cy-Fair ISD is the No. 1 district for efficiency and effectiveness in 1,000-plus districts in the state. Why would the board ever want to consider such a split, for such a successful district? The costs to pursue such an action would be detrimental to the already reduced budget.
Q: What do you believe is the top issue facing the district, and what action do you think the board should take to bring about a solution?
Adams: Deficiency in funding from the state. The board, administration and people of the district all need to be communicating with their state representatives and pressuring them to correct the lack of funding Cy-Fair ISD receives as compared to the districts around us. The board cannot correct this alone. We need the help of the taxpayers and voters in the Cy-Fair area all joining the cause to correct this deficiency. The board can certainly lead in this effort.
Covey: The inequity in state funding is definitely the top issue facing the district, and other districts in the state as well. As a member of the board that voted in 2009 to save the optional homestead exemption for Cy-Fair ISD, we must, as a community, work and communicate with our state legislators concerning this serious situation. The educational future of the children of this district is at risk. Cy-Fair ISD is an outstanding example of a district that has foresight, knowledge and the experience to address future adversity and adjust. Cy-Fair ISD and the problem with the state's unfunded and underfunded mandates are an example of what is wrong with education funding in our state.
Q: Why do you feel like you are better qualified than your opponent to serve in this position?
Adams: I believe it is time for new ideas and fresh minds on the board. As a banker by trade, I understand the importance of responsible spending and balanced budgets. I'll work to help ensure both with transparent reporting back to the parents and taxpayers. As the dad of two current Cy-Fair ISD students, I have a vested interest in ensuring our students receive the best education. I bring fiscal responsibility to the board room.
Covey: I would not presume to judge the qualifications of my opponent. I can tell you that I am a strong advocate for children and education. I bring to the board a perspective that encompasses strong faith, family, community and education. I have a degree in education from Texas State University and taught for a short time. I have been married for 37 years to a wonderful woman, mother and retired teacher in Cy-Fair ISD (28 years). I am a father of three sons, who have benefited from a Cy-Fair ISD education. They have furthered their education by attaining their bachelor degrees. Each one is a productive, contributing member of society and our community. I am a grandfather of three, who reside in our district, and I am hopeful that they will still be living here when they are of school age. I have been a devoted, loyal employee of the same company for 35-plus years. I am a volunteer who has experienced working in elementary, middle and high schools in the district. I am also an active volunteer at the Texas State Department of Education, and the Alumni Association. I have served diligently on the board for the past five years. I have served on the Texas Association of School Boards Legislative Review Committee for three years. In that time, I have drawn on these experiences and knowledge and I have made my decisions based on that information.
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