School Board Candidate Forum held
The League of Women Voters Hays County hosted a Dripping Springs Independent School District Board Candidate forum on Saturday, April 6, at Sententia Vera Culture Hub. Candidate participants were Joanna Day, Marisa Grijalva, Kara Mayfield, and Rob Satterfield.
The format of the forum was opening statements, followed by two rounds of questions, and finally closing statements. Candidates were given two minutes of response time per question, were not allowed to ask questions of each other, and no questions were taken from the audience.
Kara Mayfield:I’ve been involved with the district since son was first enrolled in school. I joined the PTA; I’ve volunteered for SHAC (School Health Advisory Council), the Planning Committee. If you want to see change, you have to be engaged. I believe in working for all the students in the district. I’m an a to z girl, working thru a plan until we find one that works. I think outside the box. I’m not a people pleaser. I’m willing to ask the hard questions-- have conversation to see how we can see eye to eye. I’ve worked with elected officials all my life. I’ve been active since I graduated from college. I never walk into a meeting without walking out with another meeting.
Rob Satterfield:I love this. Coming together as a community, working together. I’ve read up on each of these candidates, and they’re all outstanding. To be on the school board means working at least 5 hours per week unpaid, willing to serve, unpaid. I’m glad to see so many people here. The reason I’m running is that I want to serve in this community. My mother is a six-grade teacher. She and my father didn’t just use their skills for themselves, they served the community through many ways, like food pantries. I learned from them the value of pouring yourself into others. I’m running for fiscal responsibility, and the safety of our kids. Taxes are going up, and some people, who have lived here a long time, are concerned that they won’t be able to afford to continue to live here. We also have many people moving here. Sometimes there’s going to be different views between people who have lived here a while, and people who have just arrived. We have to find a way to work together and have fun.
Marisa Grijalva:(Currently serving on the school board as an appointee) I want to thank people for being here, and opening the Culture Hub. All four of us bring something unique to the table. I’m a long term Texan, from El Paso, moved to the area 19 years ago, 7 years Dripping Springs. We moved here for the schools., I started working for the district . I want to be a voice for the teachers. As a board member I put on my teacher’s hat and ask what would my students do?
Joanna Day:Thanks for coming out on a rainy day. The decisions made over the next few years are going to change our schools for many years to come. I called my grandma who is 96 years old and told her I was thinking about running for the school board. She said it was the dumbest thing she ever heard. It takes up all your time. You don’t get paid, and you get criticized. But I’m running because I believe that strong public schools make our community stronger. I’ve worked in failing schools, and I know how bad that can be. Teachers are life changers, and I’ve had life changers in my life. That’s why I’m running. I believe my skill set is needed on the school board. We are going to double in size in the next ten years. I’ve served on the Planning Committee, and I believe I can help build consensus. I’m a former litigator. I know we solve solutions outside the courtroom, and not in front of the judge. We need to create a culture where teachers feel valued and heard—and we need to pass the next bond.
First Round Questions.
Question: What are the district’s greatest capital needs right now? How should these needs be addressed?
Kara Mayfield:Obviously growing demand leads to a need for more infrastructure. Where are we going to house the students, and how are we going to staff up on teachers? Also keeping up with curriculum. The world is changing, technology is changing. I know the board is presently looking to solve these issues. Some of it is traditional measures, like how to engage the community, to see how to solve the problems within the constraints of a responsible budget. At the end of the day, we all pay in through our taxes.
Rob Satterfield: We’re growing. Eighty-five percent of the budget is going to teachers. Staff is always going to be expensive, but we have to keep that a priority. To balance that well, I think we should form a bond oversight committee. I’m a pastor. I steer clear of women and money. That way you keep clear of accusations. With oversight, if people have questions if we are spending the money wisely, they can see for themselves. The challenges are classroom size and spacing. A lot of our schools are on major roads. We can plan carefully on where we place our schools. Developers should donate land for these purposes.
Marisa Grijalva:It’s important to stop staff turnover in the district. It’s important that the best teachers are kept. When I first moved here, I was so honored to be hired as a teacher. The hiring process is not an easy one. We have a great learning environment for both students and teachers—School safety, we instill programs that develop the whole child, not just reading and arithmetic. We teach the child how to be a good person, how to solve problems. I’m hopeful that HB [House Bill] 3 passes [in the Texas Legislature] and gives us some tax relief.
Joanna Day:Growth is the number one issue. A 2019 bond will take us until 2024. The last bond passed by just 37 votes. No one should consider that a win. We’re going to have to open up a new high school, or find another solution. Communities often find that a hard event upon which to form a consensus, so some divisive decisions are coming up. Moving towards a new bond package, we need to find a way to put the least burden on the tax payer. Teachers should also feel they have a voice. Hire for culture fit, have people speak up. Our biggest hurdle coming off the 2018 bonds is what our future needs are for high school students. What does that solution look like? How are we going to find it?
Question: School finance is being discussed in the present Texas Legislature. What state level solutions do you support?
Rob Satterfield: I went to a private school and schools overseas. My wife and I had a discussion on whether to home school or not, and I think that’s a discussion parents should be able to have. On the other hand I understand that our schools are funded by the number of kids in the classes. Families who decide to home school should receive vouchers. Maybe look at similar solutions for private schools. It’s not an easy solution for the lawmaker. Also people often don’t have all the information on how education decisions are made, and that creates distrust.
Marisa Grijalva: I’m one-hundred-percent for public education. I do not agree with vouchers, they take away from public schools—same thing for charter schools. They’re not held to the same level of accountability as public schools. I’m hopeful that HB 3 passes, and that the state makes an effort. I believe in giving everyone the best education possible, while maintaining accountability, while maintaining a level playing field.
Joanna Day:I support HB 3, but I feel it doesn’t go far enough. I’m concerned about the amount that goes into Robin Hood. HB 3 fixes some of that, we get some of it back into our pockets, but it puts us back to where we were in 2011. We need to see state funding go up every year. It shouldn’t be up to us as individual property owners. I’m also concerned about the state funding a five-thousand dollar teacher pay increase, that the session doesn’t allocate the money to pay for it.
Kara Mayfield:HB 3 is important, but it doesn’t go far enough. That state will pay four pennies more, but the bulk of the cost still comes back to us the local property tax payers. There is reform in the proposals, but it doesn’t give tax payers the relief they need. All our school districts are fighting to solve this problem. The other variable is the raising of [property value] appraisals by the counties. As we continue to grow, the state should pay its portion.
Question: Should the next bond proposition election be a single lump amount, or a line item proposition?
Marisa Grijalva: I would first answer lump sum, but I’m not sure about all the details. I really can’t answer that question. That’s something I need to look into and research.
Joanna Day:I applaud Marisa’s answer. I really like it when people admit they don’t know something. It takes courage and maturity. Looking back at the 2018 election, I think that had we broken down the proposition by steps, like switching out Walnut Elementary, I think we would have achieved more consensus around the process. I don’t know all the answers, but I do think line items give voters more information—for example breaking the high school solution on a line, separate from other schools, or needed repairs. I think we are going to have a line item prop, because we do need the school.
Kara Mayfield: The answer is somewhere in both. We need to educate each other on this. Single line does work, but you run a risk. I like the line item, and it does engage the community. I’m willing to dig in. What are the options? Get to where the district needs to be, but also work with the community. With a lump sum, it’s up or down for everything. With a line item, how do you get the community appreciate the item in question? I can see where both have their side.
Rob Satterfield: I’m not in favor of both. If you’re going ask for people’s money, you need to explain what you’re going to do with it. Outline details, options—you could have feeder schools, land swaps, both save us money and allow us growth space. I don’t like meetings where no pictures are given, no options, no list of pros and cons. Let us in on the solutions, and let us make that decision. We can then live with that decision.
Question: What specific steps would you take as a board member to insure that the district school finance info is transparent and available?
Joanna Day:There are already a lot of laws that require disclosure from the district. There’s already the check register where you can get into the weeds. You can also attend board meetings and workshops that talk about the budget. From these you can learn where the money is being spent. Maybe we can live broadcast the meetings live, or do a video recording of the video and place it online. Right now you can get the audio recordings online. As a lawyer, I’m sure I could think of some additional things we could do.
Kara Mayfield: Where are the shortcomings in disclosure coming from? How can we make it more accessible online? You need transparency in everything, whether in business, personal relationships, marriages—Maybe I’m looking for something and can’t find it, but it just means I’m having trouble finding it. We have to speak with others. I’m not sure many people know we have the district board meetings recorded online. The community has to be more involved and engaged—What other measures, where else besides financials do we need transparency? There are lots of regulations that confine information, but we can find solutions.
Rob Satterfield: When it comes to money, it gives people heart aches. The more transparency the better. I would create a bond oversight committee, which would be composed of people for and against the bond. I don’t see why that information shouldn’t be accessible. Maybe the solution is as simple as making it easier to find on the website, without having to click five times into the website. As a member of the SHAC, I’ve found people are most upset about lack of communication. Share your vision, share your vision, share your vision—and when you think you’re done, share your vision some more. It’s a good idea to have a video recording of the meeting available online, and to have feedback.
Marisa Grijalva:A big part of being a board member is being accessible to the community. Talk to me. Also everything is online like the check register, meeting agendas—I also encourage all our stakeholders to participate in the process by attending board meetings and be part of the process. Like many people, I don’t think I’ve looked hard enough at our website, but if you do look, it’s all there on the website. When I was looking to be appointed to this position, I went back and listened to the recordings of past meetings-- On going to live broadcast, I think we have to reach a certain amount of population before we can make them live.
Second Round Questions.
Question: Describe your understanding of inclusion in an educational environment. What is the best way to provide an inclusive environment?
Kara Mayfield:One of the committees at my child’s school is inclusion. I’ve heard both sides. I do think it’s best for kids to be in the same classrooms; but I do think you have to watch out for kids with disabilities. You have to look at the whole picture. It’s not an easy question. I understand the research of putting the good schools together, but there’s always going to be an exemption pile. We can’t just put kids into pots. Each child matters. That drives the point for me.
Rob Satterfield: Over the past two years, we’ve had some great discussions in SHAC on this issue getting the public together, serving the community. We want to make sure that people and kids are safe and doing well. That they’re the number one priority, and we’re getting lots of support from the kid’s homes, and volunteers. One weak area is that we’re probably not putting out enough in Spanish. We need to make sure we encourage all parents to participate, and that we make them feel welcome. I think we can do better in that area.
Marisa Grijalva:Having been an employee of the district, and being part of public education, we need to provide all people the same opportunity. With bilingual teachers, many things are happening at the school level, and people are working hard to provide equity. Although our bilingual programs were a little weak, we now have a new program, and we are seeing our bilingual thrive. We had March Madness and the Mighty Tiger games last week. They were field days for students with special needs. The days were dedicated to them. I think our district is doing an outstanding job. However can we do better? Absolutely. Our dyslexia students are doing well, but can we do better? Yes.
Joanna Day: There are legal requirements that must be met for children with special needs, but how do we interpret them? The answer is case law. IAPs and 504 plans increase mandatory accommodations in schools, so we are going to see an increase in that area. The district has seen some turnover in this area. The last person who dealt with this issue for the district just resigned. We need consistency, and we need to ease the transition for these kids between elementary school, middle school, and high school. I think the board needs to give a lot of thought on a new hire, to make sure we hire the right candidate who is going to stay.
Question: What are your views on how to address school security in the district?
Rob Satterfield:On the SHAC we’ve dealt with this issue. I think the answer is with an outside assessment on safety and security working with our SRO [Student Resource Offices], plus our sheriffs. In an active shooter situation the average national response time is four minutes [from time 911 is called], but it could take between five to ten minutes. So what do you do in that time? I think we should make public recommendations in a public forum, and then school board recommendations. We literally spend millions of dollars on cameras and locks, and it can all be spoiled by kid putting a rock in place, and keeping a door open. Someone could walk in.
Marisa Grijalva:I agree with the SHAC committee assessments. We need more SRO officer hires, and we are putting additional vestibules to our buildings. Also our parking lots are very accessible. Part of the answer lies with better coordination and communication with our law enforcement. Recently Sycamore Elementary invited local law enforcement and fire department people in for a day. We want our first-responders to have a presence in our schools-- building a relationship with our schools. It all begins with a good plan in place, good prevention also, like counselors. If a kid gets depressed and has the potential to become an active shooter, hopefully we could find the problem before. Statistically many troubled kids show signs before.
Joanna Day:I spoke with [Constable Pct. 4] Ron Hood, and I’ve met with our SROs and some awesome kids in our schools—all are invested in finding a solution. Ron Hood assured me a response time in the three to four minute range. It’s an emotional subject—kids dying in seconds. It’s hard on the emotions, and in that moment of emotion we are willing to do anything, but we need data for a solution. What do our law enforcements want? What about access to mental health? That’s where we should have improvements, right?
Kara Mayfield: I agree with everything said so far, but I want to take it to the next level—and that’s listening, working with our children so that they about these situations. Work with our counselors, they’re our first line of defense, it starts in elementary. Rob Satterfield said our children need to feel safe and loved. We need to take bullying seriously. No child is a bad child. Something in his life is making him act up. We need to work outside the box. We need to have this hard conversation. Intelligence is one of the best aspects we have in our favor. I agree with SHAC.
Question: What would you recommend with respect to the health and sexuality curriculum in the district?
Marisa Grijalva: We recently had a SHAC meeting on this, and the board will listen to what the SHAC says. Two curriculums were put forward. On a personal level I don’t like either one. I think we should have another, but the current curriculum will no longer be available, and we need to change. As a teacher, I am about social justice for all. I think we put our teachers into difficult situations. I think we need to err on being more cautious. I do think we need to speak about contraceptives and options, although a lot of this is better dealt with in the home.
Joanna Day: Sex in general touches on our core values as people, and a lot of our values are driven by faith. I don’t think we’re going to reach a one-hundred-percent consensus about what sex education is approved for seventh-grade students. Data shows us that people want abstinence taught at seventh-grade, plus what is available to parents online, and the opportunity to opt out. Not every child is lucky enough to live in a house that talks openly about reproduction and sexually transmitted disease. I would like to see our churches offer sex education, that supplements what kids are being taught at home, so that kids are getting it outside of school.
Kara Mayfield:You follow the law. Abstinence first is what the law is, that’s clear cut. When I reviewed both curriculums, one was on federal law, and it looked like they were on two different planets. Scott & White offered lots of talks, but why were there only two choices? Why didn’t we look at more choices? I thought one was good, one was horrid. I think we should give parents an option to opt out. So we have to take into account no only the curriculum, but what is on the books from a state law perspective.
Rob Satterfield:One of the curriculums SHAC looked at was recommended by an organization that was using it in the past. I thought it contained some disturbing things. I think we need a curriculum that doesn’t push an agenda, so we looked at multiple choices and landed on a curriculum called Scott & White, which is used most. It doesn’t push an agenda. It also follows Texas State law because it follows age of consent, not discussing with seventh-graders consent to something that is illegal. Scott & White was one of ten curriculums looked at, which was then narrowed down to two; then the SHAC vote went nine to one in favor of Scott & White. That’s what is going to be recommended to the school board.
Question: How will you build consensus on support of the school district?
Joanna Day:This is one of the reasons I wanted to run for the school board. I feel that the past school bond election didn’t do that well. You build consensus when you talk to people and they feel that they are really heard. You listen, you don’t listen to convince anyone. That was what was missing when we were talking about the Walnut switch. Everyone’s voice needs to be heard. Even in a marriage, partners don’t always agree, and with the high school, not everyone is going to agree. It’s important that the district be actively speaking to the community, and addressing the issues head on—get out in front, explain what’s going on.
Kara Mayfield:I want to listen to others. It’s imperative that we work together. I know we won’t always agree. This is not some fantasy island. I want to work with everyone. I want to make sure your voice is heard. I’m not an expert. Everyone out there has a skill set, an expertise. I become a conduit, working with people through the school board, finding the best fit for the community. I truly believe in this. I put the pieces of the puzzle together. Working with people to building consensus, putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Its’ the whole reason I want to work with you all. Find the best for the community and children in the district.
Rob Satterfield:The board is the most difficult position. It’s best informed but sometimes it can’t release the reasons for its choices because it can’t release student information. So it’s important that when they do have a plan, they need to articulate it very clearly, very boldly. I’m looking at that today. I’m seeing different people, different backgrounds, education, different opinions, different perspective.
Marisa Grijalva: It hasn’t shown today, but I do have good communication skills. As a teacher I’ve met with different stakeholders. Our goal is to be more transparent. I encourage you not to be afraid to work with board members. We’ve hired another person to help with district communications. They’re doing a good job. It’s a matter of listening. One of my strengths is that I can be empathic, listen to different views. I’m working very hard to do that.
Joanna Day: I told you a little bit about my grandma. I’m married, 3 kids. I graduated from Rice University. My kids are going to grow up during the heart of the growth that’s happening in the district. I think it’s important that decisions are made by people with kids in the schools. My husband and I wanted to move back to Texas because we wanted our kids to have the same childhood we had. What we do in the next few years will affect what will happen for the next generations. I am a very hard worker. I’ve worked hard on this campaign. I’ve knocked on 300 doors, even though I just filed in January. I will bring that work ethic to the board, for my kids, for your kids, for the kids that are coming—for the kids that are coming well after ours.
Marisa Grijalva:Thank you for being here. I don’t feel I did my best today. I encourage you to speak with me afterwards one-on-one. When I was hired I told the principal that I was looking for my forever home. Unfortunately things didn’t turn out that way. My daughter has a disability, and that led to a lot of medical appointments. When I got appointed the board, I was surprised. I didn’t think they were going to pick a teacher. I was so honored when they did. I think I’m crying because I didn’t put my best out today. I came from a low economic background. I think it’s great that my kids are going to have this opportunity. This is a great place to live, a great community. Our kids are so fortunate.
Rob Satterfield:This is a great group of applicants. It’s great that we came together. If we do that well, our community will be well served. It’s good for our board to be diverse. It’s important as Americans—better that we work together instead of ranting on social media, making enemies. Thank you very much for showing up. I want to make the district more transparent. My cell phone number is on the flyers. Everyone here would make a good addition to the board. I think this one of the best districts in all of Texas, but I think we can do better.
Kara Mayfield:I’m running for the community so that each of us can work together, so that we can reach the next level—impact our future. We’re all a little bit different, different choices, you’ll choose who is best. I am a licensed attorney, one child in school, married, my husband has been a teacher in various ISDs. I’m a business owner, passionate in everything I do. My cell number is on my business cards. I’m here for you. Be sure to vote on May fourth. I hope you vote for me, but you have some amazing candidates up here.
END OF FORUM