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MFISD board candidates outline visions for district 

Mandy McCary and Brett Carter

Incumbent Mandy McCary (left) and challenger Brett Carter are in the only contested race in the Marble Falls Independent School District Board of Trustees election. Courtesy photos

Candidates jockeying to serve as the Place 3 trustee on the Marble Falls Independent School District board answered questions from DailyTrib.com in advance of the upcoming school and city elections on May 6. 

Incumbent Mandy McCary and challenger Brett Carter outlined their respective visions for the school district by introducing themselves to voters and answering pressing questions facing the board regarding school safety, local control, property tax relief, and more.

Election Day polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. at Texas Tech University at Highland Lakes, 806 Steve Hawkins Parkway in Marble Falls. Early voting is April 24-May 5, also at the TTU campus.

INTRODUCTIONS

MCCARY: I want to continue serving on the school board because, as the parent of three kids in the district for 12 years now, I want to make sure we provide the best education and opportunities for all of our kids in our community. As an attorney, with a general law practice, I am a problem solver and critical thinker. I also run a business in Marble Falls alongside my partner and spouse Mark. I am very active serving our community as a Bible study teacher in a local church, a member of the Marble Falls Noon Rotary Club for over 15 years, a former board member of the Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center, a member of the MFISD Student Health Advisory Committee, a member of the City of Marble Falls Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee and a driver for Meals on Wheels. Our family is heavily invested in our school District at all levels — and we are committed to public service, public school education, and its programs. However, and most importantly, I am a good listener, and, I am not afraid to ask hard or uncomfortable questions. I want to hear all opinions and points of view and then strive to use common sense to make the best decisions for our students.

CARTER: I was born and raised in Louisiana and graduated from high school in Haynesville, Louisiana, in 1991. I graduated from college in 1996 and moved to Austin in 1998, where I met my wife, Tamara. We have been married for 23 years and have three kids that we are extremely proud of — Jake (18), Ava (16), and Grant (14). All three of my kids started at MFISD in kindergarten and will graduate from Marble Falls High School. Tamara and I intentionally left Austin and moved to Marble Falls in 2006 to raise our kids. We wanted them to grow up in a small, close-knit community where people know each other when they walk into the grocery store or a local restaurant — a place where neighbors help neighbors and where people genuinely love and care about each other. We found that in Marble Falls. I am running for MFISD School Board Place 3. I want to serve all the kids of this school district. I want to give back to the community that’s given so much to me and my family. I’m committed to working tirelessly to protect the small-town charm and values of the place where Tamara and I chose to raise our kids. I want to ensure that families for generations will come to Marble Falls for the same reasons we did — to provide children a place where they are loved, where they can thrive, and where they are given every opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

QUESTIONS

STATE OF THE BOARD: Are you happy with the current direction of the school board? Why or why not?

MCCARY: Overall, yes. I think we work well together and put what’s best for kids ahead of our own agendas. I have appreciated getting to know the other board members and what they care about. I would, however, like to see more color and socio-economic diversity in involvement with school board activities. We need voices at the table that reflect everyone from our communities.

CARTER: I believe the board has done a good job, particularly in the areas of fiscal responsibility as well as the commitment to the safety and security of our kids. But as I’ve discussed with so many folks during this campaign, I know we can do better. That’s not an indictment of the current board or anyone else for that matter. It’s simply a matter of fact. I’m hoping to be elected so I can bring a fresh set of eyes and a fresh perspective to the board. I have a long and successful life history of leading and working with diverse teams of people from all backgrounds to accomplish great things. At MFISD, our best days are ahead, and I want to be a part of helping to ensure that we are the envy of the entire state.

WAYS TO IMPROVE: What are some areas of improvement for the district?

MCCARY: Solid teacher recruitment and retention are very important to a healthy school district. One of the biggest obstacles in our area is that our staff and teachers cannot afford to live in our communities. This is not getting better any time soon, but we have to try and work on solutions. More importantly, I believe it is our number one priority to provide opportunities for our kids to be successful academically, creatively, and athletically. By strengthening opportunities in these areas, we can better prepare our students to meet our workforce needs and become successful, happy, and productive members of society.

CARTER: There are a few, but maybe the most crucial area of improvement is teacher recruitment and retention. This is not a new problem, but it is paramount to our success as a district. Having spoken recently with MFISD Superintendent Dr. Jeff Gasaway, I am extremely pleased to know that this is a huge priority for him as well. We absolutely must ensure that we are attracting and retaining the best teachers at MFISD. Teacher pay, affordable housing, and a positive, healthy, pro-teacher school culture are all huge parts of that equation. There are no easy solutions, but I will commit to working tirelessly to ensure that we remain focused on this issue and look for new and creative ways to ensure success in this critical endeavor.

SCHOOL FUNDING: The Texas Legislature has promised property tax relief using the state’s $33 billion-plus surplus. A proposed bill also does away with a funding program, commonly referred to as Robin Hood, that distributes money from rich districts like Marble Falls to poorer districts. What changes would you like to see come out of the state Legislature to fund schools and relieve property tax pressures?

MCCARY: I am not sure our residents fully realize that almost 70 percent of our student body is considered “low socioeconomic” by the State of Texas. Our district, however, gives 30 cents of every tax dollar back to the State under the current “Robinhood” funding program, over $17 million every year. We desperately need improvements in our laws and policies that can be easily implemented by local public school districts and do not rely on an “arbitrary formula” that pays out funds calculated on average daily attendance but fails to take into consideration the actual needs of students. A school board cannot create those laws. For these reasons, I think the Legislature needs to revisit its public education funding system with input from districts statewide and quit passing unfunded mandates that are nearly impossible for small districts like ours to accomplish. Marble Falls ISD admirably does very well with the funds we receive from taxpayers, but all Texas schools could do better.

CARTER: I am pleased that the state is considering changes that could provide a more equitable funding solution for districts such as ours, which gives millions of dollars back to the state every single year. First and foremost, the state must ensure that all recapture dollars are allocated to schools and not general budget items or “pet” projects. Another idea I’ve seen proposed is called Taxparency. This would require property tax statements to clearly state how much of a property owner’s tax payment will be taken away by the state through recapture and how much will stay with local school districts. This will add much-needed transparency to taxpayers so they can clearly see how much of their tax dollars leave the district. Taxparency would bring much-needed awareness to taxpayers, which in turn will hopefully provide a catalyst for meaningful reform of this broken system.

DIVERSITY: In the past few years, the district has faced allegations of systemic racism. In your opinion, what can the school board do to ensure all students and staff are being treated equally and with dignity?

MCCARY: This is an easy answer, but it seems hard for communities to implement across America these days. Simply put, the answer is “respect.” We should treat each other and all students and staff with equity and dignity. We need to put others first and maintain the highest of expectations for how we expect our students to treat each other. In pursuing these virtues, there is a need for students to understand they have to lead by example in order to earn the respect they think they deserve.I have in my role on the School Board requested that we take every opportunity for kids to see a variety of people of high character in action.Consequently, we have given an invitation at every board meeting for local clergy to provide the invocation for our Board meetings. It’s a small step.

CARTER: I have no doubt in my mind that our district leadership including our school board wants all students to be treated with dignity and respect. In fact, I’ve always loved MFISD’s vision statement — “Marble Falls ISD has an unyielding commitment to love every child and inspire them to achieve their fullest potential.” That should be at the forefront of everything we do and every decision that we make as a district. That said, I’m not naive enough to believe that we’ve always met this standard. We need to relentlessly pursue our vision statement and hold accountable those who undermine that goal. Anything less than that simply cannot be tolerated.

SCHOOL SAFETY: What security measures would you like to see the district adopt to ensure students are safe in their classrooms?

MCCARY: It’s hard to talk about security openly and not let the bad guys know all your tricks. Security is really everyone’s responsibility: students, parents, teachers, coaches, staff, and law enforcement. I think we should brace ourselves to respond to hostile actions in our society by making self-defense offerings for our students available, especially those in their junior and senior years getting ready to head off to college. It would also be great to see some of these efforts appropriately tailored and provided to all students K-12. With regard to teachers and staff, I also think we need to empower them with more advanced self-defense and safety training, for example how to set up their classroom in a defensive or protective manner. Law enforcement can help advise in that regard. To that end, I think our school district is making progress. We are well integrated with our local law enforcement and have a good working relationship. We also rely on creative ideas such as additional parent involvement as “Dads on Duty” and “Parents on Patrol” who help provide additional sets of eyes on campus. Emergency call stations might also be warranted in places such as athletic fields. It is also critical to keep in mind that security also includes caring for the mental and emotional well-being of each other and identifying and providing care support that’s needed for individuals ahead of time before it becomes a problem.

CARTER: In 2018, a $55 million bond was passed to renovate facilities and provide upgrades to the security and safety of our schools. Some of the areas this bond addressed included lockdown systems, upgraded access control panels, single-point entry to the high school, and numerous other measures that greatly enhanced the safety and security of all campuses. Another significant security measure approved by the school board solidified agreements with the cities of Marble Falls and Granite Shoals and provided every school in both towns to have a School Resource Officer. SROs provide a highly visible presence that, among other things, greatly helps to identify and deter trespassers and mitigate potential threats to campus safety. Overall, I am extremely pleased with the forward-thinking and security-focused leadership that helped put these important measures in place that greatly increase the safety of each campus.

LOCAL CONTROL: Statewide, school boards have seen their authority diminished by state laws designed to transfer power from local districts to the state. How has this trend affected the school board in running the district?

MCCARY: Reducing a school board’s authority, simply put, takes away our ability to serve the needs of our individual communities. Running public schools is not one-size-fits-all. Every community has different constituents and different needs and goals. There is a responsibility to address each student differently in order to help them grow to their fullest potential. Every School Board is positioned to be an expert on their own community. For this reason, we should be providing school boards with more latitude to make decisions for school improvement rather than less. The benchmarks by which school boards should strive should be set and then we should ask them individually to put into place tailored measures for their own campuses to attain the highest quality results. Placing obstacles in the path of a school board’s authority to do this, or hamstringing it with additional legal or administrative requirements is counterproductive.

CARTER: I am a staunch supporter of preserving local governance and control of our school. Highly functioning and highly successful schools require the local community to be intimately engaged in the decision-making process in their respective school districts. When you remove local control, you effectively decouple the community’s interests, concerns, desires, and values from the school. That is a recipe for a school district that is doomed to fail. The future success of MFISD requires us to continue to maintain a commitment to maintaining local autonomy while simultaneously having a permanent representative seat at the legislative table on a state level.

nathan@thepicayune.com

1 thought on “MFISD board candidates outline visions for district 

  1. How fortunate our city is to have such well-qualified and thoughtful candidates for our school board! Thank you Daily Trip for providing this informative article so the voters can make the best choice.

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