The Port Arthur News
The candidates for the Nederland ISD school board measured up to the community on Monday in a forum held at Central Middle School for their elections beginning next week.
Of the nine questions asked to the five men, running for three-at-large positions on the NISD school board, the majority pertained to the four future bond projects and plans for fixing the district’s eight ailing schools.
“The questions were all good and most of them had good answers,” said Chris Sedtal, a substitute teacher at Central Middle School, who attended the evening forum. “It surprised me that all of the candidates were for all four of the bonds. That was not what I expected.”
With three incumbents running for school board, current board president Everett Sanderson, vice president Jesse Branick and Gavin Bruney, chairman of the Capital Improvement Committee, much was known about the candidates and their opinions.
Bruney expressed, with his usual candidness, that he was for all bonds, against block scheduling and wanted more accountability.
“I think we need to hold each other accountable for the lack of progress in our schools,” said Bruney, when asked what he thought was the biggest non-financial problem faced by the district.
Bruney said the projects in Propositions 1, a $7.3 million bond for new lighting and windows in every school and Proposition 2, a $21.2 million bond for a general replacement of heating, ventilation and air conditioning, would be the wisest choices because of the four they would effect all of the schools in the district.
Proposition 3 is a $16.5 million bond to replace Hillcrest Elementary School and Proposition 4 is for a $32.8 million bond to replace C.O. Wilson Middles School.
On the Capital Improvement Committee we developed a four page plan for $46 million in projects across the district, said Bruney.
“We cut those projects into essential projects and those essential projects make up propositions 1 and 2,” he added. “Why not focus on propositions 1 and 2 to which votes for changes to all schools.”
One question, submitted by the community through the Nederland Chamber of Commerce website, “Are you for Band-Aids or new schools?” got to the heart of the different campaigns.
Branick used the same analogy to express his opinion about the urgency of passing the bonds.
“We have gone from Band-Aids now to bandages and gauze, until we’re in the ER with a cardiac arrest,” said Branick. “We are critical.”
Branick, who has been on the board since 2009, said he was for block scheduling, supported all four bonds and thought that the drugs, violence in the media and peer pressure are the greatest non-financial challenged faced by the school district.
“Those are the challenges that unfortunately the school district has to put up with,” said Branick.
Everett Sanderson, who has served on the school board for 12 years, also supported all four bonds and made the argument that the bond money from the proposed bonds would help offset some of the costs to the $600,000 annual maintenance budget for the district.
“Your legislature has let you down and placed the burden on our budgets to maintain their state rainy day fund,” said Sanderson. “We need these bonds to relieve the place in the budget where we are losing.”
Sanderson also said that, after initial doubts, he supports block scheduling, and thinks the district needs to do more to support the teachers.
“The teachers are the ones out there in the trenches,” said Sanderson. “We need to do everything we can do to make their jobs as easy as we can by supporting our teachers above everything else.”
Newcomer Bruce Powell said he had traveled to every school over the past month, and spoke to all of the principals, which confirmed for himself that the facilities are failing. But the trips have left him with other questions.
“I have some concerns about this bond, especially the fact that we change the website what seems like everyday on what it says about the projects,” said Powell. “I’m afraid we have rushed into this.”
Powell went on to say that he thought all of the bonds were needed.
“If these bonds don’t pass were back to ground zero,” said Powell.
Powell showed indifference to a change of block scheduling but agreed with Branick that drugs were among the greatest challenges to the district.
“But it’s not just this district, that’s a society problem,” said Powell.
Reed Richard, who said he also has visited every campus, thought that the proposed new school would help attract business and industry to the district.
“I do feel strongly that the new schools will open some doors for this community,” said Richard.
Powell and Richard spoke about how running for school board had forced them to look into the schools and see the problems NISD is facing, something they had never done as parents of children in the district.
“I’m in these buildings for a different reason and I am looking at them in a completely different way now,” said Richard.
The election for the Nederland ISD school board and four bond proposals will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on May 12 at Central Middle School in Nederland.
Early voting begins April 30 Nederland ISD Boardroom, located at 220 17th Street in Nederland.