Q&A with Leander ISD Board of Trustees candidates

Fourteen candidates are vying for five seats on the Leander ISD Board of Trustees this election. 

Four Points News asked each candidate two questions:

  1. What are the top two issues on your platform that you’d like to address in Leander ISD?
  1. Why should voters who live in Four Points vote on you for the LISD Board of Trustees?

The following replies are in place order and alphabetical order.

Place 1

David Doman

1) The board must understand that the parents and guardians of our children are the bosses of the board, not the other way around. Parents and guardians have the highest responsibility for and knowledge of their children, that responsibility and knowledge must be respected by the board. Further, there is no way that a board of seven individuals will have all the good and creative ideas on how to run LISD as opposed to those of the 84,000 parents and guardians of children in LISD. I will respect and promote those views.

 We must get back to a more common-sense curriculum in LISD classes. The COVID shutdown has placed our children 2 years behind where they should be. We have third graders that cannot read, sixth graders that cannot multiply and divide, and 12th graders that are not ready for neither college nor the working world. The current practice of absconding with classroom instruction time, daily and in each class, for “this or that” woke training, hinders our ability to bring our children, as quickly as possible, up to grade level performance. I will collaborate with the superintendent to craft curricula with increased “catch-up” goals.

2)To focus on “Travis County LISD” specific issues, such as lower attendance, older schools as compared with the rest of LISD, we need to have representation from here.

Trish Bode

1) Students have been and will continue to be the district’s main priority under my leadership. More than ever, in the post-pandemic world, our kids need capable leadership to prepare them for the future. Support for teachers and staff is crucial for student success. Both of these are hampered by the current flaws in the Texas school finance structure; only 23% of the cost of education in Leander ISD is covered by the state, leaving the rest to be covered by local taxpayers.

2) My son is thriving as a freshman and my daughter graduated from VHS during COVID 2020 and is currently a junior in college. My current and recent experiences as a parent in Leander ISD keep me connected to and aware of the district’s challenges, while also reinforcing my optimism for its promising future. In order to make Leander ISD a district we can all be proud of, I have devoted many hours to reading, driving, communicating, and deliberating since I was elected to the board of trustees in 2015. In the end, I want to serve the community as a trustee who demonstrates consistency, dedication, and composure under pressure – which is why I’m asking for your support to keep me on the board of trustees.

Mike Sanders

1) We need to stop the sexual grooming of children in LISD.  No adult should be talking about sex with little children, asking for their preferred pronouns and telling them that maybe they are little girls trapped in little boy’s bodies.  No boys should be allowed in girl’s restrooms or showers.  No boys should compete in sports that are designated as girls sports.  Any book that would be rated R in a movie theater should not be provided to students without parent’s knowledge.  LISD needs to return to having a dress code.  We need to stop increasing property taxes annually and instead work to lower taxes.  We need to change from the current social-emotional focus to academics instead, focusing on cognitive development in Reading and Writing, Math, Science, History, Geography, etc.  Phonics should return for teaching students how to read.  Parents often pay thousands of dollars to send their kids to private schools because of a better quality education.  We need to provide a quality education in public schools and have an armed police officer at every school.

2) I received the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior at the age of 21 when I was still in the United States Marine Corps. He changed my life and my decision-making is guided by that moral compass.   

Place 2

Brandi Burkman

1) Our educational system no longer focuses on education, and I would like to see a shift back to prioritizing academic excellence. Social justice driven curriculum, including the sexually explicit reading material, has been a failure for our children, as exhibited in STAAR, PSAT, SAT, and AP scores.

In addition, I believe the community deserves to understand how much of an almost half a billion-dollar budget is spent on areas that are not contributing to positive student outcomes and instruction. The problems I have encountered in the district can’t be resolved with more money. Instead of continuing to expand an already overly inflated budget, the district needs to be a better steward of the tax-payer dollar, trim non-instructional areas, and operate in transparency.

2) I am a parent that has been speaking out for a couple of years. I have attended several school board meetings, speaking against TASB edits to the medical policy that would have allowed the district to take a child for a medical procedure without informing the parents, anti-American social studies curriculum, sexually explicit reading material, and psychological exams in the form of social emotional surveys. I have been advocating for parental rights and for the district to respect children’s privacy rights. I am committed to restoring education in the district.

Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia

1) Teachers across the country are leaving the profession, and we must retain our teachers and ensure Leander ISD remains a destination district for families and educators. Leander ISD needs strong advocates for adequate school and classroom funding, reduction of bureaucracy so teachers can focus on teaching and planning, and salaries reflecting the value of their contributions to our students, communities, and future.

We need to replace the STAAR test as the sole/primary accountability measure and engage parents, educators, students, and others in pursuit of a community-based accountability system reflecting our district’s values and interests. One test on one day does not reflect the growth of our students and the work of our educators.

2) I live in the Four Points area, serve as VP of the LISD Board, and am a champion for students, teachers, and taxpayers. I voted to reduce the tax rate all four years, voted to pay down debt early and rebalance our bond portfolio, and advocated for expansion of vocational options and introduction of an early college high school, and supported raises for teachers. I want to continue working to ensure all students receive a quality education, all teachers feel supported, and LISD remains strong.

Place 5

Kevin Leverenz

My two top priorities are:

–       A non-biased education: Untested, radical, and politicized experiments on our children such as CRT, 1619 Project, SEL, DEI, and age-inappropriate education materials must be done away with in favor of time-honored approaches that build academic excellence and confidence in our American values.

–       Well-supported schools: to recruit and retain the best teachers, they must not only be well-paid but well-supported. Increased teacher pay will be a priority. But we also must give teachers and other educators the freedom to follow their passions and build the better schools of tomorrow — not merely “teaching to the test.” I will continually look for ways to take the shackles off and empower educators again in a way that improves transparency for parents and taxpayers and honors them as part of the larger learning community.

Voters should vote for me because I’m the only conservative candidate running in Place 5 with a conservative voting record, public-sector leadership experience, and experience as an educator (at the collegiate level). I’m a retired police lieutenant — a career that taught me to always lead with character and competence, and to be a good listener. I have experience crafting policy and leading change through layers of bureaucracy. These skills translate well to service on the Leander ISD school board and are indispensable qualities for a Trustee.

Shawn Leege

1) My top issues are the following:

Improve LISD Academics. Under the leadership of the current School Board only 52% of LISD students can read on grade level. Half are below grade level in math. We need to get back to the basics of teaching reading, writing and arithmetic well such that our children gain an excellent academic education. 

Our schools need a supportive environment for kids to learn. We need:

1.) A basic dress code. 

2.) Increased Teacher pay/empowerment. 

3.) The ability to fail a student who does not do their work. 

4.) Basic discipline. 

Teachers are important and they need to be prioritized both with additional pay and empowerment within the classroom. 

Another key issue for me is how the district is currently mismanaging the finances. They spend far too much money on departments like Health Services, DEI (diversity equity and inclusion) and not enough money on Teachers pay. 

We need to:

1.)  Balance the budget.

2.) stop pushing these multi-million dollar bonds on the community every year.

3.) Build schools for less than $180 M. 

4.) Prioritize budget dollars towards core academics vs social indoctrination programs.

Finally, parents rights should be brought back as a centerpiece of our partnership with the community. 

These children belong to the parents, not the school district. We need more parent involvement in our school system, not less.

Sade Fashokun 

1) Two top issues are the need for all students to recover from the impact of the pandemic and for increased funding of our public schools. Student behavior and achievement, especially in Math, are among issues that need improvement. The district has always provided assessment of student growth at the beginning, middle, and end of year. This can be improved upon with more frequent measures of student growth and mastery of TEKS, community involvement, and social emotional learning tools. We should maintain excellence in other areas including athletics, extracurricular, fine arts, for a well-rounded education. The state has fixed the basic allotment since 2019, with no inflation or cost of living increases.  The district needs competitive pay to hire and retain our best educators and staff and obtain necessary funding for new and improved programs that our community expects. I understand public school finance and will continue to educate the community and advocate with legislators.

2) I have a track record of seeking out participation in district committees from all feeder patterns – from the south end to the north end of the district. I am responsive to concerns specific to the Four Points area that I received from families and educators and advocated with the administration on transportation and staffing issues. I will continue to ensure progress towards a well-rounded quality education for all students.

Place 6

Francesca Romans

1) First, I want to amplify our teacher and student voices. Our teachers are professionals and experts, and should be treated and trusted as such. Our students are smart, thoughtful, driven, and intentional; they have demonstrated on more than one occasion that they are capable of participating in their own education. They are the ones in the classroom every day, and their voices should come first. Second, I want to improve our outreach and access. Our students and communities cannot have access to programs they don’t know about, and we’re already aware that this is a problem. With 200 square miles, the Board needs to be sure that our departments are adequately reaching every one of our families.

2) I want to serve the entire district and ensure that all LISD students are getting what they need to receive a high-quality education. I have family in the Four Points/Steiner Ranch area, and I am familiar with the unique challenges (like the traffic!) and needs of this area of our district.

Scott Reese

1) Improving education outcomes for our children, ensuring their own best start to life and building the world of tomorrow. 

We must provide our students and parents educational curriculums, materials, and experiences proven to develop skills for children. These must be measurable, consistent, apolitical, age-appropriate, and focused on preparing kids to enter adulthood. This includes replacing indoctrinating or experimental ideas and practices, like CRT, with proven and time-honored approaches that build excellence in our kids and confidence in our American and Texan values — liberty, the value of the individual, and the power of individual choice. 

This can only be achieved with well-supported teachers and classroom environments; teachers paid well, having the materials and tools to instill the right skills at the right time, and having the freedom to bring their own unique personality and passion to bear within their classroom to improve measurable outcomes for every student.

2) I’m an experienced and involved parent of three Leander ISD students, including over a decade of being an advanced, extracurricular, and special needs program parent. I’m the only Place 6 candidate with proven leadership experience in governance, finance, and change management, including numerous senior executive corporate roles. As a former member of the LISD bond oversight committee, I know what it takes to streamline district expenses and bring meaningful tax relief in accordance with state law.

Place 7

Joseph Gorordo

1) Leander ISD is an amazing district that is rapidly growing and changing. As we grow, and our demographics change, we need to ensure that we are being proactive in making sure that we continue to be a district that focuses on making sure all students and teachers feel heard, accepted, and supported. The two areas I feel are the most important to focus on are: making financial decisions that will allow us to meet our goals (Passing prop A and B) and expanding our focus on student mental health (including addressing the fentanyl crisis.)

2) I believe that the voters of the Four Points area should vote for me for three reasons. I am a parent of students in the district, I bring a level-headed and thoughtful perspective to the board, and as a licensed counselor I am the only candidate who is fully equipped to meet the mental health needs of our students.

Paul Gauthier

1) Restore Academic Excellence!  We should be focused on getting the kids of LISD prepared for the real world, with fundamental reading, writing and arithmetic that exceeds grade level.  36% of our third graders are below grade level reading and math is even lower!  We get there by starting with discipline in the classroom, making better academic curriculum choices & bringing the dress code back. 

Financial transparency and responsibility. Our district is over $2.6 Billion in debt. This is fiscally irresponsible and disrespectful to the taxpayers of this community. The board and administration need to bring spending under control and focus on education outcomes.  We need parents to have better access to the campus and their children, we need to restore 3 minutes to speak at board meetings. Give parents and the good teachers the respect they deserve.

2) I’m a parent in the District, not a politician.  I work as a theater teacher and I care enough to have attended the board meetings for over 1.5 yrs, sometimes staying until  2am before I get home. The community deserves board members who listen and vote for the kids, and that’s what I intend to do.

Elexis Grimes

1) My priorities are Academic Excellence, Balanced Approach to spending, and Community Collaboration. I will focus on providing student choice in programs which are critical to engage students in deeper learning. Students having opportunities in programs they enjoy, keeps them engaged in school and can achieve academic excellence. I strongly support plans to actively involve parents in transitional years ( 5th – 6th Grade & 8th – 9th grade) because partnering with parents is critical to academic success.

I am committed to working with local community leaders, law enforcement and educators to address the fentanyl crisis that threatens our students’ lives. I proudly advocated to bring our first Empowering Parents: Safety, Security, Health & Wellness Summit (available online). I will continue building partnerships to ensure students and teachers have a safe environment to learn & thrive.

2) As a mother of two boys, I am passionate and invested in our LISD community. I have been fiscally responsible while advocating for parent involvement in their children’s education. I serve on the Safety and Security committee working to ensure our facilities meet the needs of all students.  I worked on the Long-Range Facilities Committee, by preparing a plan to save $500 million in construction costs, reduced the debt, increased the homestead exemption, in order to diligently honor taxpayer dollars. I will continue to work to empower parents, students, and teachers in striving for academic excellence.