Public Hearing — To Dilute Conservative Power on the Texas State Board of Education

Mar 13, 2012 by

by Donna Garner

This is the interim charge that Texas Rep. Burt Solomons’ House committee will be addressing in its House Redistricting meeting in Austin, Texas, on April 17, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. in room E1.030.

Study State Board of Education districts to determine whether the size of the districts inhibits the ability of board members to provide representation to their constituents and whether a change to the number of districts or the makeup of the board would enhance the ability of the board to perform its duties.

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If you elect to fill out the Stakeholder Survey (attached), please bear this in mind:

What we Texans must remember is that the Texas State Board of Education members are not politicians as are the Texas Legislators. We who treasure the children of this state do not want our elected SBOE members to be politicians who base their decisions solely on political motives.

We want SBOE members to serve on the Board because they are personally committed to make decisions that will produce positive education results for the 4.8 million Texas public school students (plus their families) and the 659,000 Texas public school educators.

Our elected Texas State Board of Education members make no salary of any kind and have no paid staff (unless they hire them themselves). SBOE members normally are people of moderate means, many of them being educators or ex-educators. They generally have little money to spend on their campaigns and do not meet continuously for six to seven months every two years (i.e., Texas Legislature).

Because SBOE members maintain no offices in Austin, the temptation for lobbyists and special interest groups to camp out and try to influence the decisions made by the SBOE members is diminished. (Unfortunately, Thomas Ratliff is presently on the SBOE and is a registered lobbyist himself. The Texas Attorney General ruled in August 2011 that Ratliff is not eligible to serve on the SBOE because of his lobbyist special interests, but Ratliff has not had the integrity to step aside. Randy Stevenson is running against Ratliff now, and hopefully Stevenson will oust Ratliff.)

To double the number of SBOE members would simply add difficulties in getting them altogether in one place. I believe any new redistricting maps would deliberately be drawn to undercut the areas of Texas from which conservative SBOE members might be elected.

By increasing the number of SBOE members perhaps to 37, I can envision budgetary cuts forcing such a large group to conduct their meetings via webinar. If this were to happen, the SBOE officers and Texas Education Agency staff would end up driving the agenda with the other Board members falling into line. Face-to-face contact with open debates and frequent public hearings involving hundreds of grassroots citizens would be limited, and soon our public schools would be run by a few education elitists. We grassroots Texans would lose our voice.

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Here is the article that I wrote on 1.13.12 to address my concerns over the idea of enlarging the number of elected Texas State Board of Education members from 15 to as many as 37.

 

“Effort To Dilute the Power of Conservatives on Tex. State Bd. of Education”

by Donna Garner

1.13.12

I believe if the Texas Legislature ever “opens up” the subject of increasing the number of Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) districts, it won’t just be the Texas Panhandle that will be geographically divided. (Please see link to the 1.12.12 article in the Amarillo Globe-News posted at the end of this e-mail.)

If more SBOE districts are created, then this will mean an even better chance for the left-leaning Republicans and the Democrats in the Texas Legislature to divide up SBOE districts so that conservative influence will be marginalized.

This whole idea floated by Tex. Rep. Joe Straus and Sen. Kel Seliger is meant to dilute the power and influence of the individual conservative SBOE members and to make the Board dysfunctional by moving the Board from 15 members to possibly as many as 37.

The larger the Board, the more unwieldy it will become. This will serve to reduce its effectiveness and to hurt the conservative members’ influence over curriculum, education policies, and, in particular, the huge “pot of gold” – the Permanent School Fund.

The PSF was created many years ago to preserve money to provide free textbooks for Texas public school children, and it is the SBOE that has the fiduciary responsibility over the PSF. The Texas Legislature has always wanted to get its hands on this multi-billion dollar fund.

On Oct. 20, 2011, Texas Speaker Joe Straus gave out the charges for the Interim Committees. One of the charges for the House Redistricting Committee is to “study State Board of Education districts to determine whether the size of the districts inhibits the ability of board members to provide representation to their constituents and whether a change to the number of districts or the makeup of the board would enhance the ability of the board to perform its duties.” ( http://www.house.state.tx.us/_media/pdf/interim-charges-82nd.pdf )

 

Remember that it was Thomas Ratliff and Bob Craig who led out on the efforts to raid the PSF back in April 2011. With the help of Texas Freedom Network, the “raiders” managed to mount showy press coverage. These are the SBOE “raiders” — Bob Craig, Mavis Knight, Patricia Hardy, George Clayton, Marsha Farney, Thomas Ratliff, Lawrence Allen, Michael Soto, and Mary Helen Berlanga.

Because the raid was not an SBOE agenda item, the proposal went down in defeat. These were the SBOE members who voted not to raid the PSF: David Bradley, Ken Mercer, Gail Lowe, Terri Leo, Barbara Cargill, Charlie Garza.

This whole idea to diminish the power of the elected SBOE was clearly stated by Rep. Joe Straus on 3.27.09, “Straus: Look at Changing State School Board Elections — Maybe More” — http://startelegram.typepad.com/politex/2009/03/straus-look-at-changing-state-school-board-electionsmaybe-more.html

 

Bottomline: Speaker Joe Straus, Sen. Kel Seliger, other left-leaning Republicans, Texas Freedom Network, and the Democrats all dislike the elected, conservative SBOE members; and creating more SBOE districts is an attempt to dilute the influence and power of the conservative SBOE members.

 

It is the conservatives on the SBOE who have led the way to adopting the best curriculum standards in the entire United States. Our English, Science, and Social Studies TEKS (Math coming soon) are leading our Texas public schools into authentic education reform.

 

To learn more about the PSF and the SBOE, please go to “A $3 Billion Gift for the Children of Texas!” written on 1.13.11 by SBOE Member Ken Mercer: http://www.texasinsider.org/?p=40597

 

 

Please read my article published on 7.20.11 entitled “Texas Freedom Network Trying To Stir up Trouble” — http://www.voicesempower.com/texas-freedom-network-trying-to-stir-up-trouble/

 

Donna Garner

Wgarner1@hot.rr.com

 

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To read the 1.12.12 Amarillo Globe-News article, please go to – “Redistricting Committee Could Increase Number of Education Districts” — http://pushjunction.com/l/BQo

 

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3.13.12 — Below is the information that was sent to me today from Rep. Burt Solomons’ office. Below that is the SBOE Stakeholder Survey that was enclosed. I have decided to make my answers public and have enclosed them in the survey.

 

 

From: Bonnie L. Bruce [mailto:Bonnie.Bruce@house.state.tx.us]
Sent: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 8:14 AM
Subject: REMINDER: House Committee on Redistricting Invite
Importance: High

 

Dear SBOE Stakeholder;

 

This is a reminder of the email I sent to you on January 23, 2011 of the Committee on Redistricting hearing on State Board of Education’s districts. I had requested confirmation of your desire to testify in person and a completed survey by March 17th, that is in four days. To date, I have heard from three stakeholder groups and have only had two completed surveys. Although the results of the survey will be reported to the Legislature in aggregate so that no individual stakeholder can be identified, I will be listing the groups to which it was sent and the number of surveys received. The State Board of Education members received similar surveys which will also be included in the report. I have attached the survey to this email. Your participation in the survey and the committee hearing would be greatly appreciated.

 

Again, the Committee will be holding its interim hearing on this charge on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. in room E1.030. We would request confirmation of your desire to testify in person at the hearing by March 17th, with any presentations you wish to have included in the Committee members’ briefing packet electronically delivered (bonnie.bruce@house.state.tx.us) by April 3rd. If you need

special equipment (projector for a power point presentation, easel, etc.), please let me know by April 3rd and we will do our best to accommodate your needs. If you could be so kind to complete this survey by March 17th, and return it to bonnie.bruce@house.state.tx.us, it would be greatly appreciated. All surveys are confidential and results will only be shared in the aggregate or anonymously.

 

Cordially,

 

Bonnie Bruce

Chief of Staff, Office of State Rep. Burt R. Solomons

Committee Clerk, House Committee on Redistricting

Room 1W.11

P.O. Box 2910

Austin, TX 78768-2910

512-463-0478

 

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON REDISTRICTING

State Board of Education Survey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIRECTIONS: This survey may be filled out electronically by filling in your answer below the question, saving the document and emailing the document back to the Committee on Redistricting or you may print the document, filling in your answer, and mail the survey back to the committee.

 

Representative Burt Solomons

House Committee on Redistricting

P.O. Box 2910

Austin, TX 78768

bonnie.bruce@house.state.tx.us

 

Responses to this survey are confidential. All information gathered from the survey will be summarized and provided to the Committee members and utilized in the Committee’s interim report in the aggregate only. There is no identifying markers on the individual surveys and if you would like to ensure confidentiality of your identity, feel free to mail the completed survey rather than emailing your responses.

 

DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION

1. Are you male or female

 

ANSWER: FEMALE

 

 

2. Which category below includes your age?

a. 21-29

b. 30-39

c. 40-49

d. 50-59

e. 60 or older

 

ANSWER: 60 OR OLDER

 

 

3. What is the highest level of school you have completed or the highest degree you have received?

a. Less than high school

b. high school degree or equivalent

c. some college but no degree

d. Associate degree

e. Bachelor degree

f. Masters degree

g. Doctorate degree

 

ANSWER: BACHELOR DEGREE PLUS ADDITIONAL COLLEGE HOURS

 

 

4. What area of the State do you represent?

a. West Texas

b. South Texas

c. Central Texas

d. North/North East Texas

e. South East Texas (including Houston)

 

ANSWER: CENTRAL TEXAS

 

 

5. Would you describe yourself as an advocate for school districts, teachers, students, a vendor or other?

 

ANSWER: ADVOCATE FOR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS

 

 

THOUGHTS ON THE SIZE OF DISTRICT.

 

1. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being DISAGREE STRONGLY, 5 being NEUTRAL, and 10 being STRONGLY AGREE, do you think the SBOE members are connected to the needs and desires of their constituents?

 

ANSWER: STRONGLY AGREE — 10

 

2. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being DISAGREE STRONGLY, 5 being NEUTRAL, and 10 being STRONGLY AGREE, do you feel the SBOE members are informed about what is going on in the schools in their districts?

 

 

 

ANSWER: STRONGLY AGREE — 10

3. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being DISAGREE STRONGLY, 5 being NEUTRAL, and 10 being STRONGLY AGREE, do you feel that the SBOE members accurately represent the opinions of the majority of their constituents?

 

ANSWER: STRONGLY AGREE — 10 — THE CONSERVATIVE SBOE MEMBERS REPRESENT THE MAJORITY OF PARENTS WHO ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT OF THEIR CHILDREN AND THEIR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH.

 

 

4. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being DISAGREE STRONGLY, 5 being NEUTRAL, and 10 being STRONGLY AGREE, do you feel that the geographical size of an SBOE member’s district impairs their ability to represent their constituents?

 

ANSWER: (THIS QUESTION IS WORDED IN SUCH A CONFUSING MANNER THAT THE RESULTS FROM THE RATING SCALE WILL BE INVALID.)

 

LEAVE THE NUMBER OF SBOE MEMBERS AS IS; MORE MEMBERS WOULD ONLY CREATE INCREASED CONFUSION AT THE BOARD MEETINGS WHERE ALL-IMPORTANT ISSUES ARE BEING DECIDED FOR OUR STATE’S STUDENTS AND FAMILIES.

 

 

5. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being DISAGREE STRONGLY, 5 being NEUTRAL, and 10 being STRONGLY AGREE, do you feel that the large number of constituents in an SBOE district impairs their ability to represent their constituents?

 

ANSWER: (THIS QUESTION IS WORDED IN SUCH A CONFUSING MANNER THAT THE RESULTS FROM THE RATING SCALE WILL BE INVALID.)

 

LEAVE THE NUMBER OF SBOE MEMBERS AS IS; MORE MEMBERS WOULD ONLY CREATE INCREASED CONFUSION AT THE BOARD MEETINGS WHERE ALL-IMPORTANT ISSUES ARE BEING DECIDED FOR OUR STATE’S STUDENTS AND FAMILIES.

 

 

COMMUNICATION METHODS

 

1. What methods have you used to communicate to SBOE members about the issues before the SBOE and your positions on those issues? For each method chosen, please list which members of the SBOE do you communicate through these means.

a. Direct Mail

b. Email

c. Campaign Website

d. Social Media (Facebook, Google+, Twitter)

e. Skype

f. Texas Education Agency Staff

g. In person

h. Other (please specify)

 

 

 

ANSWER: E-MAIL AND TELEPHONE

 

 

 

2. Of the modes of communication which you use, which do you find most useful?

 

 

ANSWER: E-MAIL AND TELEPHONE

 

 

3. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being NOT VERY EASY and 10 being VERY EASY, how would you rate the ease in contacting an SBOE member?

 

 

ANSWER: 10

 

 

4. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being NOT VERY RESPONSIVE and 10 being VERY RESPONSIVE, how would you rate the responsiveness of the members of the SBOE overall?

 

ANSWER: 10

 

 

5. Which best describes how often you send communications to the SBOE?

a. Daily

b. Bi-Weekly

c. Weekly

d. Monthly

e. Quarterly

 

ANSWER: DAILY

 

 

6. Which best describes how often you receive communications from the members of the SBOE?

a. Daily

b. Bi-Weekly

c. Weekly

d. Monthly

e. Quarterly

 

ANSWER: WEEKLY

 

 

7. Select all the methods by which SBOE members contact you.

a. Mail

b. Email

c. Campaign Websites

d. Social Media

e. Through Texas Education Agency

f. In person

g. Other (Please specify)

 

ANSWER: E-MAIL, PHONE, IN PERSON

8. On average, how much communication (including social media posts) would you say you receive from SBOE members in a month?

a. 0-10

b. 10-30

c. 30-60

d. 60-80

e. 80-100

 

ANSWER: 0-10

 

 

 

9. On average, how long does it take SBOE members to respond to correspondence?

 

a. Within a day

b. Within 7 days

c. Within 14 days

d. Within a month

e. Quarterly

f. Never

 

 

ANSWER: IT VARIES WITH THE SERIOUSNESS AND TIME SENSITIVITY OF THE ISSUE — NORMALLY WITHIN A DAY OR A WEEK.

 

 

SUPPORT BY TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY

 

10. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being DISAGREE STRONGLY, 5 being NEUTRAL, and 10 being STRONGLY AGREE, would you say that the TEA provides the SBOE members with support to communicate with their constituents and stakeholders?

 

 

ANSWER: THE TEA DOES A GREAT JOB OF ASSISTING THE SBOE WHEN ASKED TO DO SO BY THE MEMBERS. — 10.

 

 

 

 

11. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being DISAGREE STRONGLY, 5 being NEUTRAL, and 10 being STRONGLY AGREE, would you say that you receive more information about the issues before the SBOE from the TEA than from the SBOE members?

 

 

ANSWER: 5 — THE TEA WEBSITE IS AN EXTREMELY HELPFUL TOOL AND IS UPDATED REGULARLY. SOME OF THE CONSERVATIVE SBOE MEMBERS REGULARLY SEND OUT E-MAILED NEWSLETTERS BEFORE THE SBOE MEETINGS, BUT THE IMPORTANT FACT TO REMEMBER IS THAT THE SBOE HAS NO PAID STAFF. ANYTHING THEY DO IS AT THEIR OWN TIME AND AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE.

 

 

 

 

12. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being DISAGREE STRONGLY, 5 being NEUTRAL, and 10 being STRONGLY AGREE, would you say that you receive more information about the issues before the SBOE from the SBOE board members than from the TEA?

 

ANSWER: 5 — THE TEA WEBSITE IS AN EXTREMELY HELPFUL TOOL AND IS UPDATED REGULARLY. SOME OF THE CONSERVATIVE SBOE MEMBERS REGULARLY SEND OUT E-MAILED NEWSLETTERS BEFORE THE SBOE MEETINGS, BUT THE IMPORTANT FACT TO REMEMBER IS THAT THE SBOE HAS NO PAID STAFF. ANYTHING THEY DO IS AT THEIR OWN TIME AND AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE.

 

 

 

 

 

OTHER COMMENTS:

Please use this space to add any other thoughts you would like the Committee Members to know regarding the interim charge.

 

ANSWER:

 

[At this point on the actual form, I enclosed my 1.13.12 article entitled “Effort To Dilute the Power of Conservatives on Tex. State Bd. of Education.” – Donna Garner]

 

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