This Week's Headlines

Separating fact from fiction in PISD election

Early voting for school boards

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Separating fact from fiction in PISD election

As the May 1 Pasadena ISD school board election heats up, the majority of candidates have formed unique alliances into two groups, but district officials – completely separate from the elected volunteer board – dispute some of the campaign points from one of the two camps.

The two opposing groups are loosely organized as incumbents versus challengers.

With Position 1 trustee Fred Roberts and Position 4 trustee Jack Bailey both stepping down from their long-held seats this year, Position 2 trustee Mariselle Quijano and current Position 3 trustee Nelda Sullivan have sided with Position 1 candidate Noble J. Alix Jr. and Position 4 candidate Casey Phelan, who the incumbents say best reflect the values of the current board.

In the opposing camp, led by former Pasadena ISD board candidate Yen Huynh Rabe, are Crystal Davila, who is challenging Quijano for the Position 2 seat; Rabe, who is challenging Sullivan for the Position 3 spot; and Al Bledsoe, who is running for the Position 4 spot.

While Rabe has made such political alignments before, Pasadena ISD incumbents have never made such a pact.

At the heart of the challenging group’s campaign is a claim that school officials are currently mishandling money, citing the district’s plans to construct a new administration building while simultaneously running a multi-million-dollar deficit.

“Pasadena ISD School Board unanimously approved the plans to move the Administration Building when there was a budget deficit of $29.4M last fiscal year and a budget proposal of $16.7M deficit this fiscal year?!” Rabe recently posted on her Facebook page. “And they rather fund the new administration building (cost $27M) than to provide quality drinking water and updated laptops to students and adequate COVID pandemic-related support for teachers?! The PISD School Board’s priorities are misplaced.”

This claim is refuted, however, by Pasadena ISD officials, who contend Rabe is misinformed about how the district’s finances work.

“Last year, we had projected a surplus of $11 million in local accounts,” said Pasadena ISD CFO Carla Merka. “In fact, with spending everything we did out of fund balance for COVID, we still finished the year with a surplus of $7.7 million. She is confusing the funds. What she is referring to is a total governmental funds loss of $29 million, which is true because we finished Red Bluff Elementary (for students) out of the construction account. The construction account had a loss of $30.9 million. Also Child Nutrition had a loss of $5.7 million. Debt Service had a loss of $1.0 million. When you add all of those funds up, yes we had a loss but it was for students and taxpayers. When I say taxpayers, it is because we had a loss in Debt Service. We had a loss on that fund instead of raising taxes.”

Merka added that the school district’s budget is set one year in advance and based solely on projections.

“We always project on the low side,” Merka said. “And that’s just a projection. We project in advance but won’t get the money from the state for another year.

While it might look like we’re running a deficit, we’re actually adding to our fund balance. When we run expenses, we run on the high side. It’s just like a utility bill. I don’t think she (Rabe) understands how a budget works.”

Merka added the school district’s actual funds rely on its average daily attendance and its appraised property values, which homeowners often successfully contest in their favor. We have projected a $16 million deficit for the current year,” Merka said. “However, that is just an estimate. Until we see ADA and protests from taxes, it’s just an estimate.”

According to internal Pasadena ISD statistics submitted to the Leader, the school district entered into the 2019-2020 school year with roughly a $12.9 million projected deficit but ended up with an actual deficit of around $7.8 million.

Further, Pasadena ISD officials said the school district’s current fund balance was in excess of $180 million at the end of 2020, more than $60 million than it was at the end of the end of 2018.

A former Pasadena High School teacher, Rabe has also focused much of her campaign on what she feels are the district’s shortcomings in regard to making repairs to some its aging campuses.

“We do not need this extravagant $27M building when our schools are falling into disrepair,” Rabe posted on Facebook March 26. “The administration insistence that we need this building shows over and over that their priority is not with the students. The students’ needs must come first.”

Troy McCarley, Pasadena ISD associate superintendent, told the Leader, however, the district has completed multiple major projects to aging campuses in recent years, despite the financial challenges.

McCarley noted the following campus improvements that have been made while the school district simultaneously added to its overall fund balance:

Chillers/AHU
Garfield, Jessup, Sam Rayburn, Pasadena, Fisher, Park View, Williams, Morris, South Houston High, Pear Hall, PISD administration building, Bondy, Miller, Phillips Gym, South Houston Intermediate, Frazier, Burnett, Sparks and the guidance center.

New boiler replacements
Frazier ES, South Houston Intermediate, Miller, Morales and Matthys.

Painting projects
Pasadena, Melillo, Williams, Morris and Matthys.

New lighting projects
Young, Burnett, Williams, Stuchbery, Golden Acres, Dobie, Memorial, Veterans Stadium, Matthys, Strawberry Ag Barn and Braden Center.

New roof replacements
McMasters, Jensen, Thompson, Beverly Hills, Garfield, Fisher, Parks, Turner, Guidance Center, Meador, Sparks, Golden Acres, Genoa, Jackson, South Houston, Braden Center (partial), Sam Rayburn (partial), Pasadena (partial), South Houston High (partial), Matthys (partial) and Bailey (partial).

Fire-alarm upgrades
Bondy, Williams, Golden Acres and Pasadena.

New-flooring projects
Williams, Freeman, South Houston High, Atkinson, Parks, Schneider, Bailey, South Houston Intermediate and Jackson.

Parking lot upgrades
Park View, Williams Elementary, South Houston High, Morris and Sam Rayburn.

Unaffiliated with either group, Paola Gonzalez Fusilier is also running in the Position 1 race against Alix.

While Areef Bhuyan had originally filed to run against Phelan and Bledsoe, he has since dropped out of the race.

“With some recent changes in our lives, I have decided to end my candidacy for School Board in Pasadena ISD,” Bhuyan posted on his campaign’s Facebook page, adding that he’s throwing his support behind Fusilier. “With that, I am only endorsing one candidate for school board, Paola Gonzalez Fusilier for Position 1.

“She is the only candidate left in any position strong enough to run on her own and after meeting her, I am confident she is what Pasadena ISD needs.”

Sunil Nepal also filed to run in the Position 3 contest against Sullivan and Rabe, but at press time, it remained unclear if he was still in the race or not.

According to Pasadena ISD officials, he neglected to fill out necessary campaign forms with the state, and numerous calls from the Leader have gone unanswered.

Early voting will begin Monday, April 19, and continue through Tuesday, April 27.

Early voting for school boards

Early voting locations have been announced for the upcoming May 1 school board elections. Early voting will begin Monday, April 19, and continue through Tuesday, April 27.

To be decided are four spots on the Pasadena ISD board and three positions on the Clear Creek ISD board.

In the Pasadena ISD contest, voters will decide who will fill the Position 1 – 4 board of trustee spots.

Competing for the Position1 seat are Noble J. Alix Jr. and Paola Gonzalez Fusilier.

In the Position 2 contest, incumbent Mariselle Quijano is being challenged by Crystal Davila.

Position 3 incumbent Nelda R. Sullivan is being challenged by Sunil Nepal and Yen Huynh Rabe.

Competing for the Position 4 seat are Al Bledsoe, Areef Bhuyan and Casey Phelan.

Early voting locations include El Franco Lee Community Center, 9500 Hall Road; East Harris County Activity Center, 7340 Spencer Highway; BakerRipley Cleveland Campus, 720 Fairmont Parkway; and John Phelps Courthouse, 101 S. Richey St.

Early voting hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 19 through April 24; noon to 7 p.m. April 25; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 26; and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 27.

For additional information on the Pasadena ISD election, visit www1.pasadenaisd.org/school_board/election_information/election_-_may_1__2021.

Up for grabs in Clear Creek ISD are the District 4 seat currently held by Page Rander, the District 5 spot currently held by Jay Cunningham and the At-Large Position A seat currently held by Jennifer Broddle.

Competing for the District 4 seat are Rander and Jeff Larson; vying for the District 5 position are Cunningham, Christine Parizo and Keith Esthay; and running for the At-Large Position A seat are Jonathan Cottrell, Michael Creedon, Marlene Montesinos and Kevin Oditt.

Early voting locations include CCISD Education Support Center, 2425 E. Main St. in League City; CCISD Learner Support Center, 2903 Falcon Pass; Clear Brook High School, 4607 FM 2351 in Friendswood; and Creekside Intermediate School, 4320 W. Main St. in League City.

Early voting hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 19 through April 23; and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., April 24, April 26 and April 27.

For more information on the Clear Creek ISD election, visit www.ccisd.net/explore_c_c_i_s_d/boardoftrustees/board_elec
tion_information
.

Additionally, the League City Regional Chamber of Commerce will host a virtual candidate forum Thursday, April 15, from 5 to 7 p.m.

The District 5 candidate forum will take place from 5 to 6 p.m., while the At-Large Position A candidate forum will take place from 6 to 7 p.m.

Both forums will be live- streamed at i45NOW at www.facebook.com/i45NOW.


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