SD 3: York Beats Schley
Jason York beat incumbent Laurie Schley 434 to 247 in May 6 election.
His campaign theme was:
“Get on a bus and go to Austin and tell those yahoos that we need to keep our tax dollars here in Comal County.”
Jason York, running for Comal ISD’s Single Member District 3 in the May 6 board of trustee elections, says he will fight for school finance reform if reelected to the position he held but lost in 2014.
He spoke at Comal Council of PTA’s Candidate and Bond 2017 Forum at Mountain Valley Middle School on Tuesday, April 25.
Although he supports the $263.5 million bond package also on the ballot next month, he says Comal ISD is one of the fastest-growing districts in the state. At 589-square-miles in size, it cannot keep floating bond referendums to raise revenue.
The better solution, he said, is to keep Comal County’s tax dollars at home instead of sending them to state legislators who redistribute them to poorer districts.
York’s running against incumbent Laurie Schley, who was unable to attend. However, she submitted written responses to the same questions moderator Jenni Blacklock asked of York.
Schley supports the bond referendum.
Blacklock is co-president of League of Women Voters for North San Antonio/Bulverde/Spring Branch and a former PTA chair and certified teacher. She owns a software engineering consultancy.
York’s responses have been heavily edited for brevity.
Q: How do you propose to maintain confidence in the school board?
Schley: Once the board approves an action or policy it is all of the board members’ duty to support it. If I voted against it, I still have to respect the majority vote.
York: We need to make sure we have confidence first. The current board is doing a good job but it could be better. There needs to be true transparency. We are called trustees for a reason. It’s not a glorified thing. It’s because you trust us with your children, your tax money and to be your eyes and ears in the schools.
Q: How do you discuss topics where there is a strong disagreement and remain civil?
Schley: We’ve already faced this. All you can do is hold your own and move on after a vote.
York: As long as there’s one goal in mind, and it’s the best interest of the students, educators, and administrators, that’s really one of the things to do as a board trustee. But you have to have that common goal. We always kept discussions where they were supposed to be.
Q: What current programs should be cut and/or expanded?
Schley: I’m not sure about cutting any programs, but I want to see programs at Canyon Lake High School that would give kids a trade when they graduate. Not all of our kids go to college, so make sure they have a trade they can jump into after graduation.
York: We must make sure our college-bound kids have what they need. I definitely think that first and foremost we have to make sure that our votech programs are looked at better. Not every kid is going to college. I didn’t go to college. We are going to be part of students’ community forever. It doesn’t end the day they walk across that stage. For too many years the idea has been promoted that you’re not a success if you didn’t go to college. My plumber makes a lot of money.
Q: Do you have any organizational endorsements?
Schley: Several community leaders, law enforcements and teachers supporting me. I don’t need to name anyone individually. I appreciate everyone’s support.
York: I have the public endorsement of Steve Smith. I think that has a lot of weight. I am extremely grateful to Steve for endorsing me. There’s a lot of faces in this room that are educators, parents, taxpayers that are endorsing me. I can tell you that I was encouraged to run again because the people who came to me felt like they had lost their voice.”
Q: Do you plan to support a tax increase?
Schley: Not at this time. We don’t need it.
York: I can tell you at this time that I agree. I would support all of us getting on a bus and going to Austin and talking about school finance reform. Comal is fortunate. We still have the 20-percent homestead exemption. I will fight tooth and nail to make sure we keep that tax exemption. In 2013 I asked State Representative Doug Miller to find out where our Robin Hood money went to that particular year. (A lot of it) went to a school district in West Texas that had not grown in years. Something’s wrong with that folks. We’re going to grow 1,000 students per year until we run out of land. I will fight for our tax dollars to stay in Comal ISD.
Q: In what ways have you been involved in kids’ schools?
Schley: Let me think, when I first actually got involved I was a soccer coach for six and under, and I was a softball coach for 10 and under for Canyon Lake Youth. I was on the first PTA board which opened up Rebecca Creek Elementary. From there I served on PTA boards at Mountain Valley Middle School and Canyon Lake High School. President of the CLHS Booster when my kids were not even in high school because no one else wanted the position. Then was asked to be on a few committees at the district and decided to be on the Council of PTAs after many years of being at the school level.
York: I did a lot of the same things…worked to make sure the (sports) pavilion was funded and built. I served as president of Canyon Lake girls softball. In 2012, a board member suggested that I run for school board. I said no, I don’t have the knowledge or education. Fortunately, I was appointed (to the school board) in 2012 and I would like to think that was my greatest community service, those two and one-half years for kids.
Q: How important are fine arts and athletics to overall education, and how should they be funded?
Schley: It has been proven that an involved student, whether it is art, music or sports, tends to do much better academically. I believe the district should continue to fund it through the general fund. I actually think we need to put more money in the arts, dance, music and theater because I know athletics is well-funded.
York: Any fine arts and extra-curricular activities are extremely important. They play a key role in who we are as becoming young men and women. They’re avenues to escape certain things or have reassurances of themselves.
Q: Legislation establishes policy. To what extent would you like to be involved in legislative activity?
Schley: I am already involved, I am on the Education Advisory Council for State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, District 73.
York: I’ll remain professional. First and foremost we have to be visible. It starts here. I will continue to talk about school finance reform. I applaud (Schley) for working with Biederman but you also need to understand his objectives with education. I almost find that offensive, to be perfectly honest with you.
Q: What do you see as the future role of public education in our society?
Schley: I believe people want a great education for their children. I also believe a public education gives kids an unbelievable awareness of how the real world is. Public education will continue to strive and continue to play a big role in our society.
York: I 100-percent agree. I think it’s the foundation and platform for them to catapult for the rest of their lives. I will do everything and anything I can do to fight and make sure public education is here for everyone’s future. Single Member District 3 represents all three feeder patterns.
Q: Please state two or three major goals you want our school district to accomplish during y our term in office.
Schley: Addressing the growth and budget. The growth is a long process. I will continue taking the steps to look at every avenue we possibly can to make sure our student/teacher ratio stays within the state guidelines. the budget, by reviewing our budget prior to being approved in order to make sure we have the finances we need to address the growth.
York: School finance reform as to be one of the top three. We are a fast-growth district. We are not going to slow down. We need to get on a bus to go to Austin and tell those yahoos that we need to keep our tax dollars here in Comal County. Bullying is important. We don’t have a program that has been implemented across all campuses. There is no Comal ISD anti-bullying program. We kind of do our own thing at different schools. How many teen suicides have we heard about? It’s out of control. Social media is horrible. When a student goes to school, that is supposed to be their safe haven. We need a teen peer program with the right teens.
Q: What security measures do you support to keep kids safe from attacks by other students?
Schley: We do have security in some of our schools and the teachers and administrators are trained on how to handle certain situations. If there are any new security measures introduced, I will definitely support them.
York: Security measures are in place. I can tell you right now that we still have a lot of opportunities. I had a teacher come up to me asking, what will you do about the students bullying their teachers? There’s not a lot we can do about it at home because that’s where it really starts. If a student knows something’s going to happen, they need to know they can call the tip line. School resource officers do a phenomenal job. But we don’t have one at every camp. DARE staff does a good job, too. They are our eyes and ears.
Q: How does the PTA fit into your plan?
Schley: I have believed in the PTA at our schools because they do so many great things for our teachers and our kids. I would continue to support PTA any way I can. PTA at every campus has a different agenda, elementary, middle and high school all require different needs. They are boots on the ground, ready to help whenever and wherever, thank you for all that you do!
York: Agreed. I find that certain schools do a better job with the PTA and I can tell you the involvement at some schools is phenomenal. I applaud these. We will have some opportunities out there. We need to make sure we’re identifying the right PTA leaders to encourage and get more parents involved.”
Q: Should teacher quality be tied to student performance:
Schley: No. Students’ academic gain can be contributed to other factors, not just one teacher. Our teachers are great and they pour their hearts into teaching. I would not like putting that pressure on them.
York: In some way, yes. When I was on the board previously we talked about how we can restructure the pay structure. We don’t have to do exactly what Austin tells us to do. For the most part, yes, we have some great teachers. But should teachers be paid for tenure, not classroom performance? You shouldn’t be the highest-paid teacher just because you’ve been here 30 years. We get too carried away with test scores. It’s got to be all together and put into an envelope. Stipends for coaches are sometimes laughable. We need to look at something different. We also need to recruit.
Q: Describe how you would provide equality education for a diverse student population:
Schley: I believe we are doing that now, with Spanish immersion, hiring of more special-ed teachers, reviewing the data of our gifted-and-talented programs and all of the testing that was taken. We have reviewed this an that tells us where we need improvement and we are in the process of making those changes.
About Jason York: The 14-year Comal ISD resident is a homebuilder and father of four daughters. He’s served as a member of advisory boards at Canyon Lake High School and Mountain Valley Elementary School and is a former trustee for Single Member District 3.
About Laurie Schley: The 16-year Comal ISD resident has a son at Canyon Lake High School and a daughter at Baylor. She works for Canyon Engineering and Environmental Services and is a member of Fair Contracting Coalition, Canyon Lake Republican Women, Hispanic Contractors Association and Military Family and Survivors First. She’d held numerous positions at Rebecca Creek elementary, Mountain Valley Middle and Canyon Lake High School PTAs.
In developing a budget, what goals and decisions would guide your decision-making?
York: When you do an overall budget looking at the school district as a whole, I learned from Smith. If you’re interested in knowing about school funding and finance you go to him. Our Chief Financial Officer Debra George. If you’re looking at an overall budget of $180 million, you’re not going to be able to make a decision as a whole. You have to take three feeder patterns and divide them out. Canyon does not need what Smithson needs. You have had to really dissect and get down into the weeds if you will of each and every school. Then you put the pieces back together and sit and talk as a board.
Teacher compensation is of concern. How will you address this?
York: We have to do something different. We cannot continue to pay for tenure. I don’t know the answer. As a trustee, I will go into the schools and I will listen to the teachers as I did before. We need to look at stipends. Some did go up for some of the directors and coaches. We ned to look at that. If Comal ISD expects the best, we have top ay the best. That includes support staff in the central office. Those teachers depend on that support staff a lot more than we know.
What is your position on the 2017 bond proposal? If it doesn’t pass, how will you address the needs of the district?
York: I wish Schley was here. She voted for the current bond package. After I looked at some of the different options, I’m not sure I would have come forward with this exact one. We need it. I can tell you right now that $263 million is a lot of money. I’m scared to death if this bond does not pass. We need it. Folks don’t understand we live in a 589-square-mile district. We’re just spread out. We have young men and women driving up and down I-35 in this maniac traffic every single day. Also on State Highway 281. Did we create Comal ISD to be 589 square miles in 1951? It’s the card that we’re dealt with. I’m tired of hearing that CLHS is in the wrong spot. I would have looked at land acquisition differently. We need to go to developers and fight for land when they come to town. Avery Park was the last one that cooperated. Blue Green when Mystic Shores came in, did the same thing for Rebecca Creek.
I’ve heard that Ms. Schley’s attendance at board meetings is not good. What is the actual percentage?
York: In my two and one-half years I never a missed a board meeting, workshop, training. When you do it it’s a volunteer position. You don’t get paid for it. I wish this room was full. I want it full because I want people to know the true passion and the responsibility that comes with this trustee position. I will be there. There’s a lot of leaders on our board right now that never missed a dad-gum thing.
Audience member: It’s 20 percent.
What will you do to encourage advanced academics at each level that does not involve keeping students in who ask to leave?
York: We need to do a better job of identifying kids who want to be in Advanced Placement (AP) classes. What I would call the tougher classes, the ones for dual credit. I will tell you I feel we don’t do a good job of listening to our teachers. (Many) are only here because they were forced to be here. Also, start at the elementary level where you identify students in gifted-and-talented and track them once they leave and go to middle school. Does this mean at the eighth grade that you go into pre-AP? No. And it can’t be all about the numbers. It’s about the graduation rate. Like test scores. We don’t need to teach for IQ tests. We need to teach leaders of tomorrow.
How would you improve learning conditions in high-needs schools?
The percentage of economically disadvantaged in Single Member District 3 is huge. When I was on the board, we were working with our special-ed department, our behavioral department. We need more behavioral specialists, more special-ed teachers. Not just programs. We need more funding because we need more teachers. The state came out today and said it wants to see special ed get down to eight and one-half percent. That means we will take special-ed kids and move them to other schools where the percentage of special-ed kids is lower. We need to have our behavioral units back … to make sure these children have every opportunity of learning that the rest of us do.
CISD Trustee Smith
Speaking after the candidate forum, Smith responded to an audience member who suggested the community likes Canyon Lake High School the way it is and asked how the defeat of the bond referendum would impact the high school’s feeder pattern.
“I’ll defend the voters of Canyon Lake,” he said. “You have every school you’re going to need for a very long time. Yet the 2015 bond issue was narrowly defeated in Precinct 3. Despite virtually no benefit at the middle school, there was a 50/50 break in Canyon Lake.”
He said although there is some speculation the district might redraw high school attendance boundaries, more parents might “self-select” CLHS because of its high academic performance.
Two new high schools listed among bond projects are designed to alleviate overcrowding at Canyon and Smithson Valley high schools.
For more information about Bond 2017, click here.