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Questionnaire: Stephen Hayes for EPISD Board of Trustees

-What relevant experience qualifies you to serve as a school board trustee?  As a parent of 3 children in EPSID and a taxpayer, we need a strong voice for the issues important to the community.  Two of my children had to be moved to a different learning system to allow them to succeed.  I understand the struggles and frustration of parents in the current learning environment. As retired military (15 years active and 12 reserve) I understand the special needs of all our transient students, civil service and military and can be their advocate.   With my years of public service and experiences as a parent, there is no better qualified representative for our community.

-What is the top issue that's driving you to run for this position?  The handling of two recent events has disappointed me and shown me the public (taxpayers and parents) do not have a voice or say in how the board decides issues.  COVID response and the removal of the last superintendent were handled poorly.  My family motto is you can’t complain unless you are willing to step up and be part of the solution so I am running for Trustee.

-On the search for the new superintendent: what are the top 3 qualifications you seek in a candidate?  Understanding of the unique challenges of this district student make-up (military, local and immigrant populations).  A plan of action to re-engage the community and bring the students and parents back to EPISD.  A dedication to fiscal transparency and public trust with the tax money.  

-What's the biggest challenge the district faces when it comes to educating the students and what will you do to address it?  We have a significant learning curve which must be faced head on and addressed.  Teachers returning to the classroom have 3 groups of students, those who succeeded in virtual, those who only partially succeeded and those who never showed up until the return to face to face.  We must re-evaluate each student determine where in this learning curve they are, divide them into like groups and dedicate the necessary resource to bringing them all up to the same level.  This includes repeating grades for those who didn’t succeed.  Unpopular as this maybe we must not move forward students who have not mastered the basic skills of their current level.

-Another challenge the district is facing is that enrollment continues to decline. What should the district do to better address this?  Communication, community engagement and learning from our mistakes.  I know EPISD has some of the best programs in the region, but we do a poor job of communicating with parents and students about the opportunities available.  Summer programs are a perfect example every year I must research or have other parents tell me about the programs available. Never have I received notification from the school district.  Parent and community engagement are a must for keeping students enrolled and progressing.  Lastly, we should always communicate with parents for departing students to ask why they are leaving and learn from those answers.  We assume too much and guess about why students are leaving instead of asking the question and learning from the answer.

-Do you see the value in the hybrid learning model in a post-pandemic classroom? What do you think is needed to improve upon what exists?  I do not see the value in continuing the model as we have it.  Teachers are forced to be in front of a camera to teach class while also trying to teach in person in the classroom.  This division of their time and attention hurts both sets of students.  We are an in-person school district and should strive to improve on that.  In addition, TEA has certified several high-quality fulltime web-based learning programs; Texas Tech and K-12 being two such.  These programs are specifically designed for virtual learning and have years of experience behind them.   When the pandemic forced school closures moving to virtual was the only option but EPISD re-invented the wheel.  Instead of teaming with established virtual programs to learn from them and not repeat their mistakes we blindly forged ahead, and the result is a poorly implemented program.

-Knowing that kids won't be vaccinated for many more months if not another year, should the district dedicate money to improve air flow and social distancing in facilities or should those funds be used elsewhere? Currently Texas holds billions in COVID funds.  I would fight to have those funds released for health improvements they were designed for.  Additional local tax dollars should only then be dedicated to meet shortfalls.

-Last summer, the board was set to consider another $242 million bond to pay for security upgrades, conversion to refrigerated air conditioner and LED lighting, and improving athletic facilities. The district is still working on completing the projects from the $669 million bond approved in 2016. Would you support another bond issuance in 2021 or 2022? Please answer Yes, No and Why.  No, I would not.  A significant portion of the 2016 bond has not been spent yet and numerous cost overruns and lack of oversight has been evident in the spending of the bond.  Until we finish spending the money we have and develop better oversight and contracting controls I am not in favor of asking for more taxpayer money. 

-You represent voters in your district. Do you commit to communicating directly with your constituents and answering questions when asked about your opinion on a given issue? Some trustees punt to the board president even though they are not being asked to speak on behalf of the board, but to only share their opinion as an elected official for their specific district.  I listened to many such punts and am frustrated as anyone.  Unless there is a legal reason not to comment, I believe in open discussion with the public.  I pledge honest dialog.  You may not like my answer, but I will give you the truth as I see it.  I am a great believer in earnest discussions, if I cannot defend my position on an issue then I need to re-evaluate my position and educate myself more.

-Last year, the board approved a 5 percent increase to the tax rate, raising taxes by $75 dollars on the average home (worth $150 million). The pandemic has brought deep financial challenges for most families and now the Central Appraisal District has raised valuations, too. Would you support a tax rate increase, tax rate decrease or leaving it flat?  I have based my campaign on the promise of two questions about every issue.  How does it improve the education of the students and how do we pay for it?  I do not support a tax hike at this time and if we can find a way to reduce taxes we should.  At the same time we need to start a top to bottom audit of all spending in the district and eliminate redundant and unnecessary programs and positions.  We need to attract and keep good teachers this means improving pay and benefits as well as working conditions, but we must do this by spending smarter not raising taxes.-What makes you the best candidate for the job?  I will keep my answer simple, as a parent I understand and will fight for the priorities of the community.  Better education and reasonable taxes without excessive spending.  As a lifetime public servant, I understand communication and the need to establish and maintain transparency in all we do.  I do not claim to be an educator, I am a member of this community by choice who is not afraid to fight and be outspoken for what is right.

Article Topic Follows: Your Voice, Your Vote

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