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Salado ISD Board of Trustee Candidates

Article Index

Brian  Sunshine

 

SISD Trustees must be dedicated public servants who bring experience, knowledge and perspective by listening and delivering transparency to the (a) voters who entrust the district to be a fiscal steward with their dollars (b) parents who entrust the district for a safe and positive education experience, and (c) students who are deserving of, and teachers who provide, the best education possible to make our children career or college ready. 

I seek your support because I...

... Am uniquely qualified: I proudly serve as the Director of Government/Community Relations for Central Texas College, an open admissions provider of quality low-cost public education in an eleven county district AND education supplier to military service members at more than 140 installations worldwide.  For 26 years, I’ve contributed to Fortune 500, privately held, and non-profit organizations - supporting policies that improve the integrity of education.  With a Bachelor’s and MBA in Finance with Honors from The University of Colorado, I’ve been president of two statewide non-profits and chaired countless councils/committees.  

... Believe in service:  In 2009, a cluster of dads and I brought WATCHDOGS, a father/student engagement program, to life at TAE and hundreds of Salado fathers have participated. In 2005, I developed the statewide initiative Kindergarten2College, an early elementary college awareness program, serving thousands. I’m on the SJH Campus Improvement Committee, am an Adopt-a-Highway sponsor (FM2484), was a six season soccer coach, am a Friend of the Salado Public Library, member of the Salado Historical Society, and coordinate community electronics recycling.    

Have a passion for sound policy, planning and measurable outcomes.  I’ve brought both praise and suggestion to the Board, including proposals to align school holidays with federal/military holidays and improving school/student safety, both of which have come to bear fruit. I’ve also publicly advocated for the fiscally prudent restoration of instructional budgets, fairness and equity, academic rigor and the importance of STEM education. 

SISD is on the brink of explosive growth.  We must develop a long range vision/strategic plan for the future, effectively implement the provisions of HB5, and constantly review/improve expenditure efficiency, educator compensation, technology, and student safety/engagement/success.      

... Am a father and husband. Above all, I’m blessed with a beautiful educator (Ellison HS) wife Julie (Sneed), a 1989 SHS graduate, and four outstanding children, one on each SISD campus.  Salado has been my home since 1997.  

Visit www.linkedin.com/in/briansunshine or www.facebook.com/sunshine4salado to learn more.  It would be my honor to represent you.

Question #1. In the past two school years, Salado has had two teachers charged with improper relationships with students. In your opinion, did the administration handle these situations correctly? If not, what should it have done? Going forward, is the administration addressing issues of relationships between teachers and students correctly, particularly in this day of social media and personal technology? (200 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer: If sexual relationships or inappropriate sexual communications between educators/students have been proven or admitted to, employees should be immediately “fired” rather than allowed to resign.  The public trust has been violated with protecting Salado’s most precious asset:  our children.

I’d put the quality of our district’s personnel against any surrounding district.  Nevertheless, teachers, coaches and administrators must be held to the highest standards in protecting our students.  SISD’s employment screening, orientation and ongoing code of conduct training must ensure we are communicating a message of zero tolerance, by word and by deed.   We need to promote and provide a culture of “See Something, Hear Something, Say Something”, where students and teachers are comfortable anonymously reporting possible or potential inappropriate behavior by teachers or students (e.g., bullying) without fear of retribution.   To ensure we attract and retain the best in integrity and strong moral compass, we must address teacher compensation, which hasn’t been improved in years and lags behind larger surrounding districts by nearly $10K/year, and even trails Jarrell by almost $6K/year.   

Finally, Facetime, Skype, and Instagram, pose unique challenges due to the lack of an audit trail, so we must thoughtfully address those with sound policy and consistent enforcement.

 Question #2. In the latest realignment, Salado will move up to division 4A by 13 students,  of which 10 are additional transfer students. This will require more travel to compete against larger, more distant schools.  Last year, SISD waived its transfer fees to encourage more student transfers in order to receive about $6,400 per student in state funds. Was this the correct policy change? Why/why not? (reader question) (150 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer: What’s done is done.   

However, we must have a strategic plan in place that will allow us to rise to the challenge and embrace the higher level of competition that 4A will bring, both academic and athletic.   A transfer policy based upon enrollment forecasts should be part of this plan and it needs to be less about money and more about the students we serve who live in this district.  Larger class sizes, lower academic results from transfers and importing students for the sole purpose of athletic participation all detract from the educational quality and achievement our children deserve.  We must track outcomes of our transfers.  If we continue down this fee-free transfer path, SISD must ensure it has strong, measurable and consistent threshold criteria. Three year olds coming into the Pre-K program next year will increase capacity utilization and decrease the need for transfer revenue.    

Question #3: Education is changing rapidly, utilizing technology and distance learning far more than ever before. Is SISD keeping pace, leading the charge or falling behind? What does the district need to do to improve its use of technology? (150 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer: The SISD Robotics class & several academic UIL teams are bright spots.  However, it’s a challenge for a district our size to not fall behind technologically.  Apple TV’s and IPods for teachers just begin to scratch the surface.  

Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education has an increased emphasis in the new House Bill 5 graduation paths.  Surrounding school districts are offering courses in coding & programming, graphic design, computer animation, website building, telecommunications, networking, and even video game design.  Our resources are limited and we must effectively balance classical and technology driven education, leverage partnerships (dual credit, pooled resources with other districts), have a long range technology plan for all grade levels, and professional development for teachers to integrate new technologies for learning.  To minimize taxpayer cost, we must be more vigilant in seeking available federal, state and private grant funding to expand our technology education and infrastructure. 

 Question #4: What is your assessment of the physical condition of each of our campuses? In your opinion, which ones need improvement and/or expansion?(300 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer:  Without a forecast, expert assessment and master plan, how can anyone tell you with a straight face what our long term academic or athletics facilities needs are and what, if anything, must be renovated/replaced?  Taxpayers deserve a tactical vision and plan for the future.  If an organization doesn’t have a plan beyond the current year, it will make impulsive, expensive and error-prone smaller decisions because broader visionary and strategic decisions don’t exist.Consider that this academic year alone, SISD spent over $200K on track resurfacing (which still has only seven lanes).  If we want a new stadium with a track, why did we spend so much resurfacing the old one? Thousands were spent on an outfield windscreen for the  softball and baseball fields, and SISD is in the process of spending thousands on a marquee outside the high school on what most will consider being on the wrong street.  Finally, the district created and filled a new six-figure salaried administration position. All the above was unplanned for when the 2013-2014 budget was approved just last August, and none of it fits into a long-range strategic plan because we don’t have one.  I would take well-compensated quality educators in older, functional facilities over continued underpaid staff in newer buildings any day.  We must address the teacher compensation issue as part of a thoughtful long-range plan that also includes facilities. SISD should more actively seek grant funding to improve our facilities and technology.  Troy ISD received $500,000 a year ago for sidewalk improvements.  There’s significant partnership money out there and we should make it a priority to leverage it before we contemplate another bond.Finally, SISD’s sitting on $4 million in reserves:  your unused tax dollars.  We should allocate these funds strategically while providing a more moderate cushion for the unexpected.

Question #5: Will you support calling a bond election for new athletic facilities? Why or why not? (150 words)

Brian Sunshine: We must not forget that athletic engagement is a subset of a great education, NOT the other way around.   

I admire ALL my candidate opponents and others who fought passionately for the athletic facilities bond in 2011.  However, I felt otherwise because 1) We were in a deep recession, 2) State funding for education was being decimated by the Texas Legislature, and 3) There was no broader long range plan for the district. It’s now 2014.  There still isn’t.In 2012, we were reclassified from 3A to 2A, had budget deficits in the hundreds of thousands in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, and drastically cut instructional expenditures and increased class sizes over the last three years.  Yet athletics remained relatively unscathed and fully funded, except for the athletics facilities that were to be financed by the bond.

The passage of time suggests the 2011 bond was more a want than a need.

Question #6: Will you support calling a bond election for expanded/renovated/new academic facilities? Why or why not? (150 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer: If the SISD is selling a bill of goods to taxpayers, they deserve that the leadership be disciplined on the “need” and keep the “wants” out of the board room. In order to make the case for that need, we must first have an estimate of what our enrollment projections are 3-5-10 years down the line, as any new facilities should be expected to last for a generation or more.  Additionally, leadership must be mindful that taxpayers funded a new high school in 2008, an athletic-only bond failed in 2011, and a sewer system will be on this November’s ballot. 

Whatever case is made, taxpayers deserve transparency, honest forecasts, credible assessments and a compelling executable plan with justification, concrete expected outcomes and accountability before any formal bond proposal is finalized for new facilities, whether academic or athletic.  If we have that, then I’ll support taking it to the voters.   

Question #7. Will you support a pay increase for the teaching staff? If so, what level of increase would you support? If not, why not?(200 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer: Yes!  

A teacher in Salado must work in the district for 12 years to surpass the first year salary of a teacher in Belton. This is wrong!   Words must become action and we have to reward our present and future teachers with whatever we can afford in order to attract and retain the best and brightest. We’ve received and bragged about multi-year five-star financial ratings from the Texas Comptroller – largely at the expense of our low paid, high quality teachers - because salary ranges haven’t been increased in years.  SISD should also take steps to make compensation more of a reflection of performance, either through salary adjustment flexibility or a bonus pool.  Great teachers deserve to be paid more for being more effective in the classroom.   

Finally, imagine if Albert Einstein applied for a teaching job here, he might not get an interview because he doesn’t coach. We must always hire great teachers first and make sure our educators are competitively compensated to secure our success.  In other words, E(ducator) should not necessarily = M(ath)* C(oach) Squared…relatively speaking.

Question #8: Will you support calling for an Tax Ratification Election to increase the maintenance and operation tax above 1.04? Why or why not? (200 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer: No!

The SISD Administration and Board underestimated revenue because enrollment growth was budgeted to grow just 4%.  However, at the time (August 2013) the budget was reviewed and approved, year-over-year enrollment growth for AY 2013-2014 was ALREADY close to 7%.  The excess revenue that followed was then quickly realized, captured and used to fund everything but instruction. Had we diverted our 2013-2014 revenue surplus toward restoring instruction rather than track resurfacing, additional administrative overhead and athletic accoutrements, we could have instead raised every educator’s salary a much needed $4,000/year.   As of April, our current enrollment is 6.5% over this time last year.   I’m confident that with an honest disciplined budget based from prior year actuals rather than prior year budgeted and by effectively leveraging the fund reserve balance, we can make salaries more competitive, sustainable and keep the tax rate at or beneath the $1.04 without requesting a tax ratification election.  Most other districts do.

 

Question #9. How would you rate the performance of the district superintendent on a five-point scale? Do you support extending the contract of the superintendent? Why or why not? (200 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer:

From Good to Great!

There’s little doubt Dr. Novotny is engaged, does quite a good job, and there’s no reason his contract shouldn’t be renewed presuming he achieved the (measurable) established district goals, which unfortunately aren’t available on the district’s website.  Nevertheless, those decisions are appropriately made behind closed doors in Executive Session, just as they’ve always been.

 There’s much to celebrate under his leadership:   Lonestar Cup, Academic/Athletic UIL, OAP, better community involvement/district communication among them. 

There’s also always room for improvement:  Salado’s mean ACT score is in its 3rd year of decline (23.2 vs. 25.9 in 2011), SAT results have been flat, we fell from a trumpeted US News Silver Ranking last year to no ranking at all this year, our culture for student well-being requires improvement, and the challenges with the implementation of House Bill 5 are many.    

If privileged enough to be elected, I’ll push for a long-range strategic plan (3-5 years), which includes a business model  for sustained success, measurable goals, and the disclosure of an annual district report card (which many successful districts already do) that is disseminated to the community - highlighting our results/progress and earnestly identifying challenges and opportunities for continued improvement.   

Question #10: What do you consider to be the greatest weakness or flaw in the Salado Independent School District and what can you do to change it? (200 words)

Brian Sunshine Answer: One in eight students in Salado ISD now lives outside our school district due to the district’s zero fee transfer policy. 

We shouldn’t ask taxpayers to shoulder the burden of tens of millions in new facilities due to capacity issues when 13% of our students don’t even live here or contribute to our village and its economy.No doubt that Salado ISD is a great system that we can all be proud of; however I believe that our district’s biggest weakness is its reluctance to acknowledge any weakness.  Anyone who’s ever been to a school board meeting sees that everything comes up roses every time.  Rarely are challenging policy topics deliberated as they should be.  For the sake of our students’ future success, I will positively press for the tough conversations  necessary - increasing educator compensation; improving student safety, engagement and well being; creating sustainable and elevated academic achievement; better preparing our students for colleges and careers; tightening transfer policies; forecasting enrollment;   managing growth; and effectively implementing new graduation requirements – publicly  and transparently as together the Board develops a well articulated strategic plan with measurable outcomes, holding district leadership accountable for reaching specific milestones along the way. 

Question #11:  Why should anyone vote for you? (200 words)

 

Brian Sunshine Answer: I also realize that if elected, I’ll be just one out of seven trustees.  More importantly, I am one father of four children, one on every SISD campus.  There’s so much at stake, not only for my own children, but for all the students at each campus who learn around them, for all the teachers who educate them, and for all the members of our community who provide for them through their taxes and support in making quality public education possible. School Board Trustees owe everyone the best we can possibly deliver, now and in the future. If voters wish for nothing more than a 7-0 rubber stamp time and again, I’m not your candidate.  However, if you want a candidate with 26 years of proven education policy experience with respect and integrity, who cares deeply and passionately believes in opportunity for all students – and who is certain that separation of powers, good governance, accountability and collaborative policy decisions make for a better public education system, then with your support and your vote, it would be my honor to serve.