Aldine ISD candidates hold Public Forum

Early Voting starts October 23; Four seats remain contested

$1.82 Billion Bond Issue also on Ballot

ALDINE – The East Aldine District office building was the location for a well attended Candidate Forum for open seats on the Aldine ISD school board for the next term. Originally scheduled to take place at the BakerRipley campus, it was moved to this location when BakerRipley’s building was needed by the Red Cross for disaster relief after a huge apartment fire in Cypress Station. The audience of about 75 interested citizens were able to make the move to the new location next door.

The Forum was sponsored by BakerRipley and the Green Forest Civic Club. GFCC president Selina Valdez was the emcee, and Linda Morales, well-known local political activist, was the discussion moderator.

There are four open positions on the ballot, with ten announced candidates for these. Positions 1, 2, and 6 have one challenger to the incumbents who are running, and Position 7 has three challengers to the incumbent who is running for reelection.

For Position 1, Jill Metcalfe is challenging incumbent president Randy Bates, Jr. For Position 2, Zaheer Malik is challenging incumbent Paul Shanklin.

For Position 6, Araceli Ramos is challenging incumbent Kimberley Booker.

For Position 7, incumbent Viola Garcia is challenged by candidates Steve Moore, Belinda Valdivia, and Mikela Levi.

The Forum lasted for about 90 minutes, and was ably moderated by Linda Morales. She limited each speaker to one minute for their portion of a statement or rebuttal.

The Forum started with each candidate presenting a brief biography, and a statement of their interest in the position on the board.

Next each candidate was asked to respond to specific questions prepared by the host sponsors, with some questions suggested by the audience.

Questions presented to the panel for response included:

1. Why should I vote for you?

2. What do you see as your duties or responsibilities as a board member?

3. How do you feel a board member should hold the Superintendent accountable?

4. What is your position on passing the $1.8 Billion bond issue. You may comment on each of the 3 separate bonds, or total.

5. What is your position on the use of Eminent Domain by the School District to acquire property?

6. If elected, what are your 2 top priorities to be accomplished?

Candidate Randy Bates is an attorney for 40 years. He has 25 years experience governing educational organizations including the Aldine ISD and Lone Star College boards. He is currently president of the AISD board. He is for seeking good teachers and better pay for them. He supports the Bond issue, as it sets a higher level of achievement for the district for the future. He seems to be in favor of the use of Eminent Domain, especially for the Upchurch property, and said the issue will be decided at a board meeting in October. However, some members of the panel disagreed, saying it had already been voted on at a previous board meeting.

Candidate Jill Metcalfe said she was certified as a teacher, principal, and superintendent, and has worked in the Aldine transportation department. Currently she is an administrator at Lone Star College.Her priorities as a board member would be a safe environment, and high academic achievement or skill set for graduates. She says board members should set the vision for the district, have a strategic plan, and monitor its progress. She is against the bond issue at this time, but perhaps later it could be adopted. She is against Eminent Domain use to acquire the Upchurch property or any legacy property adjoining AISD.

Candidate Zaheer Malik is a graduate of Eisenhower High School, has been a teacher in Aldine, a contractor, and is now an Electrical Engineer. His priorities would be improving student achievement, and taking politics out of the classroom. He feels his work experience would make him able to monitor expenditures related to the Bond issue. He is not in favor of use of Eminent Domain.

Candidate Paul Shanklin is an attorney and currently a board member, and has been for 10 years. He has taught at the University of Houston. His priorities are about the students: “We are here because we care about the children.” He is also concerned about school safety, and advocates for public education, not vouchers. He is in favor of the Bond issue: “We must look ahead.” He said the Eminent Domain issue has not been decided. He said a duty of a board member is to help select a superintendent.

Candidate Araceli Ramos is a resident of Aldine for 35 years, with children in AISD. Her priorities are safe schools and quality education. She will be involved in the schools, walking the classrooms. She will monitor the budget to control expenses. She is concerned that the district has lost 8500 students in the last 5 years, and suggested it is because the quality of education is not attractive.

Candidate Kimberley Booker is a professional educator and published author, and a current member of the school board. She has been an 8th grade principal. Her priorities for the students are safety, and academic success. She is concerned about the culture of AISD. She says a board member must know current school policy, help develop a good budget, and work closely with the Superintendent. On the Bond issue, she noted that the public has indicated they want to proceed with the funding, and she is concerned we will lose students if AISD does not have good facilities. On Eminent Domain, she said the whole story will be told at the next board meeting, but seemed to indicate she was in favor of its use when necessary.

Candidate Steve Moore is a local businessman and apartment developer, with a large number of housing units and employees in the Aldine area. He is concerned that Aldine ISD has slipped to the bottom 10% of the area in quality education. He said the classroom environment is not good, according to his personal observations. He wants the budget to move more dollars into classroom instruction. He is in favor of a safe, productive environment. He wants to see more trade classes taught and preparation for life skills, not just academics. He thinks the public should be heard at the start of each board meeting, not at the end. On the Bond issue, he is in favor because we need more resources to cope. On Eminent Domain, he wants to leave the Upchurch property alone, acquiring it at a later date if necessary.

Candidate Viola Garcia is a professional educator, teacher and principal. She is an incumbent on the board since 1993. Her 3 daughters graduated from Eisenhower HS. She holds positions on Texas and National school boards in addition to Aldine. She is in favor of public education, and her priorities are safety and quality education for the students. She is concerned about the loss of students in recent years. She believes the duties of a board member are to hire and evaluate a Superintendent, help set a budget, and be a trustworthy member of the board. On Eminent Domain, she said she did vote in favor of using it, but believes the circumstances have changed and the vote in October will be different for all.

Candidate Belinda Valdivia was not present for the Forum, without explanation.

Candidate Mikela Levi grew up in Acres Homes, and is a graduate of Carver High School. She is 27 years old, and believes her youth brings a better view of conditions. “I am your change agent,” she said. She said she has a passion for advocacy and accountability. She is in favor of the school bond, saying we need the creative environment that will result. Her priorities are better pay for employees, and getting students career ready. She believes the duties of board members are to set policy, and accountability. On Eminent Domain, she is opposed to its use, saying we don’t need it.

The meeting ended with each candidate giving a summary of the reasons to vote for them. About 75 persons attended the meeting, which was also hosted by the East Aldine District. Green Forest Civic Club president Selinz Valdez thanked all the attendees for their interest and civility in the event. Valdez reminded all that Early Voting was from Oct. 23 to Nov. 3, with Election Day Nov. 7 from 7 am to 7 pm.

Registered voters can vote at any polling place in Harris County. Polling locations are listed on the website.