It's easy to overlook downballot elections, especially in an odd-numbered year when the Mayor's race is likely to be uncontested. But every election matters, and oftentimes the ones near the bottom of the ticket are the ones with the most direct impact on your life.
Four HISD trustee positions are up for election in November. One of them, in District I, will be an open seat as incumbent Karla Cisneros steps down. There are three candidates running for this seat: Anne Flores Santiago, Natasha Kamrani, and Richard Cantu. I had the opportunity to hear all three of them speak briefly before the Greater Heights Democratic Club last Saturday. Since I live in HISD I and knew practically nothing about any of them, I took the opportunity to ask each of them if they'd agree to a short interview. I sent them all the same set of questions and promised to print each set of answers as I received them.
Richard Cantu was the first to return a set of answers to me. Here they are:
1. Tell us about yourself - your background, your experience, your qualifications for the job.
I am a native Houstonian and lifelong resident and product of HISD District One (Jeff Davis HS). I earned my Associates Degree in Government from HCC and my Bachelor's in Political Science from University of Houston. I also was recognized for my academic achievement, leadership potential and commitment to a career in public service in being appointed as a Truman Scholar (TX '92). I have worked in public service for 18 years, the last 13 years with the City of Houston. I spent eight years working for the Parks and Recreation department, where I served in various administrative/management roles involving the development and management of community programs and services, such as afterschool activities, youth intervention, team sports, cultural/performing and visual arts, special events, senior citizen activities, community involvement/education and general fitness, leisure and recreation services. For the past five years I have had the honor of serving our city as Director of the Mayor's Citizens' Assistance Office (MCAO), overseeing the team of Mayor's Community Liaisons. In this capacity, I have managed a 3/4 of a million dollar budget, wherein I have focused resources on frontline needs to improve customer service and facilitate the efficient delivery of city services.
Community involvement activities (past and present) include: President - Hawthorne Place Civic Club, Precinct Chairman/Election Judge (Pct. 105) since 1996, Houston Food Bank - Board of Directors, HISD North District - Community Advisory Committee, HCC Northeast - Advisory Board, Northline Police Storefront - Advisory Council, MD Anderson YMCA - Board of Directors, Wesley Community Center - Board of Directors, HISD Volunteers in Public Schools, Project GRAD Walk for Success, and HPD - Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association. I also serve as a community advocate, youth mentor, Sunday School teacher, little league volunteer/coach, etc. I have been married for 17 years and have three daughters (two of them are HISD District One students).
2. If elected, what would be your top priority? What is HISD doing that you would most like to see changed, and what is HISD not doing that you would most like to see them take up?
My top priority for our district is to improve overall student achievement so that we increase our graduation and college attendance rates. I will work to increase funding for positive programs, like Communities in Schools and Project GRAD, not cut them. I will work to develop more Mentoring programs, so that every high school student who needs or wants the support and guidance of a volunteer mentor will have it.
3. The Texas Legislature has tried several times to change the way public schools are funded. What is your opinion of the things they tried to do? What should they have done, and what should they not have done?
Doing nothing is definitely not the answer. State school finance is the single most important issue that the legislature can deal with. The best proposals never had a chance of passing due to the politics of the State Legislature. Overall, the state must spend more on education and to accomplish this a broad based business tax will be necessary.
4. How has the No Child Left Behind legislation affected HISD? What can HISD do to better comply with NCLB's requirements? What should be done with the schools that failed to meet NCLB goals this year (see here for more)?
Although there are a few schools that have struggled with NCLB, HISD overall has complied with it. As a matter of fact, HISD's Beliefs and Visions (the official mission statement and goals) are directly in line with the goals of NCLB. The schools that are struggling to meet these goals need a strategic improvement plan and perhaps some additional resources (financial and personnel) to raise them up.
5. HISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra has promised policy changes that would lead to a reduction in the amount of classroom time students spend on testing (see here for more). What is the right amount of time for this? What changes would you like to see made?
I support the superintendent's plan to reduce the amount of time spent on testing. It is necessary and reasonable to adequately assess (test) the academic progress of our students, however we must focus on the ultimate goal of preparing our kids for graduation. Moreover, I would like to see a greater emphasis placed on the preparation of all our kids for college.
6. What distinguishes you from your opponents in this race?
I am an example of what HISD is doing right. I will bring a unique perspective to the board. As a former student, volunteer, parent, mentor, community adviser, instructor and taxpayer, I bring the most well-rounded background to be an effective representative for District One on the HISD board. I also have the the most extensive experience in community and political affairs, and will bring with me long standing working relationships with our area (federal, state and local) elected officials, community groups and neighborhood leaders.