As activists mount a petition drive to address what they view as a problem with geographic representation on the school board, established interests are ignoring citizen concerns and pretending the issue doesn’t exist.
The Round Rock Parents and Taxpayers Association, a voluntary group of pro-taxpayer activists in the Round Rock area has recently begun circulating a petition to change the Round Rock School Board from at-large to single-member districts.
Edmund Buckley, one of the members of RRPTA, argues that the switch would address some of the accountability issues on the board.
“In just the past few months, as you know, we saw three bond proposals soundly defeated, because the proposals were too expensive, contained too much pork, and really did not meet the pressing needs of the district…” Buckley said in a speech to the school board at their September 21 meeting. “We believe it’s time for a governing change in the system… So tonight, we are launching a drive to let the voters decide if the current system works, or if we need a new system of single-member districts in Round Rock ISD.”
He went on to argue that the trustees tend to represent downtown interests, including the chamber of commerce and the YMCA, leaving large portions of the district without adequate representation.
“The Round Rock ISD at-large board structure dilutes accountability and causes some citizen concerns to be neglected,” said Patrick McGuinness, another member of the RRPTA. “Local communities and schools lack trustees advocating for their specific education needs.”
Proponents for the switch have cited the recently defeated $572 million bond as an example of the board’s being out of touch with the majority of their district – as well as the recent resignation of Stewart Selvaggi, an appointed trustee who was forced to resign after concerns over his financial stewardship were brought to light.
These concerns – and the attendant proposal in the form of single-member districts – have been met with outright dismissal from the school board. RRISD school board President Diane Cox more or less ignored their concerns in a tone-deaf statement that attempts to sweep those issues under the rug.
“If a community feels additional representation is needed, a candidate or candidates should first run for an open seat before advocating for drastic measures to address a problem that doesn’t exist,” she told the Round Rock Leader, a local paper.
That’s the problem though – running doesn’t do any good when outsized influence from downtown interests guarantee a trouncing at the polls for outsider candidates in an at-large system, not to mention there’s no election if the board simply appoints their vacancies, like they did recently with Selvaggi.
“I was here in June, trying to appeal to you to practice what we teach in our schools – which is democracy – and put that seat up for a vote. You did not do so, you chose to appoint,” Buckley told the board. “I don’t think the district voters were really happy about this at all.”
RRPTA would like to see the district split up into seven geographically similar districts – with a trustee representing each district.
“Single member districts will restore citizen control and input, rebuilding trust. It will ensure each neighborhood and school is adequately represented, improving local accountability,” said McGuinness. “It will create a more diverse, broader board that is more in touch with each local neighborhood. Single member districts are a better form of representation for the Round Rock school district because it will improve board decision-making to meet specific local neighborhood school needs.”
RRPTA’s goal is to bring this to a public vote on the November ballot. In order to do so, they will need approximately 15,000 signatures on a petition that they are currently circulating. Those who wish to get involved can do so here.