Brandi Burkman – Place 2
Candidate Brandi Burkman is running against candidate and current Board of Trustees member Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia.
Q: Our first question is, why are you running for school board?
A: Well, I have two high schoolers that attend Leander High. I’ve seen the changes in the district over the past few years, and they started when I had a third grader, and then one at middle school and then one at high school. And I realized that when my son, after being out of class for six months because of COVID, came back to the new English curriculum, he told me that it was well-known to all of the kids that it was not hard. And I actually saw with his SAT scores: they flatlined. And so I witnessed a lack of academic rigor for him.
For my middle school daughter, there was exposure to material that she should not have been seeing. I discovered that for one of her classes, she was being sent to the Black Lives Matter website to do assignments. A 12-year-old should not be accessing adult content like that. I also had concerns with the books, probably moreso the sexually graphic books. And I actually had to take what would qualify as teen erotica away from my daughter, and then I ended up having to pull my 10-year-old out, and now I homeschool her. So I’ve seen a lot of the changes and I just don’t agree with the direction that the district is going. And so I’ve, you know, come forward to run for school board to try to get us back on a track where we’re focused on academics.
Q: What past experiences make you qualified to become a school board member?
A: I have been going and attending school board meetings for about the past year and a half. I first got involved when the district was considering changes to the medical policy that would allow them to – they removed so many instances where they were obligated to contact the parent. Not just for high schoolers, I mean, this is for like little kids too, the policy would apply to elementary. And what was left is that they could have removed a kid from campus, taken them for a medical procedure, brought them back and never tell the parent. And so that was the first time that I spoke at a school board meeting.
And I started reviewing the agendas because I was so alarmed. I’ve worked in health care for almost 20 years, so I understand HIPAA and why it’s in place. The importance of protecting data, protecting my own kids’ data, yall’s. There’s reasons why your parents don’t drive around with your Social Security Number on a bumper sticker on their car. You know, it needs to be protected. I just started reading the policies to know what the schools are supposed to be doing, what we’re not doing right, reading about the parental protections written in Texas education code and again, you know, where the district seems to be violating some of that.
I’ve gone to the Capitol to talk about surveys, and I’m not sure if you have received any of them. I’ve intercepted them from my own kids, but surveys that violate federal education code asking children about – essentially, they’re psychological exams. Asking, you know, if kids feel safe, if they feel safe at home, if they feel safe being themselves. And again, you know, this is all protected information that shouldn’t be asked.
Q: So going on to other types of policy, what is your stance on Proposition A and why?
A: So, Proposition A. I feel like the message that’s being passed is very one-sided. However, what people need to understand about A is that it doesn’t actually have to be passed this November. If it’s not passed in November, it’ll come back again in May, so it’s not critical at this point to even pass it. And I feel like, like I said initially, that the district has gone in a direction that it shouldn’t and that we need to start at the very top with getting some fresh faces on the board and, and turning this around and looking at the finances in a way that have not been examined. And so I don’t feel like we need to pass Proposition A now. Now the ACE credit is the way to go. I do believe that with recapture, being able to pay the state outright is the best option. However, again, I don’t feel like it is critical to pass it right now.
Q: Now, what’s your sense of Proposition B?
A: So with Proposition B, I am against it. Our community has already seen our home appraisals skyrocket, and that’s already an increase in it of itself. And then to add an additional tax onto that, it’s just not fair to the community. I’ve looked at – and I don’t appreciate the message that’s being sent out that teachers could lose their jobs or that other programs could be impacted. I don’t think that that’s fair at all, and actually, I feel like it’s very deceitful. And again, it’s a very one-sided message that’s being presented by the district. And I’ve looked at salary data for five years to see that we’re not and we have not been putting money into our schools. I looked up Cedar Park High School and Cedar Park Middle School, and salary data for five years is stagnant. There’s no increase – it’s not even a cost of living increase for teachers and staff that work here. It is stagnant, but there are a lot of other departments that have seen exponential growth and with STAAR scores, with SAT scores, I just don’t feel like they’re impacting students the way that we would expect to see from our educational system.
When you have Pathways and Innovation that’s seen a 64% increase in the past five years where teachers are stagnant, you just have to kind of wonder what the district’s priorities are. There’s also a brand-new department. It started in 2020, it’s called Federal and State Programs. And I’ve looked up the job titles that are under this department and have found that the roles of these job titles consist of teachers that go to the homes of babies, to essentially teach the parents how to parent their babies. And I – this has nothing to do with K-12 education, why are these dollars being invested there? Why aren’t they being put into our schools? And so, because there’s all of these questions, I think that we need to audit and we need to look at where the money is being spent and why it’s not being directed to our schools.
Q: Going off of that, should Prop B not pass and the district needs to collect over $32 million from the budget that school year, what specifically will be the top three places you suggest for those cuts to come from?
A: I think that there is a lot of administrative overhead that needs to be looked at. I was just giving you the example of Pathways and Innovation. There is non-instructional spent everywhere, and just like the surveys, we pay K-12 insight about $120,000 a year – and I get that that’s not anywhere close to the $32 million. But when you start looking at all of these areas, it’s going to start adding up. But why are we spending money there? And then there’s, there’s just so many areas where I feel like, again, getting in new faces at the board level who are committed to being better stewards to the taxpayers and to figure out where, where we’re spending our money because the district has a budget of almost half a billion dollars. That’s a lot. So where is this money going?
Q: One of the questions we hear in the school community is why our district is in this financial situation to begin with. How would you respond to that?
A: I think that it’s been several years since the district has passed a balanced budget, and so that’s an issue. And again, looking at the current leadership at the board administratively and why they’ve allowed us to get into this situation.
Q: Speaking of the performance of LISD administration, are you satisfied with Dr. Gearing’s job as superintendent? Why or why not?
A: Personally, I am not. I look at the changes and the timeline of how all of this happened. And Bruce Gearing came in the late summer of 2019. Then I discovered, I think it was November of 2019, we had administrative staff reaching out to Professor Carpenter, I believe is his last name, and Baylor to come conduct a study – and I use that term loosely because there’s no scientific merit to it – that included some 73 responses to show that our district was racist or not diverse enough and out of a community with over 40,000 students. And you’re going to look at responses from only 73 people and then decide that we’re a racist community and then bring in the new curriculum because it’s diverse, which also has all of this sexually explicit material in it?
And it’s low reading levels, which then in turn means that you’re not getting the complex sentence structure, you’re not getting advanced vocabulary to continue learning and – going back to where, you know, once the kids return to class and they had this curriculum being taught with this, the academic world was stagnant and like I said, I saw that with my own son’s SAT scores.
Q: Now, speaking of your son, your children. So you have children in Leander ISD. How have their experiences been in the district?
A: So currently, I have two at Leander High. One is a senior, and then I have a sophomore daughter, and I have a ten-year-old daughter in fifth grade who I homeschool now. I’m just trying to get my son through. It is unfortunate. The summer I went to the capital so that I could speak against the surveys, the TEA commissioner Mike Morath was presenting to our state representatives. And he presented that 80% of Texas classrooms do not provide on-level curriculum. And so I went home and I asked my two high schoolers, what one class did you just take that you feel provided on-level learning? Because the rest were below level. And that is really sad whenever you look at it like that.
It is unfortunate that we have done this, and I’ve seen it with my kids, with my sophomore daughter. I took her out of LISD English this year. She’s taking it online through Texas Tech now and takes the other classes at LHS. But she’s also starting her final year of confirmation at St. Margaret Mary and I was aware that there’s a lot of anti-Christian references in the curriculum and I just couldn’t have her exposed to that while she’s on her journey with her faith.
Q: To switch topics a little, in the last two years, election integrity has become a hot topic in politics. Do you believe there are problems with our election system locally or nationally?
A: Yes, I follow Captain Seth Keshel and he is a really smart guy, I think he plays in spreadsheets a lot. And a lot of my time during the day is spent in spreadsheets as well, with data, he’s shown a lot of discrepancies both just locally and in Williamson County and discrepancies at the national level. And I do have concerns.
Q: Would you accept the outcome of the election if you were to lose?
A: Oh, of course I would accept it. Now, would I stop fighting for what I think is right or wrong? No, I would continue this because for me it is right and wrong. That is an issue, and I will continue to speak about that right now.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we end this interview?
A: Thank you for your time. You are the only students that have reached out, and so I appreciate that.