Elexis Grimes – Place 7
Candidate and current board secretary of the Leander ISD Board of Trustees Elexis Grimes is running against candidate Joseph Gorordo and candidate Paul Gauthier.
Q: So why are you running for school board?
A: I’m running for school board because I really think academic excellence, a balanced approach to budgeting and community engagement is critical for our district. I believe when kids have programs of choice, or students have programs of choice and activities that they’re involved in, then they engage in deeper learning because they want to be in school and they need to pass in order to participate. So it’s a great way for them to engage in their learning and do things that they’re really passionate about.
Q: And what past experience makes you qualified to be a school board member?
A: So before I ran for election four years ago, in order to serve my first term, I got involved in different committees that LISD offers. So I did the Leander ISD Financial Leadership Program. And then I also served on the 2017 Bond Steering Committee. I really was concerned about our debt structures as we grow, and we’re a fast growth district. And so that bond committee experience really helped me gain a better understanding of the growth and the way we kind of work around how to supply rooms and classrooms for the kids that are coming in.
Q: And what is your stance on Proposition A and why?
A: So Proposition A is the ACE election, so that’s your attendance credit election. And that is the funding mechanism to pay recapture. So the state mandates you have to pick a mechanism to pay recapture. It doesn’t mean that you agree with recapture or Robin Hood, as it’s also known, but it just is that funding mechanism. I believe that we should not play chicken with the state. We’re never going to win. And so in order to just follow state law, we need to pass Prop A in order to do that.
Q: And what would you say your stance on Prop B is?
A: Proposition B is also known as a VATRE election, the Voter-Approved Tax Rate Election. And this is helping us move pennies from interest and sinking – that bond debt structure – and into the maintenance and operation bucket. That bucket allows us to pay for student programs, for state teachers, that daily operational thing that’s happening on campus every day. That bucket needs some more pennies, and so we just are kind of riding the ship a little bit in order to pay for teachers’ salaries and things that were approved by the board going into this election.
Q: And what was your stance on that?
A: I think we need to pay teachers appropriately. I want to keep programs and choice for kids. I really want to expand for students. I really want to expand on that. So I think I am personally voting yes for Prop B.
Q: So should Prop B not pass and the district needs to cut over $32 million from the budget next school year, what specifically would be the top two places you suggest for those cuts to come from?
A: I also serve on our long range facilities planning committee, and we’ve come up with a plan to kind of maximize facilities across the district. And some of that is through a small rezoning exercise. Some of that is looking at campuses that are not going to see a spike in enrollments. And so you might have school campus closures, you might have teacher cuts, program cuts. If you look at the numbers, 458 teachers equals about 10% of our workforce. And so you look at one in 10 programs and go, which one do you lose? And that’s terrible for me. Like, I don’t want to make that choice. I don’t want our kids to lose a student, to lose any program that they love. So I have two boys, and their interests are as varied as they are. IB, band, FFA, Golf. Very different interests, right? But to lose any of those programs that keeps them engaged in school would be devastating.
Q: And if you had to, you absolutely had to. Could you give me one or two places that you’d suggest?
A: So I talked about – you might look at school closures, you might look at program reductions. And then, just, I think we do an excellent job here in the interest of supporting teachers with aids and different support services. So I think you see some of those really impacted by budget cuts.
Q: And would you say you’re satisfied with Dr. Gearing’s job as superintendent?
A: So I appreciate Dr. Gearing’s advocacy for student voice and advocacy about coming – it’s about relationships. And I think we have a great working relationship. He allows us – he allows me to have really difficult conversations with him. If we don’t agree on something, we can talk about it, or he can explain it to me better so I get an understanding, but I can also – he gives me the same grace, right? I can have difficult conversations with him and ask him “Why are we doing this?” And so I think overall, he allows me to go do the work a board member, and a board trustee can do and not get hung up in the administration side of things. That’s not my line. That’s his line. And I appreciate him going and doing that work.
Q: And one of the questions we hear in the school and community is why the district is even in this financial situation to begin with. How would you respond to that question?
A: So I, like I said, I served on the 2017 bond steering committee. I really got engaged on the debt side of our district. Right? We became fast-growth, which means you had to build a lot of schools over a short amount of time. We also turned into the habit of using capital appreciation bonds, which are very high interest bonds that were not a good structure for our debt. And so this board has worked really hard to diffuse a lot of that type of debt early. We’ve diffused about $600 million – since I’ve been on the board – in debt, and that was always one of my goals, to really get us out of those CAB bonds. And so that’s one piece of the debt side of financial – that we’re looking at. And then that maintenance and operations side, HB3 – House Bill 3 – really impacted the funding and compressed that bucket of money, and so then you had less coming in for teacher salaries and programs and student-facing items, and so that really impacted how we do business. And we really, as a board, wanted to support teachers, support programs and not make student-facing cuts. And so that was where we decided to go into Proposition B to keep those robust programs on campuses.
Q: And you mentioned before that you had your own children. Were they LISD students? And how was their experience in the district, if they were?
A: Yes. So my oldest graduated from Leander High School in 2018. I’m very proud of him. He’s a senior at Texas Tech. He does ROTC and lacrosse at Tech, and he will graduate in May and go straight into the Air Force. So I’m super proud of my oldest child. And then my youngest child is a freshman at Leander High School this year, involved in FFA and going to try out for the golf team next year. So he’s been in the district his whole life, and I think I got engaged in order to make his experience better where I can impact it.
Q: And in the last few years, election integrity has become a hot topic in politics. Do you believe there are problems within our election system locally or nationally?
A: I’m going to answer this based on a local view because I’m a local elected official and I think federal and national things are not my lane. I always advocate that elected officials stay in their lane. And what that means is, you know, the things that I control and oversee are important and I’m going to stay in that lane. So that’s how I’m going to answer your questions. So I personally know the Williamson County Elections Department. I met him a long time ago, and I believe that we, in our county, have a really great system of accountability and checks and balances. I also know our county chairman, and that he works really diligently and with integrity to appoint the people who are your election judges, your poll workers and those things. And so I believe locally, we don’t have that kind of problem. And we have a lot of where we’re following the system and we’re following the checks and balances in our county and doing the appropriate work to make sure elections have integrity.
Q: And would you accept the outcome of this election if you lost?
A: Of course.
Q: What’s been your biggest accomplishment as a school board member?
A: Before the pandemic, I was asked to come into our Acts of Love. And I don’t know if you’ve heard of Acts of Love. It’s a nonprofit organization that supports teenage mothers, or families that have babies during high school. And so I went into the program and she said “Our rent is skyrocketing. And we only service Leander ISD students and young mothers.” And they were right across the street from New Hope High School so that moms could get to campus very easily, engage in their learning. Our moms have a high rate of poverty, and I didn’t want that to be a barrier to those kids and those students involved in that program. And so I was instrumental in getting them moved out of a building where they were having to pay high rent and onto campus. So now they’re in a portable and they have their own space. It’s beautiful, and they’re on campus and servicing our students in a really impactful way. And I’m just really proud that I was a small piece of getting them there in order to service moms, because I also was a teenage mom. I had a baby at 19 and worked really hard to get my education and raise my son and, you know, break the cycle of poverty.