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Photo Courtesy of Paul Gauthier

Paul Gauthier – Place 7

Candidate Paul Gauthier is running against candidate and current board secretary Elexis Grimes and candidate Joseph Gorordo.

Q: To start off, why are you running for school board?

A: Because I want to help.

Q: Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

A: Some friends asked me to look into what was going on, about a year and a half ago. The more I looked, the more I found. And I keep finding more things that the kids shouldn’t have to deal with. And adults are not acting like adults. It’s very strange. And my experiences in my life, I’ve never dealt with these kinds of people before. There’s something called social normalizing. There were lots of studies back in the sixties where they would put people in a room and one person would know that the other people were in on this normalization, and they would tell the one person they were wrong and they would do it again and again, and so much so that that one person would conform to the rest of the group, no matter if they’re a man, woman, tall, short. Didn’t matter.

And social normalizing, even if the position was wrong – and in most cases they did a simple thing of 10 pieces of string and one string was short and they said the one string that was short was actually the longest. And the one person that wasn’t in on it would fight a little bit. But when the others would gang up on them, the social normalization would happen. And they would just say “Ok, I’ll conform.” That is the longest when they just wouldn’t feel beat up. Very strange. A lot of that’s been going on around here as well. Last night at the PTA meeting – it was a very unfortunate display as well, and that is on my mind this morning, which makes me a little concerned for the parents who might feel bullied by the PTA, or are supposed to be an advocate for the kids. And it was not what I thought it was going to be, and it was what I thought it was going to be, unfortunately.

Q: Absolutely. So what past experience makes you qualified to be a school board member?

A: I’m a parent. I love people. I love talking to people. The experiences I’ve had through my life have put me in this situation where I can recognize someone needs to stand up and I used to go to the board meetings, and people would leave, and I’d sit there and I’d tell them “Stop. They’re not listening to you. You’re leaving the room and you’re taking that energy with you. You need to stay in the room and look at them after you talk to try to get your point across. ”And most of the time, they still won’t listen. That’s not the point. The point is you’re there and you care. And as soon as you walk out, that energy goes with you. Keep it in the room. Keep it in the room until it’s time to leave. And you’ll know when.

Q: And what are your stances on Props A and B?

A: No for both. A, I say no because I don’t trust them. Any time this group, the board has wanted something, there usually is something else behind it. And we do have a time. It’s a one time vote. So, if someone moved in here five years from now, there is no vote whether you do it or you don’t. One group gets to decide, and it lasts forever. Doesn’t seem like it makes a lot of sense to me. And we have until, I believe, Feb. 17 to put it back on the ballot. So hopefully, if I get elected, we’ll look at the books and find out if we could change the rate and see if we are actually in that recapture mode.

And then B itself, the propaganda’s all over the school, which should not be allowed but they’re doing it anyway, seems like this group doesn’t seem to care about the rules – the board, that is. I would say B, they spent money they didn’t have and I don’t want to bail them out. In fact, the administration is so top-heavy just by the administration alone. When we had $282 million last year in revenue, 12% of that went to the administration level. If you were to cut that down to 20%, that’d roughly be about $20 million, which is almost the raise what the teachers would get now at $30 million. And when you take out all the other incidentals or find the line items, like there was a situation where they went or someone spent $25,000 on a limousine rental. I used to work in the car business and you can hide a lot of things with a third-party limousine rental. You simply charge it to the limousine and you go out and go to places that most people don’t want to tell their grandmother.

So yes, B is a bailout again and I don’t want to give that to them. I’d rather look at all the other ways to actually help the students and the teachers. In 2019, it cost $8,300 to teach a student. The books will come out. The audit will come out just after the election. It’ll probably be just over $10,000. Almost $2,000. if you take $2,000 and times it by 40,000 students, roughly, that’s $80 million. If you take the 3,000 teachers we have and you divide the $80 million by 3000 teachers, each teacher would get $26,000 in a raise. Where is that money going? It’s three years. I don’t understand.

And that’s why, like my other friends, we would like to see the books as much as possible and see where the wasteful spending is. Because you deserve as much as we can give you out in the world. Once you get out there, the world says, “What can you do for me?” And I have been talking to lots of students who graduate, they’re 18 years old and they essentially have a fourth or fifth grade education. That is not fair. Now, you two seem like some of the lucky ones, but many others aren’t, especially if you’re a single mom or single dad. What do you do when you get passed along, you’re not allowed to fail? That is not right. It’s not appropriate, and most people don’t even know that. The school is passing them along and counting them as simply as a monetary paycheck. I don’t agree with that.

Q: And should Prop B not pass and the district needs to count over $32 million from the school’s budget next year, what specifically would be the top three places you would suggest those cuts to come from? 

A: Administration, administration and administration. All that wasteful spending and the line items. We know some people come into the office and we’ve done, I guess, a Freedom of Information Act, but here they call it PIR, public information request. Anyway, people show up and they go to the administration office and they’ll leave there with tens of thousands of dollars and it will be marked only as “administration services” or some sort of educational services. What is that? What does that mean? And they went to the administration office. Did they teach someone there? Are they doing something there? I would like to know. So, that’s where I look mostly. The administration office, there’s a lot of wasteful spending, and I’d really like to see where it’s actually going.

Q: Are you satisfied with Dr. Gearing’s job as superintendent? Why or why not?

A: You know, I’ve gotten four questions out of the man in the last year and a half. I asked to talk to him when I first heard about the books and I was questioning, “Why are you doing this?” And so I went to the school and they said, “Well, you can make an appointment.” That was on a Friday. A few days later, I came back on a Monday and asked to make an appointment again. They said “Well, we’ll get you with Dr. Bentz, ok?” He’s head of curriculum, if you didn’t know. Then, on Tuesday, I went to Commissioners Court and I talked to them, and that was the first time I was threatened with jail by Sheriff Gleason, because I had a stack of the books and I said there’s swears in these books and I’m afraid to read them in front of the judge. And he put his finger right in my face. He said “You read those in front of the judge, you’re going to jail right now.” I said “Ok, I’m not going to read this in front of the judge.” So I went up there and I said “I love to read these in front of you, Judge Gravel, but I can’t. Sheriff Gleason says if I read them out loud in open court, I’m going to jail.”

But these have the stamp of Leander High School, that the kids at Leander High School are being made to pick. And one of those books was called “My Friend, Jeffrey Dahmer.” So he asked me for my qualifications, I have a very good friend who is a profiler. He spent years interviewing people. And one of the things he did was write the profile that caught Jeffrey Dahmer. So I called him up and I said “You’ll never guess what’s in our high school.” The book itself was written in 2012 and it’s at a second, or maybe third grade reading level. It has little bubbles like a cartoon.

So reading at all – I mean, why would someone want to read it, I suppose they could have an interest, but to have kids being made to read it like they were at that time? Why would you have an 11th or 10th grade kid read a second grade book? You’re not challenging the child and when you’re not being challenged, that means you’re not learning. This is the problem, I thought, with some of these kids that are graduating, because they’re being pushed along by the school system and it’s not fair to the kids. And most kids, I don’t think really know what’s happening. It’s not in your face until the rest of the world says “Well, what can you do or what have you been doing? You’re 18 years old, you’re six foot tall, man. You’re a five foot six woman. What can you do? What have you learned in the last eight years? What job have you done?”

And most of the world will say what they’ll say, which is usually not pleasant. I know this one kid in particular graduated from Leander High School. I met him on a golf range, and he said he had to go back to community college because Texas A&M wouldn’t take him. He said “My family went through here, I have an A-minus grade point average.” But when he took the entrance exam, he did so poorly, they said “If you don’t go to this, this and this at the community college, maybe we’ll get you in.” And so he worked really hard and he thought he knew what he was doing, but he didn’t know what he didn’t know. And that’s another reason why I’m running. Like I said, the more I look into it, the more I find it. So, Dr. Gearing, how is he doing? 

Q: And one of the questions we hear in the school, in the community, in our district is why our school district is in this financial situation to begin with. So how would you respond to this?

A: Unsecured capital appreciation bonds. Most people don’t know it, but it’s a second mortgage on most people’s homes you don’t know about. I lived through this experience before, and when I was moving down here, some friends of mine said “Where are you moving?” I said “Well, it’s Dripping Springs or Leander,” and they’re like “You should try Leander.” And after being here a little while and hearing about some of the stuff going on at the schools, looking into the books – in 2007, they passed a bond for $235 million and that really started to ramp up the debt. The district was growing, but after the ‘08 crash, it was hard to get money. In order to do that, they had to start using these bonds with a very high interest rate. And that’s part of the reason why we are in such debt. In fact, we pay $80 million in interest alone. That is enough to build an elementary school, buying the land, every year. And I find that unacceptable, that they had taken out those loans. But you’ve got those loans on the books, you have to deal with them. So how do you deal with that?

And just recently, through the bond steering committee, they sold some more bonds and I bet you didn’t know this, but on Wednesday, Thursday they added $235 million to the debt, of which next year’s payment was supposed to be $109 million, now it’s going to be $121 million. I believe the interest went up on that as well. And essentially, they’re spending like there’s no tomorrow, and there is a tomorrow. And I lived in a community where that debt got called in. It was a terrible experience. The bank will always get its money. Always.

And even in a crisis, the bank will go to a judge and say “Well, I need the money to pay off these other banks,” which is what happened with us. And so the judge said “Ok, well, you need to work out something with that town.” So they called in all the loans, and so 400 landowners – was a small town – 400 landowners came in and they said, this nice gal said “You owe me $60 million at 8 a.m., tomorrow morning.” And we were like “Who are you and what are you talking about?” She was like “Well, what happened is you built a middle school and high school you don’t need and we want our money back right now. And so you either give me the money tomorrow or, since it’s a surprise, we’ll put a bond a week from now and you vote for it. In order to do that, we’re going to double your taxes.” And if you don’t want to vote for it, the state will come in and they might triple your taxes, they’re a threat because they will make you insolvent.

A school district is essentially a utility. It’s like water or electricity. It’s not allowed to fail. Which is why most people don’t know the trustees – which is why they call them trustees – have a very important role with the money and not to take on too much debt burden, and this district obviously has. In fact, the more I’ve looked, I’ve found too many board members taking jobs within the district where people were looking to get something sold, and they sold it. And then they became a board member. And this job is zero pain. So why are these people fighting so hard? Well, my only conclusion is there’s a lot of grifting going on. And if you know what that means is quid pro quo. If you vote for this and help me get the condition of the contract, I’ll get you a job with our board and then we’ll take care of you. So I find a big problem with that. So my other reason that I’m qualified, I’m not a grifter.

Q: You said you were a parent. How are your children’s experiences in LISD?

A: Well, the first five days they were here, my seventh grade or sixth grade or fifth grade were asked “Are they gay or lesbian?” And I thought that was really odd for kids of that age to be asked such a personal question. Overall, I think their experience was ok, but when I started talking to the administration, they would tell me the first names of my kids, what school they went to and what neighborhood I live in. And I said, you know, if I didn’t know any better, I would say that’s a form of intimidation. And I do know. And that is. And so I pulled my kids out, and currently, I’m working as a theater teacher, which I find very interesting because this whole theater of the schools and the district and Dr. Gearing and the board. The PTA, who says they want to help the parents, but I have never been much of an advocate lately. It’s an interesting show. And hopefully three weeks from today, we’ll find out which chapter we’re on.

Q: And in the last few years, election integrity has become a hot topic in politics. So do you believe there are any problems with our election system locally? Or nationally?

A: Oh, I do believe there’s problems. Anytime you get people, you still have to watch the watchers, who’s actually making it. Joseph Stalin actually said it’s not about the people who are voting, it’s the people counting. Honest people, integrity, people having an actual ballot, I think, is still the best way to do it, not something electronic. You got to write down a piece of paper. It’s simply harder to cheat. I hope and pray that we have that covered. I’ve been working with some people and talking to them to make sure that those are taken care of. Last year, when we defeated the bond, which was almost $800 million, I was at the Cedar Park Library when all six of the ballot harvesters shut down at the exact same moment, which I thought – that was interesting because there’s 200 people in line and it was after 5:00, which is when the majority of people will vote after work.

And yeah, 5:35 at night, there’s an hour and 25 minutes left to vote. Obviously, the machines don’t work. So then we had to scramble to send people wherever we could, Vista Ridge or the Cedar Park Rec Center, telling them “As long as you’re in line, you’ll be able to vote,” even if it’s after 7:00. And that vote was down to 215 votes, how it failed. So it was close. And the district, I thought very conveniently, had a teacher and service day to make sure all those 5000 employees made sure they got out there and had a good vote. There’s a lot of games that have been playing around here and I, as a theater teacher, have been happily talking to other people who also see what’s going on and and making friends wherever I go. An interesting thing. 

Q: And would you accept the outcome of the election if you lost?

A: I would accept, win or lose. I don’t think there’s really much we can do about it, as long as the election was fair, and we will only know that if people actually vote. And I believe that hopefully, we’ll be able to ensure that. I believe for us to win, we’re going to need 100,000 to 120,000 people to vote out of the 160,000 registered voters. So I’m literally walking my feet till they bleed to make sure everyone knows what I know, whether they want to hear it or not. If you want to hear what I know, I’ll tell you. And if you don’t, I understand too, because that’s what we’re really facing. A lot of people have not known – the bond that passed in 2017, only 3000 people voted for and against it out of the towns of 200,000 people. They weren’t advertising it. And last year, I told people we needed 15,000 to 20,000 people to vote and it was just under, I believe, 21,000 voted for and against.

So my prediction this year, if we get that many – 100,000 120,000 – then we might have a chance to flip the board and really look in the books. I don’t see why this district should struggle with finances at all, and I’m not sure why they’re not giving scholarships to people, to the kids.  That’s the part or I’ve been wondering, “Why are you doing this?” And so the three times they’ve threatened me with jail? Yeah. Who’s wound up that time? The last time was at one of the board meetings, and they kept kicking women out. And what would all the other women do? As soon as they kicked out a woman who disagreed with the board, everyone would sit a little lower in the chairs. And I stood up and I said, “You’re not protecting the women and children of this community.” And with that, Assistant Superintendent Graham pulled down his mask and growled at me, and he said, “You’re out of here.” And I said, “No, I’m not here for you. I’m here to protect the women and show this community, and you’re not doing it and they’re not doing it.

We stood there for about 20 to 30 minutes. The officers threatened to arrest me, and I said, “I’m not here for you. I’m here for the women and children”. This community, they’re not protecting them. So we stood there for a while and finally said, “We’re gonna put the cuffs on you.” And I said, “I will resist.” And I said, “Well, just so you know, before we get started, I am the fourth grade 98-pound wrestling champion.” And they laughed and I laughed and then they said “Ok, but how are we going to get out of this?” And I said, “If you shake my hand and promise not to arrest and I’ll walk out the door and I’ll leave.” And so I did. And they did.

And I left but what we’re trying to do is something that it’s hard to describe. It is trying to wake people up because most people have been asleep. I’ve worn sunglasses, I have gone into my bag of cowboy hats. I have worn a Santa suit because most people think these board meetings are not important. Unfortunately, they’re incredibly important to the health of the district and most importantly to the kids. So, trying to get some attention, use a little theater background that I have. I have gotten it, yes and no, in a positive and negative way. It just kind of comes and goes. And I’ve never fought back online because personally I don’t believe in it. It’s filled with semantics and heartache. And though if you look me up, I have TikTok videos of me and people making fun of me and – and it just is what it is.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Not really. It’s been a pleasure.

 

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