Sade Fashokun – Place 5
Candidate and current member of the Board of Trustees, Sade Fashokun, is running against candidate Shawn Leege and candidate Kevin Leverenz.
Q: First question is, why are you running for school board?
A: So I’m running to stay. I was appointed a year ago, and so I’m running to stay because given my background within the school district as a volunteer – long time volunteer – and also what I’ve been able to accomplish in this one year on the board, I see myself as the candidate that is best positioned to do good things for the district going forward.
Q: So what past experiences make you qualified to be a school board member?
A: I can just summarize my background and then also what I’ve done within the school district. So I’ve been in this country for about 30 years. I’m an immigrant from Nigeria, and I have a bachelor’s in computer science, I have an MBA and I have a law degree. So education is my passion, it’s my thing, and it’s something that I’m very passionate about, making sure that people around, in the community have a very good public education because that’s what cuts across the entire community. I also spent over 20 years in the tech industry and I’m now a small business owner. Shortly after we moved here eight years ago, I started volunteering in elementary schools, reading with kids as a literacy partner, and added on to that. I became a math tutor and also just a mentor for students to help with behavior in the classroom. So students, their success and helping out teachers, it’s just my passion and those are some of the things. I was also PTA president, treasurer, served on committees and districtwide committees. So I just love the district, I love the kids, I love the students, I love serving kids.
Q: And I was also wondering what your stances on Prop A and B are.
A: Ok, so I’m a yes on both Prop A and Prop B, I’m for both of them. Prop A – the district has received a letter from TEA stating that we’re considered property-rich and we have to send money back to the state, so it’s not about whether we’re going to pay the money or whether this propositions about whether we’re going to pay the money or not. This proposition is about how it gets paid, and we maintain control over how it gets paid with a floor vote and which every other district, almost 200 in the state, that has had this type of attendance credit election is what it’s called, the ACE – it has passed 100%. So it’s a no-brainer. It’s just what everybody does because that’s what makes sense. If it fails, the state will be in control and they decide how they’re going to come and take property to get that money. But they will end up taking more than they need. It’s just the way that it’s structured. And we do get a second bite at it in May, if it fails. But why spend all that time, money and resources when you can just be one and done. And so that’s why I’m for Prop A. There are other consequences I’m not even going to get into, but I will just summarize it that way.
For Prop B, I’m also for Prop B. I consider it the fiscally responsible thing to do. Not even just fiscally responsible, it’s the moral – it’s just the right thing to do for our district. It’s the right thing to do for the students to make sure that you maintain good class sizes, the programs you love stay. It is good for our teachers because we can afford the raises that they’ve been given. The state has not funded cost of living increases, so this is pretty much our way of funding cost of living increases. We’ve been very efficient and lean on our expenses, especially as it pertains to the administration. Our district has the leanest percentage when compared to the state and to our peer districts. The leanest percentage of admin. It’s really – we’re really, really running a lean ship.
We, as a board, accepted the cuts that the administration brought to us. And so we said, “Well, the teachers, they deserve a 5% raise.” If they did not get that raise, they were holding up their contracts, waiting for that vote that night. If we did not vote for that 5%, if we gave them a 2%, they probably would not have signed that contract. We saved over $19 million from unfilled positions last school year. So we already know what it would have been like if the teachers, if we did not give that 5% raise because Round Rock ISD is down the road, and Round Rock has the capacity to absorb our teachers. And they were paying – they gave a 5% raise and they were going to end up paying more than we were. Now we’re competitive with Round Rock.
Q: Should Prop B not pass, the district needs to cut over $32 million from the budget next school year. What specifically would be the top three places you’d suggest those cuts?
A: So I’ve talked about how we’ve already accepted the cuts. I mean, the district will bring us options, we’ll just cut and – I just don’t know what to cut. The district’s going to give us some options, who knows what programs – they might be able to find some programs that are not very well-subscribed and cut those, but I just I don’t see any path forward if Prop B doesn’t pass, so I can’t see what to cut. Well, I mean, we’ll still look, we’ll do a deep dive into – a deeper dive, a deeper, deeper dive than what has been done before into just the financial efficiency and the like. People attack admin and it’s pretty lean. Pretty, pretty lean.
Q: Are you satisfied with Dr. Gearing’s job as superintendent? Why or why not?
A: I think he’s – since he has been here about three years now, since 2019 just before COVID, and so far, I mean, I think that there’s always room for improvement, but he’s brought on some changes or some good things to the district. We now have a DEI chair, officer that’s doing the things. Yeah, I mean, I think I like the work that he’s doing. It’s, we’re moving in the right direction, I’ll put it that way. There’s improvements that can be made. He’s accessible, he listens to us as board members, or at least to me when I ask him questions and he puts me in touch with the right people to help. And I see things that want done get done because he’s helping.
Q: Now, one of the questions we hear in the school and the community is why our district is in this financial situation to begin with. How would you respond to that?
A: Start at the capital. So, right now, the amount – so there are few things that are packed into that question. So whenever we pay taxes, it goes into two buckets. One bucket goes to paying down debt and the other bucket goes to funding our daily operations, including 80-something percent of that is our teacher salaries and staff salaries. So, sometimes, people talk about the debt and they’re talking about the bond debt. We’ve had to build so many new schools in such a short period of time in the past. Bonds were taken for that based on the state rules, they took out capital appreciation bonds. That’s what the board did at the time. And that was the tool they had at their disposal. Those bonds are very expensive. The district has worked very hard with financial advisors, a new set of financial advisors and the CFO and the financial department. And they’ve also been with the board and they’ve been able, in the last 10 years, been able to get over a billion dollars of that debt off the books. They’re no longer using capital appreciation bonds, but they’re still there.
So we’re still paying that off as quickly as possible while taking the common interest bonds, I think that’s what it’s called, and that is less expensive. So that’s one aspect of it. Those bonds are decelerating very quickly. We’re still going to have to take on new ones to build new schools, but that’s under control. And the other side is the maintenance and operation side, and that’s the part that runs the schools. And since 2019, the state has fixed the amount that we entitle to per child at $6,160, no cost of living adjustment, no increases. So we are running a budget today based on numbers that the state set almost four years ago, and that’s why we need to do Prop B, because we have to fund that ourselves. The state right now, this year, is estimated to fund less than 10% of our district. We as taxpayers are funding over 80% of our district. That is – doesn’t make sense. Does not make sense. The state should have more skin in the game. It’s a public school. They should fund more.
And so, advocacy at the state for increasing that basic allotment from $6,160. That’s primary, that’s on the list. Advocacy to the states; have a cost of living adjustment. We don’t have to keep coming back every year to say we need more because inflation is up here, it’s down here, just – we need some built-in escalations, and if there’s no cost of living adjustment then yes, it’s flat. But at least the escalation, the possibility is right there. Doing something for our teachers where yes, we can get that out of our maintenance and operations budget, but they need to do something extra for our teachers. The teachers have endured so much with COVID, with all the absences, with all the people leaving the profession, and many of them – some of them still stayed. And so I think that we need to find a way to reward them and reward them going forward, especially with tenure. And I think that that funding needs to come from the state. So that’s how we are in this position. It’s about state funding.
Q: Do you have any of your own children in LISD?
A: Yes, I have two kids and they’ve always attended school here, and they’re both now in Cedar Park Middle.
Q: How are their experiences with the district?
A: Oh, they love it. I mean, this morning my daughter was, like, up and we had to drop her off early at school because she has an art club. So they find clubs to do, she does art club, meeting club, dance and band. My son loves football and sports and choir, and they love their teachers. They love the bus drivers. I mean, they’ve had really good experiences throughout – I mean, it’s not been perfect, but it’s close to.
Q: Good to hear. Now, change in topic. 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: The problems that I see are – I actually don’t think that, in Texas, it’s easy for people to vote. I moved here from Washington. All the time I was there – as when I became a citizen, I was able to vote – it was 100% mail in ballots until today. And so people being able to register to vote easily, that needs to be addressed. People need to be able to vote easily. That needs to be addressed. I’m still looking for all the articles that talk about voter fraud. There’s nothing, nothing. So why are we having all of these barriers in place and keep adding more barriers for something that doesn’t exist? So I think that Texas can do better to bring more people into the fold.
Q: And would you accept the outcome of the election if you lost?
Q: Fair enough. Now, what’s been your biggest accomplishment as a school board member?
A: So I would say, one thing I know is that back in – I joined a year ago, in October last year, and I would say in November, I started talking to the HR (Human Relations) Department about substitute pay. We had the lowest substitute pay in the area. The field rate was not very good as a result because, personally, I said I would go to Liberty Hill or Round Rock even though I live in Cedar Park, but they’re so close by. I’ll go substitute there before I substitute here for, like, $20 a day less. And so I worked hard with them to find the savings and make sure that we could have that savings and we were able to – which is pretty much to bring it in-house and make sure they had the resources that they needed to bring it in house. And I got feedback from substitute teachers around the district and that was very helpful in pushing that, advocating for them, and they were able to get the pay above our surrounding area.
So increasing substitute teacher pay, bringing it back in-house, working on the processes – because it’s not just increasing the pay, it’s also working on the processes. So I got the feedback from the different substitute teachers that explained to me what some of the roadblocks were and so I made sure that I communicated that with them and asked them in the HR Department from time to time, how those roadblocks were being – to make sure they were being addressed.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Well, I came up to speed very quickly on what public school finance is like, and also looking at the budget and asking the hard questions about the efficiency of certain aspects of our budget, and so we’re beginning to look more into that. And just supporting the teachers, trying to find ways to be more supportive. And I also think that we need to bring the community along. and so I’ve been passing on that message quite a bit that the community members need to be involved. I started, like I said, I started off as a literacy partner. I was a committee member, I was not a parent yet. And so anybody can do that, and they can tutor math – and people complain and complain, “Oh, kids are not reading.” Well, they are. “Kids are not doing well in math.” Well, they are, but they could do better and you can help, you can provide some bandwidth. So the teachers’ advocacy can also help in that area so that we can afford to get some assistance that float around classrooms, that pay instructional assistance. But in the meantime, we just have to make do with what we have and that’s the community.