Scott Reese – Place 6
Candidate Scott Reese is running against candidate Francesca Romans and candidate Sharon Bell.
Q: So why are you running for school board?
A: The first thing that got my attention was when my son was in eighth grade, and it was during the summer of 2020. You might remember around the country, we were having these riots in various cities. In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, where I finished high school, there were particularly active protests and riots in that town. And so I was watching the news every night because that’s where I went to high school, in that area. And one night, watching the news, I actually saw one protester walk up to a young man in a baseball cap, a conservative baseball cap. And the protester pulled out a gun, put it to his head and shot him dead.
And that moment made me realize that something has changed in the country. And I was very affected by that. And shortly after that, my son, who was in eighth grade and he was home for virtual school, and we were watching him in the living room on virtual school, his teacher was actively promoting him as an eighth grader to go down into Austin and to attend the BLM protests that were happening down there, which I felt was very inappropriate for a teacher to be promoting eighth grade students to that level of activity, prompting kids to come talk to parents about it.
At the same time, that teacher was also presenting to my student, in every class, that we were watching from the living room, books on transgender lifestyles and queer lifestyles. And while I respect everyone to live their life, I think it’s inappropriate for a teacher to be introducing those ideas to my 13-year-old in the class and then having them then prompt those questions back at home where they’re not naturally asking that question, but they’re being prompted to ask that question at that age, which I didn’t think was appropriate.
And on top of that, this particular teacher was providing outside resources on a Google Slide on her classroom web page. And those resources were two clicks to porn sites, to hardcore porn sites. And so we started to read the law and we started to read the policies of the school. I ended up writing this up as an executive summary with attachments, and my wife and I wrote affidavits of what we saw happening. We went and met with the principal and we presented this information to the principal and showed him the website and the two clicks to pornography sites, which we felt was very inappropriate. And it’s against many of the policies that the school has. And that started me on the journey of looking into and paying more attention to what’s happening in the school district. So I ended up joining the Bond Oversight Committee to participate as a citizen in the school citizen process and I started to learn more and more about what’s happening. And that inspired me to run for office. So that’s kind of why I’m here today.
And what really, really drove me to participate in this process is I had this dream two days in a row, and the dream was this black box. And this black box was a scary-looking black box. And kids were going in one side of the black box and out of the other end of the black box, and some of the kids were coming out hurt and angry and confused. And I just woke up crying about this, and I just turned to my wife after the second day of having the same dream in a row. And I said “I just feel compelled,” and I feel as a man of faith, I just felt that my creator was calling me to participate and help in this way, to serve the community on the board, the school board. And so that’s how I got involved in this.
And that’s kind of my “Why I’m doing this,” and whatever I can do to improve our education system so every student gets the best shot at starting their life well, that’s what I’m committed to. And not as emotional platitudes or campaign slogan topics, but what’s the empirical, quantitative evidence that says these things work and these things don’t, and how do we how do we improve our systems and processes to actually deliver to our students the best environment they can have for learning, that’s proven in the past to work other places, not run experiments on our kids? And so I’m absolutely committed to it. It should be logical, it should have a proven system that works and we should take actions and make decisions based on that. And we should think these things through very clearly.
Q: What past experience makes you qualified to be a board member?
A: Well, I have raised three children with my wife and we’ve had them through the district. So I’ve got more than 30 years in public school with our kids. I’ve also been through a graduate degree. I’ve got a masters in business from a top 20 school in the United States. So I’ve personally experienced education directly. And education, plus hard work, plus military pulled me out of poverty. You know, I grew up on food stamps and those three things together were important parts of my growing up. From a career perspective. I started out as a Marine Corps officer, and it’s a very professional environment for how to understand the right challenges you’re facing, to set clear objectives, to develop strategies for how to achieve those objectives and then to write plans for how to achieve and implement various elements of a strategy.
So I was groomed from that perspective in the beginning. Being a military officer is also a very apolitical orientation. So my orientation was, we don’t choose sides as military officers. We serve the administration in the best interests of our service. As a corporate officer. I’ve served as a director of operations, VP of sales, senior vice president of global service and support, managing director, chief technology officer of a $100 million operation. So I’ve held increasing responsibilities in complex organizations which generally involve lots of systems that work together to help or hinder people from doing their job.
So I think in terms of systems and fixing and improving systems, and I think this board-level position for education requires both the temperament that’s going to be calm and logical, but also a skill set that understands systems and understands how to diagnose systems accurately and then implement solutions that come from best practices that are known, you know, not “Oh, let’s try this this year and see what happens.” You know, that’s not a wise strategy with a $400 million operation. While that might be good in a startup with three or four or five people, “Hey, let’s try this for a week,” because you’re experimenting, learning. You know, we shouldn’t be experimenting with it in an established environment like this, where we’ve been educating people in this country, students for hundreds of years, and we have enormous volumes of information on best practices for how things work and what works well and what doesn’t.
And I’ll give you one really good example. Thomas Saul wrote this book called “Charter Schools and Their Enemies.” And what he did is he studied, I think it was 70 or 75 charter schools in New York City, where their charter school was in the same building as the public school, serving the same community of kids as the public schools, so almost entirely minorities, African-American and Hispanic kids from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, right? So essentially they put a school in a school with the same kids and the charter schools enormously outperform their public school counterparts.
Well, why is that? Well, it’s not a characteristic issue. It’s not dealing with the color or orientation of the students because you’ve got the same students from the same neighborhoods and they’re – this is not a facilities issue. They’re in the same building. But you do have different teachers pursuing different choices. And so he starts to lay out, what are the choices in the environment that the administration and the teachers are making in a charter school environment that caused such a dramatic improvement for those kids, for those students versus the public school that’s right through the wall on the other side?
I think we have lots of places to look for good answers. Not that we would try to make Leander ISD a charter school because it’s not, but we can look for best practices from other schools around our district and within our area that are having more success than we are. And if you – this chart that I was showing you, this would be a great place to cut that in, but this chart that I was showing you where we can see districts that are outperforming us for wealth and we can see the elementary schools that are outperforming us in their areas, what are they doing different than we are? How can we learn from that and improve that in our system for the benefit of our students and their parents?
Q: And what is your stance on Proposition A?
A: Proposition A is fairly straightforward. So the legislature has created a problem in how they’ve implemented this set of laws called recapture, but it’s also been called Robin Hood. So when schools hit a certain formulaic result of being wealthy, they start taking money from them and giving it to schools that are poorer. Now, in concept, this sounds like something we should pursue and investigate, but it also produces some problems. Like, there are schools down on the border with Mexico, where the school has actually built large water parks with the money that they’ve gotten from other districts. That doesn’t seem like a very good outcome. And then there’s also schools up on the border with Oklahoma that are in oil country, and the value of their property is so high because of the oil, they actually can’t even raise a bond to build a high school because so much Robin Hood is being taken out. So the legislature alone has created this scenario and can fix it.
For Leander, because of a set of variables that involves determining our recapture, we have a bill to pay to the state, and we have five options that the law allows us to use to pay that back. Prop A is actually option three on that list, it’s the easiest and cheapest way for us to do that and it also gives us future control over our taxation area. Now, were we to say no on Prop A, then we turn over the choice to the state commissioner to pick one of the other options. And those options involve either combining our district with a poor district or moving some of our taxable area to another district, letting them tax our area forever in perpetuity. So those options aren’t great for us or our students. So Prop A is pretty straightforward, that’s why I’m for it. It’s the easiest and cheapest, most efficient way for us to pay our tax bill to the state for recapture. And my education on that, I spent a couple hours with the lawyers at Texas Public Policy Foundation. They specialize in taxation and school finance. And their teaching to me on that was very clear and to the point.
Q: And what is your stance on Proposition B and why?
A: Yeah, Proposition B is a tricky one because, as a voter, you could come down logically as for or against. For me, personally, I am voting against Prop B, and the reason I’m voting against Prop B is because we – the administration, Gearing and the administration, brought a budget reduction proposal in June to the board. And that budget reduction proposal would have not created a budget shortfall because they knew recapture was coming. It’s not a surprise recapture here. So they proposed a budget that was a wise budget that said “Hey, regardless of what happens with Prop A, we’re going to pass a budget that we can live with with the revenue that we have.” But the Board of Directors, five of them voted to reject that budget and instructed Doctor Gearing in the staff to bring the budget increase to them for consideration. And so he brought that budget increase and they passed that budget increase.
Now, if we don’t pass Prop B, then there’s a shortfall – and you hear the team going out saying “We’re going to fire 480 teachers.” That’s explaining this to the community. And so the board put us in this position to either pass this or we’re going to fire teachers. That’s kind of a threat to the voters. You put the voter in an unfair position. And if it doesn’t pass, you’ve created a budget structural issue for the administration they have to now deal with. That was an unwise and irresponsible choice, in my opinion.
So the other issue I have with the way that they’re presenting this to the community is they’re presenting it as a tax rate deduction. In fact, I was at a meeting for it today, and I can provide you this as well, but they have a graphic that describes a tax rate reduction, but they don’t mention the nominal tax dollar increase. So they say, “Oh, we’re reducing the tax rate. And if you don’t let us reduce the tax rate, then we’re going to have to terminate teachers.” But we’re actually increasing the tax dollars, even though they’re reducing the tax rate. The way they’re moving money around, it’s actually increasing the taxation on each homeowner. And I know you guys don’t own houses, but home taxes have gone up consistently and a lot over the last 10 years. At the same time, they’re also a couple of hundred teachers short of what their target hiring would be under this new, larger budget. Right. And so there wouldn’t actually be 450 teachers fired because they have 200 and some teachers short. So the problem’s actually smaller than that.
In addition to that, they probably won’t fire teachers anyway because they already made a plan in June that they presented to the board to operate under a smaller budget without teacher layoffs. So I think that the marketing of this is not being completely transparent with the voters. And the presentations I’ve sat through kind of tell the voters “Hey, look, either pass this or we’re going to fire a whole bunch of teachers.” And I just don’t think that’s accurate in the way that I understand it so far. So I don’t think the board’s being honest, I don’t think the presentation is being as forthright as it could be. And I don’t want to reward a board decision that doesn’t treat the voters so honestly and that made an irresponsible decision to reject that first budget that the administration brought. So a little bit of a complicated one, but logically, that’s where I’ve landed on it for those reasons.
Q: Should Prop B not pass, and the district needs to cut over $32 million in the budget in the school year, what specifically would be the top three places you’d save just for those cuts to come from?
A: Yeah, I would like to challenge the district to present that, which would be their role. And as a board member, that would be my question for them. And they certainly already have a plan for this, because it’s the superintendent’s job to come up with that decision in implementing the strategy that he’s pursuing for the district. So I don’t have an answer for that question, but as a board member, I would be asking Dr. Gearing and his team to bring that answer to us as a proposal, then we could then evaluate his proposal. So from a role perspective, those are the roles that the two sides play between the board and the superintendent.
Q: So are you saying that it’s all up to Dr. Gearing hearing about his choice, what gets cut or not?
A: No, what I’m saying is Dr. Gearing, knowing how to run the school efficiently, that’s his job – it’s his responsibility to come and say, “Hey, based on the budget planning we did last year in June and June and based on our new budget reality, here are my recommendations for how we continue to get the best functioning to the school.” And he’s in the best position to make that recommendation as well as the superintendent. And that’s the role that he plays in budgeting.
Q: So are you satisfied with Dr. Gearing’s job as superintendent? Why or why not?
A: You know, I’m not really sure about the result of Dr. Gearing’s job. What I can tell you is some of the things that I’ve seen from my personal experience in the education classroom and then my interviews with the teachers, I think that there’s a lot of work to improve within the discipline, particularly in the K-5 system levels and the K-5 grades, where we’ve implemented the second step social emotional learning program. And that’s drastically, drastically changed how they’re handling discipline issues in the classroom. So, for example, if a child has a large outburst in K-5 – and you guys are probably too old to have experienced this, it was implemented five years ago. You guys would have been in middle school five years ago.
What they do now is they actually take all the students out of the class in the hallway and they leave the student who is flipping over desks or tearing stuff off walls and leaving it in the room, and somebody from an admin comes down to resolve that, and the teacher is expected to then continue educating in the hallway and they have a little to-go bucket that they have to take out there. And that’s very disruptive to those students who didn’t do anything wrong. And they’re losing minutes – 10, 20, 15, 30 minutes of their education that day. And if it happens again or again and again, one friend of mine told me that his daughter’s elementary class right over here at Cypress was evacuated 21 times in a year. And so his daughter actually lost out, and all those students lost out on how many minutes of education, for that week or that year or that month. And that’s an error carried forward. When you lose that, it’s cumulative. And so those kids are losing out on that.
And I would want to ask Dr. Gearing, “How is this – please show me what you thought the results of this program would be, what you expect them to be? How do you measure that outcome? And then please account for the impact this is having on other kids.” And then in that elementary school graph that I showed you, where our elementary schools are so far below the mean relative to the other elementary schools in ISDs in our size range, you know, is this a result, a related result to how we’re handling discipline in the classroom? And I’m sure there will be other issues, many other issues that come up with Dr. Gearing. I’m not in a position to judge his performance. I can see some of the symptoms and how much that comes back to him specifically, I don’t know, but can he work together with a board to improve these problems? That’s really my question. And if he can, I think that’s great because I just want to be part of the solution, improving education for each one of our kids the best we can.
Q: And one of the questions we hear in the school and community is why is our district in this financial situation. How would you respond to that question?
A: For individuals asking that question, I would ask the question, which financial situation are you talking about specifically? For example, if it’s the budget, the budget numbers per student I recently reviewed, we have gone in 2015 from around $8,000 per student cost of education delivery and now we’re in the new budget, we’re at like $10,300 per student cost of education delivery. That’s just maintenance and operations. So we’re investing a lot more money now. Just in the last seven years, we’ve increased 25% our investment in the students. So I’m not sure I see that as a financial difficulty per se, and maybe how we’re spending that money and what we’re allocating and programs, et cetera, I’m not, I’m not sure, but that’s cost per student, right?
So that’s relative regardless, if we grow or not grow the number of students. On the other hand, we also have some debt that people talk about quite a bit. And I believe it’s about two and a half billion dollars over a 30-year term from now. And the I&S money that we’re collecting in taxes or the amount we collect for servicing taxes is able to cover that. And so I think we’re managing to service the debt correctly now. It’s a big question. Should we take on more debt and what should we take that debt on for? And then there’s also a big structural challenge that we face where the schools in the south part of the district, like Vandergrift and Steiner Ranch and Four Points and even here in Cedar Park area, in Cedar Park High School, the communities aren’t selling their houses and moving as fast as they were expected to by the demographers, right?
So that means, you know, families like mine, where our children are growing up and leaving, we’re staying. And so we’re not selling our house to a younger family, so we don’t have the influx of children into the school district. So the schools are operating – quite a few of the schools are operating below the minimum capacity, which I recall is 65%, don’t quote me on that. But once we get below a certain percentage of student capacity, then it costs more to actually operate the school than it does – than we gather revenue for the student body in there. And so then we’re basically losing money operating those schools. And so how do we take, you know, move students around? Because we have students growing in the north and we don’t have students growing in the south. We have these buildings down here that we start to pay for.
It’s a tricky problem, you know what I mean? And so we have to work our way through these over the next couple of years to find the best way forward for everyone and not say “oh, we’re just going to pay for everything that everyone wants.” And no family operates that way, either. And as we move into a recession now, a lot of people are losing their jobs right now or taking pay cuts or having to get another job that doesn’t pay as much as the last job. And then each of us in our home and in our family, we also have to learn how to operate with less sometimes. And should that come to the school district, we’ll have to operate the same. And that’s affected by what’s happening statewide and nationwide and globally with our economies and our interrelated economies with other countries.
Q: You mentioned that the district was in around $2 billion of debt?
A: I believe it’s $1 billion of structural debt with $1 and a half billion of interest payments over the next 30 years for that $1 billion. I think it’s $2 and a half billion, off the top of my head.
Q: What we’re wondering is how did the district get into this sort of position?
A: Well, the way the debt is generally spent is on building buildings, and so as we’ve been a fast-growth district for 20 years, we’ve been taking – we’ve been issuing bond debt and using that bond debt primarily to build buildings. They’ve done other things with it as well, but primarily it’s to build facilities like Cedar Park High School or to repair the older facilities. Sometimes they have, you know, heating and air conditioning systems that can’t be repaired. They have to be completely replaced and there’s no equivalent replacement, so then you have to re-engineer it, and re-engineering and engineering system, it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars of engineering fees just to re-engineer how you’re going to replace the air conditioning system for a 25-year-old school where you can’t fix your ACs anymore because there’s no more parts and it’s way past warranty.
So that’s generally how we get into bond debt. And I don’t have a sense where our bond debt is relative to other schools because I haven’t seen a benchmark for that. So given our size, our tax revenue, our number of students – is our debt really high? Is it average, is it low? I just don’t have a frame of reference, but before I have an opinion of whether our bond debt is a risk or if we’re fine with it, I’d want to see a benchmark to other areas. Right now, the taxation level we’re at, we’re able to manage our debt, service our debt and we can see long into the future servicing our debt that we have now. That doesn’t mean we could take another $800 million of bond debt and service it fine. That’s a whole different question that would need to be answered separately.
Q: So you’d say most of this debt comes from the maintenance and operations stuff?
A: Debt mostly comes from building schools, right? Now, maintenance and operations is actually taking care of the schools after they’re built. So we’ll borrow the money to build the school and then maintenance and operation is, we’ll gather through taxes every year, assessments on properties to pay for maintenance and then operations, which is basically the buildings, the buses, the teachers, maintenance, et cetera.
Q: So do you have any children of your own, and have they been LISD students, and how is their experience in this district if they were?
A: Yeah, we have three great children. Two of them already graduated here from Cedar Park High School – Go Timberwolves. And they had a good experience in school. They had challenges, like all of us do growing up, we have challenges of middle school and our issues with friends and just the normal stuff. And they had some great, fantastic teachers that contributed along the way, whether it was in Madrigals, or the choir here that we went through, or the dance groups. One of my daughters was in the dance troupes in middle school and in art, my daughters are artists. My son, he’s 15, he’s in the Junior ROTC over at Leander High School, and he loves it there. So we’ve had a really great experience in the school, and we’re grateful that we moved here because it was a destination district, right? And that chart of outcomes of LISD, you know, academics, on-track academics I showed you guys? When we moved here, we were at the edge of the top quartile. So our scores were very, very high in 2008, 2009. And here we are about 15 years later, and the district’s academics have dropped dramatically in the last five years.
Q: And in the last two years, election integrity has become a really hot topic in politics. So do you believe there are problems with the election system locally or nationally?
A: So as I’ve observed humans and humanity over time, there’s always people who try to cheat in life to guarantee their outcomes. And that’s just always happened everywhere. As far as how big of an issue it is right now, factually, I just don’t know. I don’t have the facts to tell me one way or another. There are a lot of people out there who are very upset about this topic and are looking very closely at it. And I trust that, you know, the truth will come out eventually, that we can rely on. And it’s very hard to wade through sources of information, right? Particularly because it’s so easy to spread information digitally. And how do you know the reliability of that? I really – that’s the question I ask all the time is how do you know. When someone says “Oh, did you know this?” I’m like “Well, how do you know and where’s your source of that information? And is it reliable, is it proven over time?” So my answer is, I’m not really sure. Certainly, there’s always been cheating. Certainly there’s cheating now in all sports of life. Even the Tour de France has cheating.
Q: And would you accept the outcome of this election if you did lose?
A: Oh, of course. Yeah, absolutely. But I’m not going to lose. Vote Scott Reese, let’s do this thing.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: You know, I think that the future of our world is always and will always be in the hands of our children. And as fathers and mothers, we love our children and we know them the best. And as a school board member, I’m dedicated to make sure that your relationship with your child is protected to the best as it is provided by Chapter 26 of the Texas Education Code that guarantees your parental rights with your children, and also that the school is going to treat you as a full partner, if I have anything to say about it as a board member, to help your kids have their best shot at their start in life with what role the school is supposed to play. So feel free to look at my phone number on my website, scottreeseforkids.com, anyone’s free to call me. I’d be happy to talk to anyone who has any questions about where I stand and why. And let’s do this thing together. There’s no easy answers. This is a complex thing, but let’s get some competent, committed people together who love kids and let’s improve this district one day at a time. Thank you so much.