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Photo Courtesy of Trish Bode

Trish Bode – Place 1

Candidate and current President of the Board of Trustees, Trish Bode, is running against candidate David Doman and candidate Mike Sanders.

Q: What makes you interested in running for the school board?

A: Well, I’ve been on the school board since 2015, and what initially started was I kept hearing what legislators, the lawmakers were saying was going to happen in our schools. And it didn’t seem to be happening the same way they said it was going to happen. So I thought “Well, I want to help be a bridge or a connection,” because so much of my job was following legislation. And then I got engaged and involved. My kiddos have graduated – well, one of my kiddos, my oldest graduated in high school here. My youngest is still here. So having two kids in our school system, I wanted to be a part of making it better, but it’s also making it better for our community. And now that I’ve been here as long as I have, I love, love doing this so much.

Q: We know you’re on the school board, but what other past experiences make you qualified to represent the school board?

A: Absolutely. So I’ve spent over a decade in my career. I’m in corporate communications, but a lot of my job is watching and reporting out and kind of interacting with our lawmakers as they pass legislation at the Texas level. So we watch legislation and regulatory. So, think about the conversations that happen on an idea or thought all the way until something becomes a law, and then when it goes through the rulemaking process. So I spend a lot of time interacting and reviewing and getting information out to people about what is happening in Texas at a state level.

And then I currently am president of the Central Texas School Board Association, so I work with trustees and our central Texas area as we talk about what are the needs for our public education students. I also serve as one of four members on the legislative committee for TASB (Texas Association of School Boards), and I was elected to the LAC (Legislative Advisory Council) at TASB. I also did a graduation art class in 2017 at Leadership TASB. And then I spend a considerable amount of time just volunteering where I can in the community. I will say, since I’ve been on the school board, that hasn’t been as much. It’s been a busy time. As you know, 2019 kind of threw a challenge and everything. And so we’ve been quite busy since then. 

Q: So what would you say that your stance is on Proposition A and why?

A: My stance is I hope we can get everyone as educated on the information that’s really out there. I’m afraid there’s some miscommunication going on. I am so in favor as an individual of Proposition A, because Proposition A is how we pay back recapture. And so when you vote yes, you’re voting that we can, basically, the district can, write the check and pay it back. If you vote no, then what you’re saying is “I want the state to make these choices. I want the state to go detach property and permanently commercial value,” and we never get it back. So that’s why I would be in favor of Proposition A.

Q: And what is your stance on Proposition B? 

A: And so my stance on Proposition B is, as an individual and a candidate, I’m highly supportive of it. We need to get education into our classroom. And Proposition B really wasn’t about trying to raise taxes on the community. It is simply moving a tax rate, the pennies we have from one bucket to another. It’s about moving funds. I understand that there’s confusion, right? The tax valuations are so much more than they used to be. You could have a $600,000 house and now it’s a million and a half. That is not what the school district is in control of. We are in control of, basically, what the state said is “If you want to move those pennies around, you can, but you need to go to the taxpayers and ask them.” And so that’s what the board voted to do. Really interesting, though, when we go ask taxpayers, they don’t see what we already did to reduce the rate.

So the taxpayers aren’t voting on the I&S (interest and sinking) reduction that we already gave them. Right? So when we made that change from one bucket to another, we reduced 13 cents out of I&S, so we can ask for a little more in M&O (maintenance and operations), but still overall give you a 6-cent tax break. But voters won’t see that. When they go to the ballot, they’re only talking about M&O on the ballot language. So it’s very confusing to the community. And of course, the community says ”Well, my taxes are going up.” Yes, they are, but it’s the equivalent of hurting the messenger rather than really going at the heart of the issue, which is that the state needs to find a better way to fund our public education.

And that’s who we really have an argument with. That’s who we really need to be talking to. Don’t take Proposition B out on your school district. Don’t take it out on the students. We need that public funding. Take it out and go argue with your legislature. Because us asking for property taxes to pay for public education, we need the state to take their fair share. Currently, in Leander ISD, over 70% of your property tax dollars are paying for public education, the state’s only picking up 23%. And that was last year. While the state says “Oh, we want to get to half,” they’re not even close to half. And that’s the real problem.

Q: So in the event that Prop B does not pass and the district ends up needing to cut over $32 million from the budget the next school year, where specifically would you say the cuts should come from? Say, the top three places.

A: Yes. So the challenge is the board doesn’t do like, “Oh, I want this position or that position,” that’s really not a trustee role. What the board does is say “Administration, we have certain parameters we want you to go look at and bring us back the information.” So the administration will be doing a lot of that work. I can tell you, the board has said that we want forward-facing classroom positions to be the last positions that we look at eliminating, removing, reducing.

But, I can also tell you that when you have a budget that is 87% right now of payroll in benefits and 1% of that is district administration, that means that there’s going to be some hard choices. Now, the district and administration has always worked hard to try to bring reasonable information or reasonable ways for us to look at information, reasonable information for us to say, like, as a trustee, “Here’s the thought we put into it. Here are the positions.” But yes, if we ended up having to cut $32 million, I guess what I’m saying is it would be significant. 

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

A: Yes, absolutely. I think this is a day and age right now where it’s sometimes easy, when something’s not going well, to shift the blame. To say, “Oh, I’m not happy with X, so it must be all this person’s fault or that person’s fault.” But, I think what helps is if we just have a dialogue and a discussion about what are we really doing. So what has the superintendent been doing? Dr. Gearing has fought hard to make sure the school doors stay open. He’s had to navigate through two different public health authorities, giving maybe different advice on how to do that through COVID. He’s brought that information to the board. I appreciate the information coming to the board, I think that is clear.

We need to continue to work hand in hand together, navigating through whatever other challenges come up. We saw again that communications structure come to light when Winter Storm Uri happened. And I believe that Dr. Gearing has continued, at least in my conversations and when I’ve seen him interact, focused on student voice, student choice – really looking at what do our teachers need and our students need. He pushes back hard if you start asking about a STAAR score or any type of metrics or trying any type of pigeonhole in the box, He wants to say, “Let’s look at the full picture.” I think there’s some really good information when you look at the whole picture and really weighs to help your system. I think our system is stable, but I think we’re going to keep hearing the question of how can we improve? I think Dr. Gearing has put out his vision and he’s looking at ways that we can improve and be future-ready.

Q: So I know you mentioned that you have some children who have been through the school system. How were their experiences in the district, would you say?

A: I think they’re different. Their experiences are different. No two kids are ever exactly alike. My daughter did not enjoy AP courses, she liked dual credit. That was her thing. And then when she – she did theater. When she graduated, she went to Texas State. She graduated during the COVID year, that was a rough year. Think about it, no homecoming, no prom. I mean, just all the end-of-year senior activities done. It was an interesting year. But I think Leander ISD prepared her so that when she went to college, she was able to be resilient and bounce back. And so she found her groove and is doing quite well, thank you for asking. And then my son is in high school and he likes AP. That’s his thing. And he is in band and loving that. And so I told him, ok, that’s enough. I think band and AP will keep you busy for a while. But they are different in how they responded to the education and learning, but they both benefited.

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

A: I would say again, if you are just looking at the school as the only actor in our financial situation, you would be hurting the messenger. We have a property tax situation structure that was set up, given to us by the state. I think the board and the district have worked phenomenally to try to navigate interesting factors. We had our property tax valuations. We were going to do prior year property tax, now we’re doing current year property tax. We had one type of funding structure before, now we have HB3 (House Bill 3) funding structure. We used to be able to set a tax rate as a school board so we can explain to taxpayers, I think, better M&O and I&S, but now you can’t do that. It’s MCR, maximum compress rate, for M&O.

So, there are changes with the legislature constantly giving into the system. I would say that the school district, in light of those changes, has still continued to work carefully to do conservative budget practice, see what do we really need as a district and where our dollar is going. We will continue as we move forward. I would advocate and want to continue to be able to look at how do we run, I guess, streamlined and efficient with our budget, but not so much this like you’re penny wise, pound foolish, you want to make sure that you spend the money where it will impact our students in the classroom and in your programs.

Q: Also, in the last two years, election integrity has become a very hot topic in politics. Do you believe that there are any issues with our election system, either locally or nationally?

A: Right. I think we have, from everything that I’ve seen from all the people who take part; we’ve got training, we’ve got people who are all part of the process. And so I think we can always say, how can we do it better? But I am not aware of anything that would make me doubt or wonder. Our elections are run fairly at the poll in Leander ISD, in our district. 

Q: Do you accept the outcome of the election? 

A: Yes. Public gets to make their voice, right? So whatever the public wants. I mean, we’re going to go with that. I think that’s a good way to do it. And if I can go back to one thing you asked about finances? We have had reports where Fitch came out and said that not only do we enjoy double and triple-A ratings because we access the FSP program, but they’ve also said that we seldom realize our deficit budgets because of the conservative practicing principles. So we have S&P and Fitch coming out there and saying, “You guys, we’re giving you a double-A rating.” We don’t – actually, they were not giving me, we earned that double-A rating through our practices in the district. So I would say we’ve done pretty good so far with our financials.

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