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April 29th, 2008
San Marcos League of Women Voters debate – Part 1

The San Marcos League of Women Voters (LWV) held a San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (SMCISD) trustee candidate debate last night at the San Marcos Activity Center. The local league has been sponsoring such debates for over forty years. More than fifty people attended the debate, which included candidates for single member districts one and two. Jesse Ponce, Jr., unopposed candidate for single member three was in attendance, but under league rules, did not participate in the debate.

Jeannie Lewis organized the event on behalf of the league. Rebecca Burroughs, President of the local league, welcomed everyone and spoke briefly on the league’s activities. Kaylene Ray, past league president, moderated the debate.

David T. Castillo and Joe Castillo, candidates for single member district one, were the first candidates to debate. Lee “Barry” Davis, a third candidate for the seat, was unable to attend due to his participation at a conference.

In his opening remarks, David Castillo introduced himself as a graduate of San Marcos High School (1983) and of Texas State University. He is one of ten children, all of whom graduated from our high school. Mr Castillo described his family as a “migrant farm worker family.” In terms of his career, he said that “I have been teaching for twenty years.” He thanked the G.I. Women’s Forum for a college scholarship and thanked Dr. Carlos Rodriquez for being a “great mentor.” He ended by saying he wanted to contribute to the community.

Joe Castillo, the school board incumbent, noted that when he joined the school board in August, 2001, it was badly divided and was “dealing with a financial crisis.” Since he has been on the board, Joe Castillo says the district’s fund balance has increased from $1,186,000 to $14,090,000, and the school district voters approved a bond package in 2004. Castillo then spoke about his experience.

In addition to his school board service, he has served on our city’s zoning commission., Main Street Advisory Board, the SMCISD Budget Committee, the city’s Housing Authority Board, the Hays County Civic Center Advisory Board, the Hays County Area Food Bank, and currently is on the Appraisal District. His goals are to increase academic achievement, work on teacher’s salaries and the student drop out rate.

Ms. Ray read Mr. Davis’s statement. Davis said he has been a resident of Hays County since 1972 and all four of his children attended school in our school district K through 12. He apologized for missing the debate but had a prior commitment to attend a conference of the Saigon Mission Association. He served three years in the US military and then worked for six years for the Defense Department. Davis noted that he started and operated a concrete company for years. He is a member of the American Legion, the Greater San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce, and the VFW. He is retired now and has time for community service. Davis believes “It is now time for change on the school board.”

The two present candidates disagreed on the first question regarding a mis-perception that San Marcos is an under-performing school district. David Castillo answered, “It is not a mis-perception” and he pointed to the drop out rate as an example. He said “we need to challenge our kids. They aren’t motivated or inspired.” He ended by saying that we need to give them examples of success.

Joe Castillo disagreed saying, “There is a mis-perception” that our school district is under-performing. He said that the district has “begun programs to deal with the drop out rate” and asserted “we are a positive district.”

In rebuttal, David Castillo said, there is a “huge concern that we are losing a lot of students and teachers to other districts.” David Castillo asserted that “the only ones not aware of the situation are school board members.”

The candidates were then asked why they sought election to the school board. Joe Castillo said that “there are new initiatives” that he would “like to see completed, like the grade realignment.” David Castillo said he was running to improve the school district. He said an “issue he wants to hit hard is the drop out rate.” A second issue is teacher morale. In rebuttal, Joe Castillo disagreed that teacher morale was a problem.

On the role of a school board member, David Castillo said that living here and graduating from here would help him know the school district. He added that the board members “need to be good role models, give 100%, and practice good and effective governance.”

Joe Castillo said that the role should be to establish a vision and goals for the district. Additionally, the board establishes policy for the district and oversees the superintendent.

The candidate’s had different goals for the SMCISD. Joe Castillo wants academic achievement to improve, “narrow the achievement gap, and cultivate a culture of high expectations. Finally, we need to maintain the fiscal health of the district.”

David Castillo identified the drop out rate, teacher morale and teacher retention as being very important. He also noted that the pregnancy rate is high. He stressed, “we need to have parent involvement.”

There were a number of questions from the audience. Ted Marchut said that 53% of our high school students took the SAT with a mean score of 961. In Hays, 67% took the SAT with a mean score of 965 and in Wimberley, 82% took the SAT with a mean score of 1070. He then asked how anyone can refer to this as “wonderful”?

Joe Castillo answered that “our demographics are different” from the other districts mentioned and described good scores as “remarkable”. He did say he thought “all school districts are not preparing our students for college.” David Castillo said he agreed with the questioner, adding ” We need to build an environment that encourages learning. We need to enhance the connections between school and work.”

Dr. Judy Allen, current school board member, asked if it was the school district’s responsibility to decrease teen pregnancy. David Castillo said that there was a role and that it was in the health classes and “not just an hour class.” He said that there are innovative ways to deal with the issue. Joe Castillo did agree “that there is a teen pregancy issue,” and that it is not unique to San Marcos. He added that we “need to educate our kids about the consequences.”

A citizen asked about the superintendent’s $166,000 salary. Joe Castillo answered that since “we want to have a superintendent with experience, we need to pay what we paid.” David Castillo answered that the salary “is a concern of mine.” He added that with that type of salary, “We shouldn’t be paying for moving expenses. We shouldn’t be paying for an apartment in Austin.”

In the concluding statements, Joe Castillo reminded voters that he has served on the school board for six and a half years and that “we are going in the right direction.” David Castillo said, “I’m going to challenge all of you. We need to change the SMCISD. I hope you will vote for me.” He ended by saying that he had graduated from our high school and that “I have worked in education for twenty years.”

By ED MIHALKANIN
Correspondent

Audio of the debate

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Click here for the second half of the debate with the district 2 nominees.

School board election early voting runs from April 28 to May 6. Election day is May 10. Please click here to find full information on times, dates, and places for early voting and election day voting for SMCISD school board elections.

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