The candidates for the Victoria school board offered different stances on the district closing several schools but shared similar views about the district’s future during a debate Monday night at the University of Houston-Victoria.
More than 50 people stayed after the mayor and city council candidate debates Monday to hear what the candidates running for the Super District 7 spot on the Victoria Independent School District Board of Trustees had to say.
The three candidates – David Steves, Mike Mercer and Henry Wood – each took time to answer six questions during the debate.
One of the questions asked of the candidates involved whether they would have voted to close several VISD schools.
March 21, the Victoria school board decided in a 5-2 vote to move forward with recommendations from the efficiency and resource management task force to merge F.W. Gross, William Wood and Guadalupe elementary schools with other campuses, while the students of Mitchell Guidance Center would be moved to a wing at Liberty Academy. The decision was made in order to save the district money.
Steves, 42, a lab technician, said he thought the right decision was made but said he thought the board did not have enough time to make such a decision. If he were on the board, Steves said, he would want more time and information about the consequences the decision would have down the road.
“I fear that someday, we’ll have to revisit the same issue, to either open a new school or close down more schools,” he said.
Wood, a retired chief system operator for South Texas Cooperative, said he would have voted in favor based on the information given to the board at the meeting. Wood said he is focused on what is next after the schools merge but said he wishes he had seen an impact analysis on the merger from the district.
“Hard decision, but we (the district) have to get ourselves back on track financially ... Are there going to be inconveniences? Yes, there are. Will there be unintended consequences? Yes, I’m afraid there is,” Wood, 59, said.
Mercer said he was asked the same question from community members leading up to and during the vote, and his initial answer, he said, was that the idea “stinks.” He commended the task force and the board for making a decision from the most plausible solution, he said, but would not have voted in favor that night.
“If I had to vote that night, I think I would have voted no ... It was a time factor,” Mercer, 49, said.
Mercer said he now supports the merger and the students.
Another question asked of the candidates is whether they would support a bond issue in the future and how they would promote the bond to the community.
Steves said he would support a bond if one were necessary, such as to fix older campuses like Mission Valley Elementary. What he would like to see differently would be choices for the bond.
“We could choose between fixing or building new schools, or fixing and building new schools and a stadium ... I support all of that,” Steves said.
Wood said he would support a bond but would like to see the district in a better financial position first. The district has said the fund balance has been declining for years.
“I think that might be challenging to go out for a bond issue under those circumstances,” Wood said.
Wood also said the board would have to lead by positivity and commitment for a bond if one was needed. In 2017, voters rejected a $141.2 million bond proposal that would have replaced four schools, renovated 17 others and constructed a multi-activity complex.
Mercer, who manages a construction company, said a bond is a necessary tool and he would support a it if the district was in a good place financially. Mercer said to build support, he would help send out the message that the district is taking fiscal responsibility seriously and communicate that to the community.
“It (the bond) would have to fit where we want VISD to be, not tomorrow, not five years down the road but 10, 15 and 20 years down the road,” Mercer said.