Monday, May 12, 2014

RISD School Board Election Analysis

Justin Bono and Kristin Kuhne won election to the Richardson ISD school board Saturday by large margins. Unofficial results:

  • Place 6
    • Justin Bono: 64%
    • Rachel Chumney: 36%
  • Place 7
    • Kristin Kuhne: 69%
    • Judy Yarbrough: 23%
    • Bonnie Abadie: 8%

After the jump, I'll give my own analysis of the election, which is just my opinion, of course. There was no exit polling done to learn from the voters as a whole why they voted the way they did.

Again, these are just my own observations of the election. Whether they apply to voters as a whole is an open question. Open only because no one asked the voters. If they had, surely the pollster would find that I am not representative of RISD as a whole. (For one thing, I vote.) Enough disclaimer, already. On with analysis.

Bonnie Abadie

In two tries for school board, Abadie emphasized her interest in improving education for special and gifted students. Abadie always called attention to her service on the RISD Council of PTAs SAGE (Special and Gifted Education) committee and her own experience raising a gifted child. So, in my opinion, Abadie stumbled badly when, in answer to a question at the League of Women Voters forum regarding a recent dyslexia audit conducted by the RISD, Abadie said, in part, "I don't know how I missed that audit. I have not seen the audit results, either." This was her home run pitch and instead of knocking it out of the park, Abadie whiffed.

Judy Yarbrough

The self-stated theme of Yarbrough's campaign was to re-engage the community of those who no longer have children in school. She would like to see retirees look for ways they can offer back to the schools. That's all well and good, but school boards need more than people with time on their hands. Volunteering through your local PTA is a better way to make use of your free time.

Like Abadie, Yarbrough also admitted that she hadn't seen the results of the dyslexia audit. Given that this was the most contentious issue in the RISD in the last two elections, Yarbrough's admission indicated a candidate who hadn't done her homework and wasn't ready for a place on the school board.

Rachel Chumney

Chumney ran a good campaign. It was a positive campaign. Chumney emphasized her support for public education, for RISD, its teachers and administrators. At that LWV forum, I agreed with every answer Chumney gave.

So, why did Chumney fare no better than a year ago? Could it be that many voters remember her performance from a year ago? Last year, I had many serious reservations with Chumney's answers in the LWV forum. First impressions are hard to change and, for many voters, they may have carried over to this year's election.

A move I expected to pay off for Chumney was snagging Richardson Mayor Laura Maczka's endorsement. Maczka even made a robo-call for Chumney. The move did not pay off. We learned that Maczka's influence outside the Richardson city council is limited. We also learned that Maczka and Richardson Coalition PAC leader Charles Eisemann don't always march in lockstep. Eisemann endorsed Chumney's opponent, Justin Bono.

Justin Bono

Bono was known in the Lake Highlands area before this election, but he had little name recognition district wide. His website (or rather, Facebook page) reads like a Lake Highlands community booster site. Still, as voting results show, his support was much wider than his online presence might suggest.

Speaking of online presence, as far as I could tell, Bono didn't set up a website besides that Facebook page. And in his mailers, he didn't even mention that. He instructed voters seeking more information to email him or telephone him. Not a sign of a 21st century candidate, if you ask me. (But you'd expect a blogger like me to think that, right?)

Bono managed to snag endorsements of six former RISD trustees as well as the Dallas city council member, state representative and state senator who represent the Lake Highlands area. But other than a few scattered postings on his Facebook page, Bono neglected to make much use of these endorsements. A missed opportunity, in my mind.

Bono's performance at the LWV forum was generally good, with one glaring exception. When asked whether Creationism should be taught in science classes, Bono alone, of five candidates, answered yes. His actions on the RISD school board deserve heightened scrutiny to make sure the district as a whole does nothing to promote this misguided idea.

Kristin Kuhne

Kuhne is an RISD graduate, is a parent of RISD students, has experience as a PTA and civic volunteer, and has a doctorate in education policy. In other words, an impeccable résumé. She also has an impressive list of endorsements, including Richardson Mayor Maczka and former Mayor Gary Slagel as well as community leader Charles Eisemann.

Kuhne's performance at the LWV forum was good. I would like to hear both her and Justin Bono talk more about charter schools, which Kuhne indicated she supports while Bono said he does not.

Kuhne had no missteps on the way to accumulating an impressive 69% of the vote in a three-way race and the largest number of votes of all candidates in both races.

My congratulations to Justin Bono and Kristin Kuhne. My thanks to all candidates who put themselves out there in an effort to improve our schools. The RISD and the community as a whole are the better for your selfless service.

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