Voters in the upcoming Galveston Independent School board of trustees District 6-F election will choose among three candidates — one a former board member trying to regain his position after resigning, another a real estate and historic preservation officer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and a third with a long history of occupying elected and appointed positions in the city.
The school board race — one of two that will be on some Galveston voters’ ballots — will pit Johnny Smecca, Beau Rawlins and Sandra Tetley against one another to assume a seat left vacant when Rawlins resigned in February and the board decided against appointing someone to the position.
“I call a spade a spade,” Rawlins said. “I made a few maverick decisions that maybe the new superintendent thought meant I didn’t fit in the direction she wanted to go. But the way it’s supposed to be, we are supposed to lead the administration.”
Rawlins, a contractor and one-time mayoral candidate, resigned from the seat he held for nine years, citing personal issues that required him to move out of the district. But he said his permanent address never changed.
District officials initially withheld Rawlins’s name from the ballot but agreed to submit it after his attorney threatened legal action.
Rawlins went on to endorse Tetley for his position while trustees were considering appointing someone. However, he said Friday that he wanted his seat back and the two agreed to let the voters decide.
The two candidates have made several joint decisions over the course of the campaign, such as, along with District 5-E candidate Laura Addison, declining to attend a candidate forum sponsored by The Daily News. Both said they believed the forums were biased against them.
“It’s a shame, because it could be good for everyone,” Tetley said. “It’s just the whole way it was put together showed us how one-sided and unfair it was. I think that was perpetuated through the powers that be in the city and the district.”
Smecca agreed to attend the forum.
Smecca, who co-owns Galveston Restaurant Group, has cited his experience on various city boards, including the city council, the wharves board and park board, and his knowledge of business.
“When the wharves board held a finance committee meeting, we would spend hours going over the budget and finances and every shortfall and increase in revenues,” Smecca said. “They call a finance committee meeting to go over things before the whole board meets. They don’t look at the budget each month. I want to start looking at every check that is cut. It’s not micromanaging I want, but just an extra level of attentiveness.”
Each candidate addressed the need to find areas to save money as the board has passed deficit budgets several times over the past 10 years, including in August when it approved a budget that anticipates $86.2 million in expenses and $83.8 million in revenue.
Superintendent Kelli Moulton hasn’t presented a plan to fix the problem of deficit budgets yet, Rawlins said.
“You’ve got to streamline some services and, again, be consistent with programing,” Rawlins said. “They spend more in experimenting instead of coming up with a vision and sticking with it.”
Rawlins cited his nine years experience on the board combined with knowledge of specific programming as reasons he should be elected.
“I’m a middle of the road choice between the other candidates,” Rawlins said. “I’m not coming in and presenting a grand vision of the future. I just want to use frugal spending to create a great space for learning.”
As Rawlins and Smecca touted their experience in elected positions, Tetley hit back at the idea that she lacked experience.
“I have the benefit of working in a government agency dealing with many similar things to the district,” Tetley said. “I’ve also been in private industry. I’m a candidate who has not only experience outside of Galveston, but I’m also in the job that fits the best.”
All three candidates expressed some hesitancy at the possibility of calling for a school bond election to solve financial difficulties.
“From what I understand, there’s an opportunity to go to taxpayers and ask them to let us raise funds without a tax increase,” Smecca said. “That is the only thing I could support at this point.”
Some trustees have proposed calling a bond election in May to address some of the district’s deferred maintenance costs, which contribute to the budget deficits.
Smecca said district officials would have to consider selling property and making sure everything is running as efficiently as it could be before he’d sign off on calling for a bond election with a tax increase.
Rawlins and Tetley both said they wouldn’t rule out a bond election but would need to consider the matter further before endorsing one.
“I know a lot of work was done after Ike,” Tetley said. “It’s odd less than 10 years after we would need so much facility work.”
Both Tetley and Rawlins said they were concerned about some aspects of district finances, including an estimated $17 million in Hurricane Ike recovery funds still owed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a recent decision to hire a new administrative team at Central Middle School at an expense of an additional $670,000 to the district’s budget.
“They OK’d a $3 million budget deficit, but they hired a campus administrative team for what you’d spend for four schools’ worth of administration,” Rawlins said.
Smecca, meanwhile, was more optimistic about the new administrative team and the role of the trustees and administration in general.
“The board is some of the smartest people I know,” Smecca said. “I expect they know their fields and that’s why I’m so different, with my background in business and government.”
Early voting starts today. Election Day is Nov. 7.