Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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April 27, 2014

CISD Trustees Election candidate profiles

There is one contested race on the May 10 ballot for the Corsicana Independent School District Board of Trustees. Incumbent Leah Blackard is being challenged by Rick Newton. The Daily Sun interviewed the two candidates and their profiles are presented in alphabetical order.

Leah Blackard

Leah Blackard views her service on the Corsicana Independent School District Board of Trustees as a way of giving back to the community that's given so much to her and her family.
Blackard is seeking re-election to her seat in the May 10 election, in what would be her third term on the board.
Blackard, 40, was born and raised in Corsicana, a 1992 Corsicana High School graduate. Her family's roots go back even more, she said.
“My parents met in first grade at Lee Elementary,” she said. Blackard and her husband have two children who attend CISD as well.
After college in Denton and starting her career in the Metroplex area, she and husband Stephen decided to return to Corsicana in 2001, where she took over leadership of the Navarro Council of the Arts when Sylvia Bonin retired.
With the connection between the Arts Council and the schools, Blackard began to focus on the role of the school district and its trustees, and became involved with the Corsicana Education Foundation, serving as its president.
After chairing a committee on the standardized dress committee for then-Superintendent Don Denbow, Blackard decided to run for the school board 2008 when Donna Ralston retired from the board. She was unopposed in her re-election bid in 2011.
“It's become a real passion for me,” Blackard said. “I'm proud of the job we're doing for the kids, I'm proud of the teachers.”
Blackard said she feels the CISD is doing a lot of “great things” right now, driving her desire to stay on the board.
“I'm really proud of the fact that we've approved balanced budgets and been able to put money into savings every year,” she said. She said trustees have raised the district's fund balance by 30 percent over the last six years.
“That's important because we're unsure about how school finances are going to be from the state,” Blackard said.
Still, she said, the district has been able to fund such improvements as a $5 million technology upgrade to better address the demands of today's educators and students.
Blackard said actions by the district in refinancing some existing bond debt also saved taxpayers $7.7 million in lower interest costs on the borrowed money.
She's also proud of the board's action in granting raises to teachers and staff this past year – a 3.5 percent increase to all the district's employees.
“My number one focus has always been retaining and rewarding great teachers,” she said. “I am a firm believer in as small a classroom as we can get, and they need to be paid as much as we can.”
Blackard said she was equally proud of the board's ability to lower the district's tax rate last year (due to the debt refinancing)  while still increasing the district's fund balance.
Looking forward, aging buildings in the district and a growing student population will be challenges that the district will have to meet.
She said the work of the current facilities study committee will be important for the district and its leaders.
Support for another bond election would depend, she said, on what the proposal contains.
“I feel like our aging buildings are an issue,” she said. “I understand we have issues with our buildings and we also have a lot of children in portable buildings … I would have to make sure the needs are there and the money is right.”
 

Rick Newton

Retired educator Rick Newton is hoping to have the opportunity to help lead the district he worked for as a new member of the Corsicana Independent School District Board of Trustees.
Newton, 58, is running against board member Leah Blackard, who is seeking her third term as a trustee.
Newton said he is running “to give people a choice” in the leadership  of the district, and to give back to the community and the people who were so helpful to him in his career in Corsicana.
The retired teacher and coach attended high school in Plano (his dad was the principal while he was there) and earned degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and UNT. He moved to Corsicana in 1990 from Lindale to join the staff of Tiger football coach Don Denbow.
Newton said some interesting family ties to Corsicana makes him think he was “destined” to live here.
“My grandfather worked for Mr. Bunch as a funeral director here and in Blooming Grove, and my father-in-law was one of the four original members of the Medical Arts Clinic,” he said.
Newton's CISD career saw him move from the classroom to administration, serving as district coordinator until his retirement in 2012. His wife, Joanne, also a teacher, still teaches part-time at Navarro College.
Newton said he's running for two reasons – to give voters a choice at the polls on May 10, and to give back to the community and the district.
“CISD has been so good to me and my family,” he said. “I couldn't have asked for better … my life has been blessed and my family has been blessed by CISD. And, I see an opportunity to give back.”
Newton said he believes that quality teachers are vital to the district's success, but all district employees play an important role.
“We need to look at the salary structure of our teachers, and the support staff,” he said. “Everybody associated with the school district does a fantastic job and I would like to see them receive more compensation if possible.”
Challenges for the district in Newton's view includes working on improving attendance, and increasing parental involvement.
Still, he says, it comes back to the quality people in the classroom to drive student success.
“Quality people, given all the educational support, and support from central office administrators, in partnership with the parents – it makes a difference. I think that's the key,” he said.
Newton added that the demographics and socio-economic base in Corsicana and the county also present a challenge for educators.
“That makes the great job that our teachers do more difficult,” Newton said.
Newton said the district needs to focus on students and the programs they participate in, and the faculty and support staff.
“Buildings are important, don't get me wrong,” he said, “but I think the money that we have needs to go into those classrooms … give that teacher everything that they need to do what they have to do to get those kids prepared.”
Newton said he supported the 2013 CISD bond election that voters rejected, and would look closely at what would be included in any new proposal.
“I would have to see what they put in the bond issue,” he said. “I know there are some improvements that definitely need to be made.”
Newton said he believes his 34 years as an instructor and administrator qualifies him to serve as a CISD trustee.
“I know what goes on in the classrooms,” he said. “I know what good teaching and good instruction is. I know what an objective evaluation is and what's supposed to happen.”
Early voting for the May 10 election begins Monday
        ‑‑‑‑‑
Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com

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