Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Candidate Fails Partisanship Test - Updated

This is another one of those local issues that may not interest anyone outside my zip code, but a recent Letter to the Editor in a local paper, The Katy Courier, caught my attention, not for the strength of its argument, which it lacks, but because it raises an issue the letter's author needs to consider. Let's see if he will listen.

In a none too surprising turn of events, our rapidly growing school district, Katy ISD, has put forth another bond proposal - to raise money for new schools to keep up with growth, improve existing schools, technology upgrades and the like. In the six years I've lived here, this has become a yearly event. There is no debate that the district is growing and these needs must be addressed. There is, however, growing concern around town for the amount of debt being accrued, the need for new schools vs. Possibly shifting enrollment to underutilized ones, and a deeper question about the way the district, school board and developers work together so seamlessly.

The author of the afore mentioned letter is a fairly well-known critic of the district and current candidate for the school board. He is: a member of a watchdog group that looks closely into school spending and its effect on homeowners (especially those without children in the district); has fought the Katy Zero Tolerance program that sends a high number of children to alternative school for relatively minor infractions; and filed a lawsuit last year against the district after it was shown administrative officials, in violation of state law, used school computers to send out e-mails to teachers districtwide asking them to please vote for incumbents to keep the board a happy place. All in all, Fred Hink is a man with whom I have much more in common than the subject of this post would suggest.

My problem is actually two fold. First, Mr. Hink's letter did him no credit in the way it was written or for the points it tried to make. It was petty and mean-spirited when it did not need to be in order to get its point across and then failed to make the points the author claimed to address, but headed off on a tangent that is the basis of my chief complaint. At this point I would link to the letter, but I do not subscribe to the paper in question and so it is behind the wall for me. If you are reading this, would like to read the letter in its entirety and don't mind subscribing to the Katy Courier, you can google them. For everybody else, let me see if I can set the stage for tonight's debate.

On April 18th Katy school superintendent Leonard Merrell was invited to speak to a civic group about the upcoming bond election. The Katy Courier covered the event and raved about Merrell's presentation and the great turnout for the event, without ever noting that it was the monthly meeting of the Katy Area Democrats. This angered Mr. Hink and to be fair, I agree it should have been mentioned by the paper. And Mr. Hink would be well within his rights to ask whether the superintendent had been invited to speak at a Republican gathering, or more pointedly, to invite him to speak with the Katy Citizen Watchdog$. Mr. Hink did none of these things. Instead he went on a rant about the "thinly veiled 'factual forums' (that) are presented using district personnel to lay out the 'facts' and members of a political action committee - funded largely by contractors and other businesses that would gain if the bond passes - take over and rally the troops to 'vote smart, vote yes'." He goes on the rail at the poor attendance at the events he had been to and lambast the fact that the largest group Dr. Merrell had spoken to was the KAD. He says:

"I find it interesting that the largest crowd to date to hear the promotion of this bond was at the Democratic meeting. Republicans, by and large, have not been turning out for these events because we are conservative and believe that any use of tax money must be done responsibly. We want new schools but we want them to be cost effective so more money is put back into the classrooms for teachers, not for marble tile."

The Katy Area Democrats are not a political action committee funded by contractors and other businesses that would gain by the bond passing. KAD are, by and large, community members who have a vested interest in the bond issue and Katy schools because they are homeowners, just like Mr. Hink. The PAC that is pushing "Vote Smart, Vote Yes" may very well be funded by contractors etc., but they are much more likely to be backed by those of Republican leanings than Democratic. The group Mr. Hink himself represents, Katy Citizens Watchdog$, have formed a PAC and are raising money to fight the bond effort. Dr. Merrell was invited to speak at the KAD meeting to do exactly what the article stated, present people in the community with the information. No vote on endorsement was taken because it was just an informative meeting.

But the greatest misjustice Mr. Hink made was not in confusing or obfusticating the KAD and the agenda-driven PACs, but by trying to politicize the school board issue along partisan lines. Because schools boards are local bodies, addressing the needs of neighborhoods and communities and effecting the lives and education of children, they have traditionally been kept out of largely political elections and away from partisanship. By trying to turn event into an us vs them contest puts our children at risk of being caught in the middle of bickering that has little to do with education.

Was the Katy Courier wrong in not being transparent about the location of the event at which Dr. Merrell spoke? Yes, they should try harder. Was Mr. Hink guilty of confusing the issue and then trying to politicize it to the detriment of the district's children? Yes as well. Schools and education are issues that all should be concerned about and no one, liberal, conservative, progressive or libertarian would advocate marble tile over better teacher pay, clean healthy schools, and quality education for all. Mr. Hink does himself and his agenda a disservice by suggesting so. Stick to the issues that raise valid points for people to consider and leave the garbage where it belongs.

UPDATE - After hearing from Mr. Hink, there are two corrections that need addressing. First, Mr. Hink did not file a lawsuit against the district, but filed complaints with the Texas Ethics Commission on the matter. I apologize for my mistake. Also, Mr. Hink feels I somewhat mischaracterized Katy Citizens Watchdog$. He states they are primarily families WITH children in the district. Having read that his child(ren) do not attend district schools, I guessed that was true of the group as a whole. Goes to show what happens when you assume.

Mr. Hink included a letter that does a much better job of explaining his positions. It is too long to post here in its entirety, but if you are interested in finding out more about Fred Hink and his campaign, it can be found at FredHink.com.