2011 School Board Candidate Questionnaire: Mark W. Stiles

1) Please tell us a little about yourself (current work, education, experience, background).

My name is Mark W. Stiles and I was born in Houston, Texas. In 1971, while attending Lamar University, I began working for a small company located in Beaumont, Texas, called Transit Mix Concrete & Materials Co. Before Trinity Industries, Inc., a Fortune 1000 Company, purchased Transit Mix in 1991, I had become a partner of Transit Mix and maintained management and operational duties. Trinity is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (TRN). Before my retirement in April 2010 I served as Trinity’s Sr. Vice President. I also held the position of Group President over the Construction, Energy and Marine Group plus a number of Shared Services. The Group had over 8500 employees in the U.S. and Mexico plus revenues as high as $2 Billion in some years.

In November 1982, I was elected to the Texas House of Representatives for District 21. The District covered Chambers County, Liberty County and the Western part of Jefferson County. In 1991 redistricting changed the district to a larger portion of Jefferson County. I served for 16 years and retired from the legislature in January 1999. During my legislative career I served on virtually every major committee, Education, State Affairs, Public Safety, Insurance, County Affairs, Appropriations, Ways and Means, Local & Consent Calendars and Calendars. I was fortunate to serve as the Chairman of County Affairs, Local & Consent Calendars and Ways and Means during my tenure. From 1993-1999, I was the Chairman of the House Calendars Committee which sets the order of daily business for House and Senate bills. During my time in the legislature I authored 157 enacted bills and 6 Texas Constitutional Amendments including the Ban on a State Income Tax without the approval of the people of Texas. I was also fortunate to serve on the Legislative Budget Board from 1995-1999 and several Select Committees including the Select Committee on Education in 1997.

Presently, I run Stiles Land & Cattle Co. LLC., which is a commercial cattle operation in Ellis, Navarro and Henderson Counties. I also serve on the board of the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, The Texas Taxpayers and Research League and The Texas Civil Justice League.

I am a member of the First Baptist Church of Italy.

2) What ties do you have at the Italy school district (i.e. children enrolled, family employed, and former student)?

I have two children, Ross (11th grade) and Emily (9th grade) that attend Italy High School. I also have two grandchildren, Kirstin Viator (5th grade) and Easton Viator (kindergarten) that attend Stafford Elementary.

3) Why are you seeking a seat on the school board?

ALL of the children that attend the Italy schools, first and foremost, deserve to have a good quality education. That needs to be the main objective of the School Board. I believe there is much room for improvement and I believe that I can work with the other board members and the community to insure these improvements.

4) What qualifications or experience do you possess that voters should consider?

I believe the voters should look at my desire to make sure our children receive a quality education opportunity. They should also consider my legislative experience previously mentioned, and my business leadership skills. I have a reputation for getting things done, making decisions and then following through to make sure success continues in whatever the issue.

5) What do you consider your primary responsibility as a school board member?

I believe the primary responsibility as a school board member is to insure that the policies of the district are followed. If the policies are wrong, then work to change them. Sometimes it takes more than one bite at the apple. Change should be our friend and not our enemy.

6) What do you consider the most important issue facing our school today?

There are a number of very important issues facing our schools today. As far as I am concerned they are equal in importance and deserve immediate attention. These issues are: 1) school funding; 2) enrollment; 3) discipline; 4) morale of both students and staff; 5) facilities and equipment; and 6) keeping our quality teachers and attracting others.

7) What do you consider the most positive and negative aspect of being a member of the school board?

The most positive aspect of being a school board member is the ability to help ALL of our children become successful by allowing them a quality education opportunity. I have always tried to focus on the positive things in life so a negative aspect does not come to mind.

8) What do you think should be the top priorities of the school board after this election?

First, I believe that as soon as possible the NEW school board should have a retreat with the new Superintendent to insure we set priorities together and stick to them. Setting the priorities by level of importance and sticking with the plan to accomplish them will lead to success for the board and in return our students. The priorities as I see them are:
1) getting control of our schools through strong, firm and direct discipline;
2) setting the upcoming school budget and attracting first rate applicants for any job openings;
3) writing clear job descriptions so there is no doubt about who is responsible for what area of concern throughout the district – this means for the School Board members, administrations, teachers and support staff;
4) hire a district nurse;
5) getting enrollment and attendance up;
6) working to insure more parental participation;
7) insuring that emphasis is given to supporting the new Superintendent;
8) get Italy ISD back into co-ops that make sense like special needs children and alternative education for disruptive students;
9) contract for a grant writer that among other areas can pursue revenue opportunities to enhance programs like early intervention, special needs children and start new programs at Italy ISD that focus on stronger math and science skills in elementary, intermediate and senior levels; and
10) our band program has done so well and expanded so fast that it is imperative that we hire an assistant band director and do not burn out the prize we have found with Mr. Perez.

It will be up to a majority of the board to set the order of what comes first and I am sure they have other ideas as well. I will however work hard with other Trustees to set these as priority items.

9) Are there any policy changes you would seek to implement at the school? If yes, which ones?

We need to have a policy requirement that each year the Italy ISD Superintendent sets short and long term goals through a series of meetings with School Trustees, Administration, teachers, staff, parents and students. These goals will be presented to the public each year on the first day of the school year. Italy ISD must have a plan for the future. The District cannot be managed on a day to day basis if we are going to improve our children’s education. There has to be a vision for the future and a course set for success. There will need to be a process set up by the School Board in conjunction with the Superintendent to insure as much participation as necessary within reason.

I would like to see the district have a policy that requires a number of career days and university days be held. This will encourage ALL of our students to think about the next step in their lives after graduation, whether they decide on an undergraduate degree, associate degree, a trade school, AmeriCorps, trade apprenticeship or the Armed Forces. Along with this, there needs to be a program to actively look for scholarship opportunities for our graduates. 

10) What community services have you given the school or community in the past?

I have been the President of the Italy Economic Commission for almost 3 years and have worked hard with my fellow commission members to build our new Community Center in downtown. We have also worked hard to understand the opportunities we have and how we can grow our area. I have been a member of the Booster Club for the Band and Athletics and I have worked to raise money and contribute to both of these programs as well as the School District for educational items programs that the school district did not have budgeted otherwise.

11) Explain your position on hiring non-certified teachers?

I believe non-certified teachers should be hired only as a last resort or in an emergency situation. With the layoffs that are occurring throughout the State of Texas this should be a moot question.

12) How would you maintain a healthy balance between education and athletics?

Education comes first. Athletics are fun and exciting and we all like to cheer our teams and children on. Everybody loves a winner but it is hard to win without a good education foundation. We need to emphasize being first in academics in our area or even the State. Smart athletes will be winning athletes in the long run. That said, I believe it is important for our children to have the proper equipment that allows them to compete and not be embarrassed to represent Italy ISD.

13) Title IX laws pertain to all state funded districts. How do you feel the Italy ISD performs in this area?

With regards to Title IX laws, I would need to know how it is proposed to be spent in the future as I have no control over the past to give a proper answer. I support equal opportunities for boys and girls alike and believe their needs should be met. The Italy ISD needs to follow the intent of the law.

I understand that large sums of money have been given to certain programs only to be returned because the question came up about matching funds for other programs. It think it is great that there are supporters who want to help these programs by giving their money. We are fortunate that they live in our area and graciously volunteer to help our children. I think if there was an established criteria and a fund drive or program set up to plan needs then Title IX will not be a problem.

As a School Board member, I do not intend to be put in a position to have to give back money that someone gives to our children only because we do not have funds in hand to match the money. I will work to find those funds somewhere and somehow.

14) Because discipline is a nationwide problem, what ideas or changes would you like to see to continue to improve school discipline?

In regards to school discipline, I believe two things need to occur as soon as possible. I believe there needs to be access control between the Junior High area and the High School area. The co-mingling of the students at this level needs to be controlled as much as possible. I know that the Jr. High has to use the science lab and the library and everyone needs to use the cafeteria but schedules need to be adjusted and different building access opportunities need to be reviewed.
There must be teachers and administrators monitoring this every day to insure separation of these grades.

I believe that strong consideration needs to be given to a School Resource Officer. This would be a Law Enforcement officer that would be partially shared with the City of Italy or the Ellis County Sheriff’s Department. Partially shared means that the officer would be an addition to one of these forces at all times and assigned to different duties during the summer but would be assigned to the district during school hours and possibly other special events. The position would also be partially paid by each entity. Not only could this officer participate in the DARE program or other drug education programs, they would be EMT trained as well to help in cases of emergencies. Additional duties could be explaining what and why laws are in place. Many things have occurred in our schools that might have been prevented had students understood the ramifications and definitions of the law. The officer would also participate in truancy matters. This costs our school district a lot of money every year. I believe this person would be an additional role model for our students and would be a useful addition at the elementary, intermediate and senior levels. It is sad to say but sometimes administrators do not always receive the respect they need and deserve. This position will make most think twice before crossing the line.

15) With the current state funding crisis, what ideas do you have to keep the budget trim?

Italy ISD has done well to build up the fund balance it has. I believe because of the lack of leadership in Austin sometime in the future we may be required to spend every dime. It is very important for the community to understand the money problem. I want to propose several meetings a year to bring our patrons up to date on what is going on with school funding from Austin. I believe I can get specialists to come in and give timely reviews. The BIG QUESTION is will the community turn out for this? I do not care if we have to feed people, have door prizes or bus them into the meetings we need to make everyone aware of what ITALY ISD faces. It is all about our children. Can we save money by putting up solar panels or a wind generator? You bet. Can we save money in the long run by getting rid of textbooks and give every student an electronic notebook? You bet. Can we save money by being realigned by a more understanding University Scholastic League by playing our games closer and having playoff tournaments with area teams scheduled in Dallas or Ft. Worth instead of Stephenville? You bet. Can we increase class sizes? Sure but will it be at the expense of our children? It is all about common sense. The big key for all of us is if the State lives up to its mandate of providing a fair and equal education to all of the children of Texas. Folks they are short changing us.

16) What positive changes within the infrastructure of our schools might be made to retain and/or attract quality teachers to educate our children?

Teachers unfortunately hold the prize for being the lowest paid/highest trained professionals in the State. Most of them love what they do and are not in it for the money. But they should expect to have the proper supplies without going broke buying them with their own money. I am not sure most people understand just how much they spend out of their own pockets that are not reimbursed. It is a lot. We as a community should try to address this issue. It is also not unrealistic to set goals and reward the teachers for good work. We just all need to remember they are supposed to teach our kids not raise them.

Teachers should expect a comfortable work environment and we should provide it. This is good for them and the students. Teachers should also expect respect not only from their administrators, colleagues and students but parents as well. And we should expect the same from our teachers.

Teachers should know that they have the right to properly discipline the students and should be backed up by the administration and school board. Note the word PROPERLY. Teachers also have the right and should be protected from problem students. That is one reason I support the Resource Officer and getting Italy back into the CO-OP. We need to take advantage of the opportunity to get these types of students in settings that will help them rather than have them on campus disrupting other students and classes.

17) In what ways can the district’s school board be more open to listen to teachers and parents about their concerns?

I have been to a number of school board meetings and for the most part there are not many, if any, parents or teachers there voicing concerns. One of the things that I believe is extremely important is for everyone to realize that the School District has a Chief Executive and that is the Superintendent. Below the superintendent are the principals and teachers. There is a chain of command that must be followed. I think if a teacher, principal or superintendent will not listen, then in a proper setting I believe a school board member is a good resource to go to.

I also believe teachers need to follow the chain of command. I know that it is very tough to maintain order and discipline in an organization unless there is a chain of command in place. This said there are always exceptions and again when it is in order a school board member is a good resource.

18) What incentives, if any, do you think should be implemented to motivate students to improve their performance in the classroom?

Student Incentives— Learning that they live in the best country in the world with the most opportunities. These opportunities open up with hard work, great attitudes and a good education. I believe it is up to parents to provide the majority of the incentive by whatever means they deem necessary, you can read between those lines. The kids get flex days already which I have to tell you I never got. I am not sure we do them a service by taking anymore class room time away from them. Let’s instill in our students the need to get a good education and have the opportunity to excel in life and make that the incentive. I don’t think it is a good idea to give someone something for what they ought to already be doing.

Additional Comments:

The other day I was talking to an Italy honor student that plans to be a teacher. The person has already been accepted at the college of their choice. I asked if they intended to return to Italy to teach, figuring that this is an opportunity to get one of our best and brightest to return as a role model and good teacher. The answer was a flat no. They mentioned discipline, respect, organization, poor attitudes and generally left me speechless. I want to change that.

I hope everyone realizes that a successful school means more roof tops and more roof tops mean an expanded tax base for others to help share in the costs of providing the quality education opportunity our kids deserve. Our community needs to expand and grow for a number of reasons and a first class school district is always at the top of the list when companies look at where they are going to move so their employees feel good about moving there and putting their children in the schools. Is that too much to ask?

We should strive to be “exemplary” at all of our campuses and accept nothing less. We are not going to do that by not working together. We need to put petty differences aside. Do not let the first thing out of your mouth be “NO” when you hear a new idea. Listen and include yourself in the discussion.  I believe I can help bring us all together to reach this common goal. But I need your help.
Everyone may not agree with me on all of these issues but most people I have talked to the past few years have. You will learn that if I make a mistake I will admit it and move on. I have done that in my business and legislative careers and found that it is the best way to achieve success. You show me someone that is always right and I will show you someone who should be answering a higher calling.

I would appreciate your vote. 
Mark W. Stiles