in Houston, Texas
Incumbent Juliet Stipeche faces challenger Dorothy Olmos in Houston ISD District VIII race
Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011, 02:27PM CST
By Mike Cronin
Vote sign

A year after winning the Houston schools' District VIII seat by 48 votes in a special election, incumbent Trustee Juliet Stipeche will battle challenger Dorothy Olmos to remain a board member.

Stipeche, 37, is a partner in the Houston law firm, Nagorny & Stipeche. Olmos, 52, is an entrepreneur who has run two cosmetology salons during her career. Olmos also has been a theater arts and computer science teacher.

Both candidates say their goal is to be a strong advocate for children.

“I'm running because I want to make a difference,” Stipeche said. “I want to make sure (the Houston Independent School District) has better schools for our community.”

Ensuring board members and district officials properly use public funds is a top priority for Stipeche.

“I want to develop and improve the public trust in our school-board members,” she said.

Texas Watchdog has reported for months on questionable practices by HISD staff and board members. Examples include contracts going to friends of trustees and a trustee helping an acquaintance get a six-figure no-bid contract.

Olmos, too, said she wants more transparency in HISD operations. She is focused specifically on shining a light on how individual schools spend district funds.

“We have to watch those tax dollars and make sure we're spending them wisely,” said Olmos, whose five adult children all attended HISD schools. She has two grandchildren enrolled in district schools.

Money must be spent on “things that are needed in District VIII,” Olmos said. As examples, Olmos cited mentorship programs for parents and students. She said those types of programs would enable parents to learn about HISD enough that they could become full participants and advocates in district policies and their children's education.

“They would provide the opportunity for parents to grow with the child,” Olmos said. That growth would also come from programs to help parents who can't read and write become literate.

Olmos said she's running as “a change agent.” She is a powerful proponent of Superintendent Terry Grier's philosophy of teacher accountability for student achievement. “That's something we lacked in our district,” Olmos said.

“Dr. Grier has a good philosophy and approach,” Olmos said. “It's up to the community and parents to understand it and implement it.”

Olmos praised Grier for his plan that “has structure and discipline – something we need for our children and grandchildren.”

Bimonthly or quarterly parent meetings about HISD's strategic plan would be a good way to inform her constituents how they can best participate in improving their school district, Olmos said.

“That will help us make HISD the school system of choice – educating the parents to become proactive,” Olmos said.

If Stipeche is reelected, she would like to increase the amount of money schools receive for per-pupil funding – and obtain more money in general for individual schools.

With that money, Stipeche wants to do things such as improve the physical state of schools, buy more library books and ensure healthier food is available for students.

Both Olmos and Stipeche say parents are key to making schools better.

Stipeche said district officials must do a better job communicating HISD events and activities to parents.

“There shouldn't be a disconnect between parents and what's actually happening at schools,” Stipeche said. “It can't be just distributing brochures. Parents have to know what they can contribute to improve schools.”

Olmos said she wanted to be the vehicle that would inform parents what opportunities exist in the district for them and their children.

“They have to have first-hand information,” Olmos said.

Stipeche also wants to evaluate existing HISD programs, such as reading programs, to determine which work and which don't.

“We have to do analysis so we don't waste resources,” Stipeche said.

Along those same lines, Stipeche said HISD's procurement process must be set up so bids are awarded to the most competitive contractors who provide the district with the most value. Those contractors should have verifiable, certifiable reputations, she said.

“But we, as board members, rely on the administration to provide the best information so we can make informed decisions. We need to trust that the district staff is doing that,” Stipeche said.

Texas Watchdog has reported on questionable contract awards that include hiring a landscaper whose bid was far from the lowest. Though Texas Watchdog requested and received documents outlining that award, the records did not provide a clear explanation of how that award was made.

“We need a strong ethics policies in place,” Stipeche said. “Our job is maintaining the public trust and exceeding expectations to ensure we are spending taxpayer money in the best way possible.”

If elected, Olmos, too, wants to hold HISD administrators accountable on budget issues – both on the administrative and the individual-school level.

“We have to let parents know what kind of funds the school have available,” Olmos said. “I just want to be a vigilant person on the board, make sure everyone's accountable and make it work.”

Stipeche graduated from HISD's High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. She earned bachelor's degree in political science, policy studies, and religious studies at Rice University and a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.

Olmos earned a bachelor's degree in theater and a bachelor's degree in occupational therapy industrial studies from the University of Houston.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of by flickr user kristin_a, used via a Creative Commons license.
Comments
Juan V
Wednesday, 09/21/2011 - 09:53PM

I am sick and tired of receiving Stipeche's emails to my hisd acct. Is this legal? If so, I don't think it is ethical. I am trying to work and don't need to get dragged into the politics of the district.

Jane
Tuesday, 09/27/2011 - 07:13PM

Next time you should use your personal email account. Those types of emails are computer generated.

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