Joel Russell, Danny Sluder, Clin Huhnke, Keri Downs, Josh Velten, Kevin Hartless and Eddie Wood have filed for election to the Whitesboro Independent School District’s board of trustees. Election Day is May 6.

Sluder is seeking re-election to the school board for an at-large position. He is the owner of Kaleidoscope Quilt Shop. Downs is seeking election to an at-large position on the school board. She is a mortgage loan processor. Huhnke is seeking election to an at-large position on the school board. He is a high school algebra teacher and realtor. Velten is seeking election to an at-large position on the school board. He is the warehouse manager for Reinert Paper and Chemical.

Below are the candidates’ unedited responses to questions answered via email. Phone calls and emails seeking responses from Russell, Hartless and Wood were not returned.

Why are you interested in this specific board and why do you feel you would be a good addition to it?

Sluder: Both of our children attended all of their public school years at Whitesboro, and our family has lived here almost all of our lives. We have three grandchildren who have attended Whitesboro schools, and two still attend there. I remain interested in helping us have the best district we can possibly have. My previous experiences in the district and other schools make me a very valuable asset to the district. I pledge to continue to take my position on the board very seriously and to fight for what is best for our students, our employees, our community, and our taxpayers.

Downs: I am interested in our school board because this school district is where my children attend as do many others. These children are the future of our country and we should do our best to educate them for their success. As a parent, with no prior teaching experience, I have a true “outside looking in” perspective towards our school district. Our teachers are the backbone of our education system and I greatly appreciate the long hours and time invested in our children; however, I feel that being a parent and not a teacher gives an open and different view of our district that may not be seen from a strictly educational view. I want our children to be excited about their education and become involved in the processes in which they partake every single day.

Huhnke: I am running for one of the three trustee seats on the Whitesboro School Board. Having been blessed to be a public school teacher for 17 years now, I have a heart for students and want to do my part to make sure Whitesboro school district is the best it can be. Having been involved in education at various levels during my career, I believe this gives me a depth of perception and experience that not all candidates may have. I know what college readiness is and how to prepare students for post-secondary education. I understand the daily struggles and joys teachers face and I understand the hopes and aspirations parents have for their children. It is for these reasons I believe I would be a positive force on the Whitesboro School Board.

Velten: I am running for the Whitesboro School Board. I have four children spread through three campuses next year, who are very active in sports, fine arts and academics. I feel there are many topics that will be hot button issues pretty soon for school boards to address, and I would like to be one of the decision makers for Whitesboro schools. I am able to approach the decisions on the school board from the perspective of a parent, a first responder, and an interested member of the community. My background in facilities management also allows me to make decisions with an eye towards long term solutions to operational questions. I hope to use my background to make the best decisions possible to give all of our kids the best educational experience they can have in our schools.

If voted in, what specifically do you hope to accomplish?

Sluder: I think the biggest issue facing our district is the proper balance between holding on to our past strengths as a district and a community and striving for continued and new successes as we experience the new growth that is headed our way. We must be proactive and embrace needed change without losing the qualities we possess that make us who we are. As we lose employees to retirement and movement to other districts, we must replace them with creative, strong, student-centered people who will continue to develope a love for learning in the students and challenge them to excell in various ways. Quality employees are our best way to maintain a quality school district.

Downs: My goal as a school board member is to embody an environment where students, teachers, faculty, staff, and parents are open to express their opinions and concerns and feel that their opinions are validated and considered thoroughly. Having only one viewpoint on a topic may make things easier, but it doesn’t always lead to the correct decision. I want to see more perspectives of the people who matter most in our community, and less people basing decisions on whichever plan is easiest. I look to empower our community to become more involved in the future of our district and the growth of our youth.

Huhnke: I’m going to mention three things close to my heart.

Recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers and administrators has got to be a priority in any district. Districts nationwide, are literally in competition to attract the best teachers possible. A district just one hour south of here had over 600 applicants for the new elementary school they are opening. Whitesboro must remain on the radar of highly qualified teachers by yearly evaluation of average salaries in surrounding districts. Whitesboro must be a district that is inviting to teachers through competitive pay and also school safety.

Speaking of safety, Whitesboro ISD have been blessed to have not been impacted by violence in our schools. This must continue to be on the forefront of our minds by yearly reviews of safety procedures around our campuses. It is a shame but we must address it in today’s world.

Also, the increasing technological advances demand we prepare students for the world they will be entering using Career and Technology Education (CATE) classes. We must also continue to offer dual credit enrollment and Advanced Placement classes so our students have a choice in how they can get their head start in post-secondary education.

Velten: If voted in, I would work to ensure WISD continues to bring in the right staff for the job. We are blessed with what I feel are an excellent group of administrators, and I would work with them to continue to plug the right people into the district as the need arises through supporting their decisions and goals. I think having the right individuals in key positions is critical in keeping parents happy, children focused, the school district moving forward.

Private school voucher programs or tuition incentives are arguably one of the most contested ideas in Texas public education right now. Supporters say it promotes school choice, while critics say it is unwise to public money on private schools that aren’t held to the same accountability standards as public schools. Do you support school vouchers, why or why not?

Sluder: I am against any voucher system that would hamper our ability to educate the general population in every way possible. Everyone must pay his or her fair share to gaurantee that all students receive a good general education, no matter what their financial and family situation. I don’t disagree with anyone who wishes to offer another form of education other than public education to a child, but I still maintain that it is everyone’s responsibility to pay for general student education. We all profit from that type of system. I would also maintain that good public schools are very efficient and effective at offering students a strong education.

Downs: Not that I am totally against the idea of what a school voucher system wants to provide, but I believe in the Whitesboro school district and I envision a school district with a supportive and involved community. We already have a lot of great teachers and educators in our school district that I want to work together as a school board to improve the education for our children and provide the tools and opportunities for our teachers to accomplish this.

Huhnke: I believe every student deserves a quality education. Being an educator for 17 years, I am a believer our public school system can and does provide quality education. Is there research that proves private schools consistently provides a better quality of education? I believe funding for our public schools is the bigger problem. Many schools lack necessary facilities and equipment to provide the best educational environment they can. Our national and state leaders need to give more attention to funding matters that would improve quality public education. With the appropriate federal funding, our public schools could be fitted with first class equipment, updated technology systems, expanded vocational and arts programs and yes, even lessen the desertion of our best teachers to other career fields. Public schools just across the Red River are cutting needed programs just to keep the doors open. Parents currently have school choice; they can have their student attend free (government funded) public schools or parents can pay for the school of their choice (charter or private school). They can also choose to transfer to a different district if they are willing to pay the fee and provide transportation. There are many things in life people can choose if they are willing to pay. For example, if a student was offered a full scholarship to attend a in-state college, does this mean he can’t go out of state to the university of his/her choice? I believe school vouchers are not the answer to a crumbling educational system or poor performing schools. I do believe, however, that the best accountability and education, for all, should start at home.

Velten: School voucher programs can be a slippery slope. I definitely sympathize with parents who struggle with under-performing schools for their children. These schools are stuck in that rut due to several factors. For those parents, a school voucher system may be an acceptable solution. Personally, as a parent, I want to have the options that fit best for my own children. However, if elected to the school board, I would need to separate myself from that, and look at what choices are best for the district and the entire student body. Schools need to be much more than a piggy bank of students. The schools are obligated to provide a safe and effective environment for the students to learn with the resources they are given. if they are no longer able to do that, then there needs to be additional options. In an age where homeschooling is increasing, on-line education is increasing, and technology continues to streamline the learning process, public schools need to be ready to react to the changing trends in demographics and therefore funding. I believe voucher programs will soon be in place, but I believe any recipients of vouchers (private schools, etc…) should be held to the same standards as public education. If it was up to me, under-performing schools would be given a time table to meet standards. If that does not happen, then I think vouchers are an acceptable solution. I would not like a “comprehensive” voucher program that blindly gives vouchers in the entire state, but rather a voucher system targeted to the specific districts whose children have suffered for years with substandard educational opportunities.