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Meet the candidates for North East ISD’s Single Member District 2

Three women sit at a table with name placards, one holding a microphone.
Camille Phillips
Jacqueline Klein, left, Rhonda Rowland, and Tracey Shelton, right, participate in a candidate forum held by the North East Council of PTAs.

TPR interviewed all 12 NEISD school board candidates and attended forums for the candidates hosted by the North East ISD Council of PTAs. Visit the NEISD website to input your address and find your single member district. To read about all 12 candidates, return to the main voter guide. Scroll down to the bottom of this story for links to guides on the other four races.

TPR interviewed all 12 NEISD school board candidates, and attended forums for the candidates hosted by the North East Council of PTAs.

Interviews have been condensed for brevity and relevance.

Single Member District 2 – Roosevelt High School cluster

Three candidates are vying to represent the Roosevelt High School cluster. The seat was left open after the death of moderate trustee Terri Williams in August 2023. The board voted to place the unexpired term on the ballot after they were unable to reach a consensus on an appointment.

A woman in a red pantsuit sits next to her walker as she answers a question.
Camille Phillips
Rhonda Rowland is a retired school principal.

Rhonda Rowland

Age: 70

Occupation: retired principal / district administrator

Political affiliations: Texas Family Action PAC / San Antonio Family Association

Reason for running: “I feel that my experience could lend something to the board. That was the reason for running the first time. And when I was at the polls, I met Terri Williams, and we became fast friends. And she was such an inspiration to me. And we remained in contact after she won the election. And we continued to be friends. And then, of course, Terri died, and I just felt like that I could replace her legacy and her integrity and continue the work that she had done.”

Editor’s note: Rowland came in third place in a three-way race for District 2 in 2022. 

Priorities if elected: “First of all, it would be to listen and to learn. There's been some disgruntlement on the board. It's kind of been three against three because we have that vacancy.

“I want to recruit and retain excellent teachers in. Our teachers have been somewhat disheartened, and we want to keep those teachers.

“I think we need to involve parents in a very positive way in our district and let them have a voice in what we do. I think we need to be more transparent in what we do on the board. I know there's a budget deficit. We gave teachers a big raise this year, which I'm so proud of. But we are going to have to think outside the box in doing some things in our budget.”

And I think we need to have safe schools. And then I think we need to have well-disciplined schools.”

You were endorsed by the San Antonio Family Association. What does that endorsement mean to you?

Well, they're back to the basics reading, writing and arithmetic. They want parent involvement. They want, like I said, the basics. They want more integrity in the curriculum."

They tend to be pretty conservative.

“Very, very conservative, yes. So, I believe in the family unit, and they believe in a conservative curriculum.”

Rowland said that like SAFA she is against same-sex marriage and opposes abortion.

“My birth mother was a teenaged, unwed mother, and she so bravely gave me up for adoption, and I'm so thankful that she did.”

Would you have voted for NEISD’s new, more conservative, sex ed curriculum?

“Well, I think that the SHAC committee has done an excellent job, and I would vote for the new curriculum because I think that our young people are so inundated with so much sexual information already that we don't need to explain how to do things in our schools. So, I think that abstinence is a quality that our young people need to be familiar with.”

Many of the books NEISD pulled from school libraries in 2022 had LGBTQ characters or themes. Do you think LGBTQ books should have greater scrutiny?

“I think that books open our minds and open our hearts and take us places that our imaginations need to go.

“But I think that there are subjects that need to be talked about at home. Again, our young people are inundated with so much of this information online and in movies, and I think they see it and they hear it anyway that we don't have to provide it in our schools.

The thing about different races and different cultures and history: I think there's a place for that in our libraries. I think we should teach our children that there was once a time when we felt differently, and we should learn from those mistakes.

When you say we don't need to provide it in our schools, you mean you don't think that books that talk about gender identity or sexual orientation should be in the public school libraries?

“No, I don't think they should be.

Would you have voted to allow chaplains to serve as counselors in NEISD schools?

“We have chaplains in our military, and we have chaplains in the prison system. And I think if chaplains are vetted properly, and they do not propose any kind of denominational or religious leanings and only gave counsel for students who were needing someone to talk to, with parent permission, that would be permissible.”

Are you in favor of school vouchers? Would you advocate against them if elected? (Question and answer from PTA forum)

“I have changed my opinion on vouchers because I have conferenced with teachers locally, and they educated me because I'm open minded to be educated.

“I'm pro public ed, and I've been an educator for 33+ years, and I believe that the public schools offer the greatest source of learning available. No other entity, private or charter, can give students what public education has to offer. America is built on the belief that education should be free and accessible to all, including children with special needs. Dollars should be spent on public schools in the neighborhood where taxpayers live. They should not go to private schools.

“I have written to the governor and asked him to please rethink his opinion on vouchers. I had talked to Donna Campbell, and I would be most willing to advocate in Austin for this.”

NEISD, like many Texas school districts, is facing a budget deficit this year due to rising costs, the end of federal COVID relief, and flat state funding. What parts of the budget would you prioritize as a trustee?

I would never want to cut areas where it directly affects students. I think that there might be some fat to trim, maybe in central office areas. I'm not sure.”

A woman in a black floral skirt, yellow shirt and tan cardigan leans forward onto her crossed arms.
Camille Phillips
Tracie Shelton is a business owner who grew up in Houston and has sent her kids to both private, charter, and public schools.

Tracie Shelton

Age: 54

Occupation: manager at a cloud computing company; small business owner

Political affiliations: Bexar County Champions for Public Education PAC

Reason for running: “I run now because I'm needed now. The issues that we will face as a community, as a school district and a larger community, are significant. And it's incumbent upon us, I think, when you have the background [and] the skills, and you can step up, that you do step up.

“I originally, put my name in the hat because I was asked to [after the death of the elected trustee, Terri Williams]. ... But really, as I dug into what it was and what the issues of the day were, and the attacks on public education, I thought, ‘Yeah. I think it's time. I need to sign up and run as hard and fast as I can to help save public education at a minimum here at NEISD.' ”

Priorities if elected: “For me it's about community and mentoring. For work, we really rely on volunteerism and mentors to help our early career talent and our transitioning talent move to the next level. And so I would love to see us develop some mentoring programs and programing that helps our students — from the wee ones all the way up to our high school.

“In my cluster that I represent, we have the highest truancy rate in Bexar County, not just the district, but in Bexar County. So, we're not testing well? Well, if you're not in school, you won't have the material so that you can test. So how do we again — by building a community and network, by mentoring our students — how do we get them back in school? What does that look like?"

Is the board majority part of what’s at stake for you?

“For me, this is 100% about: How do we build a future for these children?

“As I listened to some of the rhetoric and some of the blaming that's happening [on the board and in the campaign], as I said earlier, it breaks my heart. It really does, because it suggests to me that those people aren't committed to the students. They're committed to maybe the fight, or maybe winning, or something else, but they're not committed to the students.

“And our students, our children, deserve people that will sit and earnestly consider them — all of them — as they make decisions. The ones that look like them and the ones that don't.”

Would you have voted for NEISD’s new, more conservative sex ed curriculum?

“[The Student Health Advisory Council], as I recall, gave the recommendation to the board of which curriculum to choose. The SHAC is made up of the community. And so, one of the things that's really important to me, and I want people to know, if they choose me to sit in the seat, the voice is theirs. It's not Tracy's. It belongs to D2. So, if what the community came back and said, 'this is the curriculum that represents our values as a community,' then that's what I would vote for.”

Many of the books NEISD pulled from school libraries in 2022 had LGBTQ characters or themes. Do you think LGBTQ books should have greater scrutiny?

“I'm a reader, and the idea that we would take any books off the library shelf at all crushes me a little bit. I think children should have the opportunity to read books that are appropriate for them based on what their family thinks is appropriate and their reading level.

“So, the idea of taking books out of the library permanently or even temporarily — I don't I don't agree with that all.

Why would [books with LGBTQ+ characters or topics] have more scrutiny than any other book? I don't like horror at all, but Stephen King sits on the shelf, right?

“The other thing I would ask, as people start to look at books and try to remove them, is 'have you read it? Have you read the book? And is it really offensive, or is it just offensive to you?' ”

Would you have voted to allow chaplains to serve as counselors in NEISD schools?

“No. And I want to say, I’m a Christian and I love my pastor. There's a separation of church and state. A separation of church and school. We have other people that can do the things that was proposed for those chaplains to do."

Are you in favor of school vouchers? Would you advocate against them if elected? (Question and answer from PTA forum)

I oppose vouchers. And as I tried to formulate how you articulate it, I came across a really great quote from [Huriya Jabbar, an associate professor in the Educational Policy and Planning program] at UT Austin. And she said, 'What's getting lost in the debate is the idea of education as a public good and not a private good. Vouchers really shift the concept of education to a private good that benefits the individual student or family. But education is a public good, meaning that it benefits not just individuals, but society as a whole.'

“The education of our children supports all of us in the future. And our Texas Constitution sets out this idea that we need to educate our society for the good of the public.

“And while it will be a legislative issue, what's incumbent upon us, to make sure that we can maintain funds in the public, is that we have the conversation, and we start with the document that governs our state, and that's our Constitution.

“We said we're going to fund schools through revenue from the state. And how do we do that if we're doing some other things?”

NEISD, like many Texas school districts, is facing a budget deficit this year due to rising costs, the end of federal COVID relief, and flat state funding. What parts of the budget would you prioritize as a trustee?

“We're going to have to have a conversation about everything that's required, everything that we do, because we know it's the right thing to do, and then things we do because we like doing them. Where can we get more revenue if we can't get it from the state? What kind of public/private partnerships can we enter into? Because I would argue that most of the things that the district is doing, we need to be doing.

“The administration will come with recommendations to the board, but how do we help them? How do we leverage the resources that we have, the background that we have?”

A woman in a green shirt and black pencil skirt gestures as she speaks into a microphone seated in front of seven seated board members.
Camille Phillips
Jacqueline Klein makes a point during her interview for the vacant trustee seat on the NEISD board October 23, 2023.

Jacqueline Klein

Age: 43

Occupation: political consultant

Political affiliations: Moms for Liberty Bexar County; Parents United for Freedom PAC in 2022

Reason for running: “When the pandemic hit and our schools came into our living rooms, it was a real wakeup call to kind of what was being taught, what was going on. When there were debates about going back and forth between going back to school, masks or no masks, vaccines, things like that, parents really woke up to the fact that maybe the school districts were not serving them well and were not really taking their opinions under consideration.

“And then, there was something that has been discussed, of course. My kids are in charter. A lot has been made of that. It is because of an incident that happened on a North East campus. In trying to advocate and protect my child [over] a safety issue, I realized exactly how the deck was stacked against parents and the fact that they weren't safe.

“I know that what happened to me is happening to other parents, and they don't have a voice, and I want to bring their interests and their voice to the board as a trustee."

Given that experience, are you wanting to change administration? Do you want to change leadership?

“I take no position on whether or not I would fire or hire anybody. That's not my position to do from a campaign perspective, and I would not pledge to do anything like that. However, I do think we need to take a serious look at the decisions that are being made. Who is making them?

“I do want to be a change agent, but I have to be very clear that I am not trying to bring my own personal agenda to the board. The way that I feel that change needs to be enacted is being a voice for the parents where they haven't had one.

“It just happens to be that what I hear when I'm talking to parents, or when I'm talking to teachers, aligns with the things that I believe.”

Priorities if elected: “I think that there has been a major cry for change. The parents that I talk to are not happy with the direction that the district is going, whether that's in terms of safety, spending, curriculum, things like that.

“In the last three years, we have lost 5,500 English-speaking students. And I say that because there is a difference in the student population that we're seeing in North East today.”

“We have parents that are leaving for charter options, that are leaving for private schools, that are opting to get their kids out completely in homeschool. And they're telling us that they are not happy with what's going on in the district, whether that is with the way their children are being handled, cared for, or whether that's what their children are being taught, they're going somewhere else. And these other options are doing something that we're not doing. And that is valuing parents.”

Editor’s note: Most school districts in San Antonio’s established neighborhoods have lost enrollment in recent years.

In a post on her campaign Facebook page, Klein said the rise in immigrant students enrolled at NEISD “hinders YOUR child’s success” because it costs the district resources. She also said immigrant children made schools less safe because they are members of “warring gangs.”

Klein also told TPR she wants to implement a marshal program to arm educators and ensure discipline policies are enforced more strictly.

When you get in trouble for an infraction, you don't get off-campus suspension like we did in the olden days when I was growing up. They want money for those kids. And so, they keep them in ISS. And those ISS classrooms are out of control.”

Historically, Black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by expulsion and suspension. But Klein said discipline should be “colorblind.”

“You may have a 10% student population that is being disciplined 90% of the time. Well, if they're causing 90% of the discipline issues, that's what you get.”

Would you have voted for NEISD’s new, more conservative, sex ed curriculum?

I think the new curriculum is a step in the right direction.

“The curriculum that we had before was 'Draw the line. Respect the line.' And so that to me was kind of a more relativistic approach to sexual education curriculum. You know, what felt like an appropriate line on a Friday night might not, in hindsight, feel like something that you were comfortable with or proud of on Sunday morning.

“There is a way that we want to raise our kids, and there's a way that the world is raising our kids. You've got TikTok and Instagram and all of these things. If you don't educate your kids, somebody is going to educate them for you. And so you want to make sure that what you're telling them is responsible. And I think that we need to protect that innocence.”

Many of the books NEISD pulled from school libraries in 2022 had LGBTQ characters or themes. Do you think LGBTQ books should have greater scrutiny?

They did do that internal review. They did remove those books. I think it's a step in the good direction.

“I don't think that maybe it is so much an upset about the fact that it's a book about a trans character. Rather, the content. Maybe what the trans character in that book is doing and what those kids are learning.

It's not necessarily discussion about gay characters. It’s about some of the normalization of things in the books and the way that it's presented that I think we need to be very careful about.

“Is this a child who is in second or third grade who does not understand any of this yet? Or is this a kid who's in high school who can read that book and say, ‘Hey, I identify with this character?’”

Would you have voted to allow chaplains to serve as counselors in NEISD schools?

“I know that there was a lot of outreach from the community during that decision. … I had heard that there was more against it than for it.

“I personally would have been opposed to that. I don't think it's fair to bring in one particular kind of representation or one point of view, because we do have such a diverse student population.”

Are you in favor of school vouchers? Would you advocate against them if elected? (Question and answer from PTA forum)

“I do not support vouchers. When it comes to funding and the money, I don't think that there is sufficient accountability as it stands as far as assessments, the metrics for private schools taking those funds. They're not subject to STAAR and some of the same things. We need a baseline to be able to follow where the money is going, and if they're doing the right things with it.

“I’m not unfamiliar with going to Austin and advocating, testifying, working with legislators. So of course, I would go during the legislative session, meet with people, [and] advocate with the full weight and force of the district behind me.

“Ultimately, whether or not vouchers are passed is a legislative issue. We're just going to have to kind of deal with the fallout from that. And instead of looking for alternative ways to fund the district in the face of that, I think our best insulation and the best way that we can combat that is going to be to make this district one where parents want their kids to be here.”

NEISD, like many Texas school districts, is facing a budget deficit this year due to rising costs, the end of federal COVID relief, and flat state funding. What parts of the budget would you prioritize as a trustee?

“I know we have a third-party financial auditor. I don't think that we should have an internal audit system. I think that we need an objective third party outside efficiency audit to come in and look at where there is wasteful spending. Find any places we can to trim fat. We need to direct that money back into the classroom to educational resources and teacher salaries.

“Something that I would suggest if I were to become the next trustee in District 2 is a zero based budgeting approach. So, we're not going to go off of last year's budget and build off of that. We need to go back to the drawing board. The departments and the programs that we're funding need to come to us to explain what they need, why they need it, and then come back and tell us how they're doing with that to make sure that that where we are spending that money, that they are being good stewards of the funds.”

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.