Previewing the Royal ISD Board of Trustees races

By George Slaughter, News Editor
Posted 10/20/22

Four positions are up for election to the Royal ISD Board of Trustees, with incumbents seeking re-election in two of those races.

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Previewing the Royal ISD Board of Trustees races


Four positions are up for election to the Royal ISD Board of Trustees, with incumbents seeking re-election in two of those races.

Position 1

Incumbent Adrian Rocha, a teacher and coach, faces Scott Hartman, who is self-employed, and Mona Chavez Rios, a mail carrier. Neither Rocha or Hartman returned a candidate questionnaire.

1. Briefly describe your professional background, and how it will help you if elected.

RIOS: I am a Royal graduate and have been working for the US Postal Service for over 30 years.

My children and grandchildren have also attended Royal, and we all love our Royal community.

I also support our local church with the “Road to Emmaus” ministry. I am very dedicated to our community and I am a problem-solver. I believe those traits will help me fulfill my role if I am elected as a Royal trustee.

2. Do you support calling a bond election as the district is planning to do? Please explain why or why not.

RIOS: My campaign slogan is “Ready for Success.” Many parents tell me they are very concerned because their students are struggling in math and reading. I want to help make sure our teachers and parents have all the resources they need to help our students excel. Everyone in our community should be able to see online what our students are being taught, and what books and materials they are using, just as other school districts do. That will build trust and help our students succeed.

3. How do you think the district can best manage its growth?

RIOS: As our district grows, we need to make sure we have adequate facilities. It is important for our community to agree on how to move forward. That can be accomplished by our administration posting all project bids and costs online for the community to see, before calling for the bond election. With all the skilled tradesmen we have in our community reviewing the bids, that would help build trust.

4. If elected, what would your top three priorities be, and why?

RIOS: I am very proud of our CTE program, and would like to see it continue to expand certifications, which will help our students succeed after they graduate. As we work together, we can make sure every student is “Ready for Success.”

I promise to always remember that Royal belongs to you, and that these are your students and your money.

Position 2

Incumbent Cheri Fontenot is not seeking re-election. Running for the seat are Perla Mariela Aguilar, a business owner, and Gary Cruseturner, an insurance agent.

1. Briefly describe your professional background, and how it will help you if elected.

AGUILAR: Post-graduation from Texas A&M in 2016, I began my career as a commercial landscape designer/construction manager where I managed large projects. In 2019, I used my savings and took a chance on myself by starting a floral design business with my family—Casa De Flores Design. Three years post launch my studio located in downtown Brookshire has received national recognition and has had the honor of working with major local and international brands. In 2020, I was featured as “one of America's top ten up and coming florists” by HBOMax. What makes this small-town entrepreneurial story relevant in this election is that I was one of the first students to graduate from the Royal CTE department and actually pursue a career in the educational foundations I received in the program. That being said, I am very supportive of career and technical education programs in our district and aim to expand them. In order to be successful in my industry, one must be able to really listen to people and deliver a design that exceeds the client’s expectations. You must also be able to effectively lead teams to complete projects on tight schedules and quickly find solutions when things do not go as planned. And most importantly, to survive as a business you must be able to know how to manage your operational costs, create budgets and understand your “numbers”so that you can continue scaling and improving your processes. I believe that these experiences can easily be applied as a board member because a school district operates very similar to a business.

CRUSETURNER: I have over 35 years’ experience in real estate, mortgages and insurance.

2. Do you support calling a bond election as the district is planning to do? Please explain why or why not.

AGUILAR: I am strongly in favor of calling a bond election. Earlier this year the district created a facilities advisory committee where several members of the community have the opportunity to provide input and make recommendations on what the priorities of the district should be. I am a member of this committee and have learned so much about our district’s financial position and how our school finances work. I have also toured all of our campuses and just walking down the halls it is very clear that our facilities not only need many renovations but we also need more space to address the new growth that is coming to our area. We need to be proactive and not reactive- this is a time sensitive issue and if we as a community do not come together to find a middle ground and do something it’s our kids who suffer.

CRUSETURNER: I will support anything that I can review, and see what the potential is. So it’s hard for me to answer the question and say I'm for or against until I know what the bond is all about.

3. How do you think the district can best manage its growth?

AGUILAR: I believe we can find a balance between moving the district in the right direction as well as managing the weight on our local community. We can start expanding and growing in phases and being strategic about how to make our current resources more efficient.

CRUSETURNER: Definitely by adding new businesses, bringing new families in. The school district is the most important part of doing that. If someone wants to have a good education and Royal is the place to be, the place they want to be, that will help our growth.

4. If elected, what would your top three priorities be, and why?

AGUILAR: Number one is safety, hands down. If we can’t protect our students, staff and faculty when they come to our campuses every day, nothing else matters. This is something I intend to look at very closely as a board member. My second priority is career preparation/placement for our students. It is important to me that when our students graduate, they are prepared with the education that will help them succeed and be competitive in their next phase whether that be college, trade schools or going directly into the workforce. I think a combination of expanding our career and technical programs, as well as enhancing our student career counseling and mentorship opportunities, will help us launch our students into fulfilling careers post-graduation.

CRUSETURNER: Improvement of communication to all constituencies. Transparency in how the money is spent. Transparency of the curriculum to make sure our youth have all the access to the top resources.

Position 3

Incumbent Michael Glover is not seeking re-election. Running for the seat are J.J. Mounsey, a retired police officer, and Cori Hillsman Vahalik, an attorney and CPA.

1. Briefly describe your professional background, and how it will help you if elected.

MOUNSEY: I worked for the Houston Police Department from early 1976 to February 14, 2014. I worked Northwest Patrol, crime analysis, school squad, DRT Unit, urban scouting, and community services. I retired as a senior patrol officer. I did a lot of community civic club meetings and worked with the Energy Corridor in West Houston.

VAHALIK: I graduated from Royal High School in 2000, from Rice University in 2004, and from Baylor Law School in 2007. I became a licensed Texas attorney in 2007 and have practiced law since that time. I joined my husband at his law practice in Brookshire in 2011. I became a Certified Public Accountant in 2013 and joined the practice owned and operated by my mother and husband.

One of the most important functions of a school board is the adoption of a budget and the setting of tax rates. I deal with taxes, budgets and accounting on a daily basis. Due to my time in private practice, I understand the importance of responsible management. Additionally, I have served on various non-profit boards (for example, West I-10 Chamber of Commerce and Royal ISD Education Foundation) and understand the budgeting process for governing boards.

Another of the significant functions is to adopt policies and review for effectiveness. Those policies should be consistent with legal requirements, match district practice, and be beneficial for the students and the district as a whole. My professional background in the legal field will help in adopting compliant policies as well as understanding what we can and cannot do as a governing body.

A third major responsibility is to serve as an advocate for public education. My entire profession is built around advocacy. I take seriously my responsibility to advocate for my clients, and I will bring that determination and drive to the boardroom.

2. Do you support calling a bond election as the district is planning to do? Please explain why or why not.

MOUNSEY: I believe that bond elections are a need for necessary purchases and expansion as long as the money is accounted for and the expenses are open to the public.

VAHALIK: The district has convened a facilities advisory committee to evaluate whether a bond election is prudent and, if so, in what amount and in what aspects. If elected, I pledge to listen to our administrators and to the committees commissioned in this regard, I pledge to attend meetings regularly and critically evaluate the information presented and the needs of the district.

By law, school districts are limited in the types and amounts of tax dollars that can be used for new construction without the passing of a bond. The needs of our district may very well justify such a bond. However, if elected as a board member, I will evaluate the timing and extent of a bond election based on the recommendation of the committee, the bids presented, and the demographers’ reports.

3. How do you think the district can best manage its growth?

MOUNSEY: As far as growth, the schools have around 1,000 empty seats and additional buildings will be needed in the near future with all the construction going on. We don’t know at this time what areas will stay in Royal or annexed by Katy.

VAHALIK: Obtaining accurate information is critical in planning for the future. I think the district should continue to retain the services of competent demographers to plan and evaluate the estimated number of new students. A representative of the district should be in regular contact with local municipalities, the Waller County Engineer, and the Brookshire Katy Drainage District to be informed of permit applications and plats filed as well as the condition of roadways servicing new and existing developments. It is a tough hiring situation right now, but making sure we have adequate drivers and sufficient buses is also critical.

4. If elected, what would your top three priorities be?

MOUNSEY: Financial records made public online so the people being taxed know where their money is being spent. Get several bids on projects.

Curriculum made available online so the parents know what their children are being taught. Other school districts already have this.

Children’s safety. No child should have to be afraid to go to school for any event or daily classes.

VAHALIK: As a mother, I recognize the truth in the statement that the children are our future. My top priority will always be ensuring all the children of the district have a quality and useful education. Ultimately, the students are why this position exists, and we must recognize their priority in decision making. Ensuring that our older students have pathways to success both academic and career based and that our younger students are provided instructional support in early literacy and math will help our Falcons soar.

To that end, recruiting and retaining quality teachers and administrators is critical. Royal is competitive on pay. However, we are losing quality educators due to a perceived lack of support or difficult working relationships. Ensuring that our staff and administrators are supported will help bring quality people here and keep them once they arrive as will highlighting the successes of our students and their educators and promoting the phenomenal programs Royal ISD provides.

Finally, as a district we are the beneficiary of prior years, which have provided us with facilities and equipment, of which we should be good stewards. If elected, especially with regard to budgeting, one of my priorities will be to give a careful eye to the existing assets as well as the existing and future needs of the district.

Position 4

Incumbent Nathaniel Richardson Jr., an adjunct instructor, is seeking re-reelection. He faces Kent Kirby, a business owner, and Jimmy Meader, a subsea engineer. Richardson did not return a candidate questionnaire.

1. Briefly describe your professional background, and how it will help you if elected.

KIRBY: I have over 40 years of business experience as an owner. I have familiarity with operations, profit and loss, budgetary matters and real estate experience. Recently I was CEO of an adult IT education center. In this center we turned people into IT professionals.

MEADER: I am a subsea engineer by trade. I have traveled all over the world and I have always had to work with different people in different cultures while keeping the customer’s goal of getting the project completed on time and on budget. I feel that this type of environment will assist me in developing working relationships with other members of the board while always keeping the goal of providing the best for the kids as a priority.

2. Do you support calling a bond election as the district is planning to do? Please explain why or why not.

KIRBY: I will not know until I become a trustee. As of now, no. There’s no transparency and no accountability.

MEADER: Yes, absolutely. This is a sensitive subject for many people and that is understandable. Our past bond elections have included what I feel was irresponsible spending at the wrong time. After studying how schools are allowed to spend money on facilities, I have come to understand a little more about bonds. We will have to pass a responsible bond to be able to build some new schools to accommodate new students that will follow the housing growth in our area.

3. How do you think the district can best manage its growth?

KIRBY: By adding new businesses. But today, with the growth we’re looking at, Waller County doesn’t have the infrastructure. Businesses outside of Brookshire can’t open without buying acreage so they can install septic systems.

MEADER: By responsibly using bond funding to build new facilities that will efficiently serve our students and community without overspending on appearances.

4. If elected, what would your top three priorities be, and why?

KIRBY: A good curriculum. Teachers. Building perspective. You want a nice, good, welcoming warm building where there proud to come to.

MEADER: A responsible bond to use on new facilities. We have to get in front of the growth, and we are behind already. We need functional facilities to educate our kids in. We don’t need big and flashy buildings trying to look or spend the way our neighboring districts do. We can’t afford those types of things right now.

Security in our schools. Our students need to focus on education, not have to worry about watching over their shoulder every day. We have a drug problem in the schools and we have to find a way to remove this issue from the schools. Bathrooms being closed due to smoke from many types of illegal paraphernalia in the school.

Technical training programs. We offer many awesome programs to our students through our CTE department. I feel like we should expand these types of certification programs to give those students not bound directly for college a step up on beginning a successful career.

Royal ISD, Royal ISD Board of Trustees