HISD Board Candidates – Transportation Questionnaire – ELECTION DAY NOV. 2

2021-10-30T13:07:36-05:00News|

Elections matter. And strong civic leaders — ones who support multimodal transportation and making Houston a city where all Houstonians have access to safe, affordable, and equitable transportation options — matter. 

This is why we teamed up with Bike Houston and LINK Houston to develop this Transportation, Safety, Health, and Equity Questionnaire for Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board of Education candidates ahead of the November 2, 2021 Texas election.

School Districts play a central role in neighborhoods, and many HISD Board policy decisions are deeply connected to their community’s broader urban and environmental context, particularly to the issues of transportation, health, safety, and equity. Recognizing this, we asked candidates seeking office in HISD Districts I, V, VI, VII, and IX about campus siting, fleet management, and transportation safety. Questionnaires were sent to candidates for whom contact information was available. All responses are unedited and are presented as-received.

As 501(c)(3) non-profits, our organizations cannot endorse any political candidate, but we are sharing Board candidate responses to help educate their memberships and audiences.

We hope these responses will help you get to know the HISD Board candidates and their views relevant to transportation, health, safety, and equity. Candidates are listed by district and alphabetically.

For more information about the November 2, 2021 election, including polling locations (voting is county-wide) and a sample ballot please visit Harris County Elections. Early voting lasts through October 29, 2021 and election day is November 2, 2021.

District I — Janette Garza Lindner

Campaign website: janetteforhisd.com

School Role in the Community

1. What is your philosophy about the role that HISD campuses play in their broader neighborhood?

Schools should be integrated partners with their communities and both ensure that community voices are present and heard. Utilizing existing structures, such as the Site Based Decision Making Committee which has slots for community members is a good place to start. Programs for volunteers to support programs from tutoring to neighborhood watch teams to community gardens provide benefits both for children and community. District I has had the “Safe Walk Home” program since the tragic stabbing death of Josue Flores. Volunteers are trained in CPR and commit to being present during school drop off and pick up times. The goal is to create a safe environment for children and families by ensuring community presence through an extra set of eyes on kids as they travel to and from home and school.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access

2A. How do you plan to ensure safe access to schools for students with transportation challenges and in school zones with unsafe walking conditions?

Near term, zones should be drawn taking safe walking routes into consideration. Where that is not possible, transportation and, at the very least, crossing guards must be provided for any dangerous, highly trafficked passages. Historically the City of Houston has (reimbursed the district)* for crossing guards and maintained speed zone beacons. Children should not have to cross train tracks or major thoroughfares at all, but particularly unsupervised.

In 2017 the state passed a law providing funding for transportation in unsafe areas that otherwise did not meet the distance requirement (over 2 miles). This was called the Josue Flores law in response to the stabbing death mentioned previously. To my knowledge that provision has not been utilized for kids in Houston. While no child should have to fear the route to and from school, we must ensure kids are safe when safety conditions don’t meet the standard everyone would expect for their child.

With a focus on improving schools across HISD and providing a high-quality education at each campus, my vision is that the need to travel long distances for school is reduced. This positively impacts safety for our students and reduces the dependency on transportation for more of our student community.

2B. How do you envision HISD working with local governments to meet the Vision Zero goal to ensure no person is killed in a crash by 2030?

The HISD Transportation department should maintain a presence and positive relationship with city, county and state transportation entities and have a voice in the decision making process. The ongoing debate over the I-45 expansion has a direct impact on District I schools. I would support having a voice from the COO’s team present in those discussions to advocate for children and families directly affected.

Supporting the expansion of bike lane infrastructure, cross walks with working beacons, and road “diets” such as the one proposed on 11th street in the Heights are additional ways to help us move towards that goal. Finally, a long-term strategy to provide high-quality education options across all our neighborhood schools will reduce the dependency on car and bus transit, shorten travel times to/from school, and further contribute to our Vision Zero goal.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access (Bus Service)

3. How will you work to ensure all students presently walking in hazardous conditions can safely access HISD schools, whether the student lives within two miles of their neighborhood school or is walking to reach a bus hub to reach their magnet school?

I support applying for the extra funds designated through the Josue Flores Law, SB 195, passed in 2017. These funds could be used to provide actual bus transportation or other supports to ensure kids are getting to and from school safely based on the needs of the neighborhood.

Air Quality, Health, and High-traffic Road Proximity

4. What will you do to address this major health concern?

I support actions to improve air quality and believe proximity to roadways must be taken into account when building or refurbishing dated school buildings. I also support the district taking a position on issues such as the aforementioned I-45 expansion.

HISD Vehicle Fleet

5A. What are your plans for improving the environmental impact of the HISD vehicle fleet, such as school bus replacements, retrofits, and routing changes?

We need to ensure the busses we have are maintained and as we replace our fleet we prioritize electric and other clean energy fueled vehicles. We also need to take advantage of grants and other programs available to support these costs.

5B. Do you plan to take advantage of clean school bus funding opportunities offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency such as the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) School Bus Rebates and Electric School Bus Rebates?

Yes.

District I — Honorable Elizabeth Santos, Incumbent

Campaign website: santos4hisd.com

School Role in the Community

1.What is your philosophy about the role that HISD campuses play in their broader neighborhood?

Neighborhood schools are the souls of our communities. When properly supported, they amplify the power that comes from the unique and rich identities of our people. They become a resource and a rallying point. We saw that when our community schools distributed food and medical services at various times during the pandemic. I have long advocated for the community-schools model because it creates the social power necessary for us to close the longstanding gaps caused by decades of inequity.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access

2A. How do you plan to ensure safe access to schools for students with transportation challenges and in school zones with unsafe walking conditions?

In the short run, we need more reliable school bus service, and that means paying bus drivers a competitive wage so our transportation system can run at full capacity. But in the long run, our goal should be to drastically reduce the number of miles driven daily just to shuttle children all across our city. The solution starts with putting neighborhood schools first, building sidewalks and street lights in neglected neighborhoods, and mobilizing our communities to provide support where they can, like what Stella Mireles has done with Safe Walk Home Northside.

2B. How do you envision HISD working with local governments to meet the Vision Zero goal to ensure no person is killed in a crash by 2030?

We have to take geography more seriously. It is not good enough to give ten kids an opportunity to go to a great school across town. Our goal should be to make it easy for our families to choose their neighborhood schools. More kids going to their zoned schools (and more efficient zone boundaries) means fewer cars on the road. It means less time commuting and less road rage. But a great neighborhood school requires more than resources within the school. It requires a strong surrounding neighborhood, with access to quality food, transportation routes to good jobs, and affordable housing.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access (Bus Service)

3.How will you work to ensure all students presently walking in hazardous conditions can safely access HISD schools, whether the student lives within two miles of their neighborhood school or is walking to reach a bus hub to reach their magnet school?

[No answer provided]

Air Quality, Health, and High-traffic Road Proximity

4. What will you do to address this major health concern?

It all goes back to building up neighborhood schools as institutions that belong to the community. Marginalized communities will always be targets for development that brings harmful health effects. To reverse that trend, we must unite and direct our collective power to demand environmental justice.

HISD Vehicle Fleet

5A. What are your plans for improving the environmental impact of the HISD vehicle fleet, such as school bus replacements, retrofits, and routing changes?

I support investing in a bus fleet that minimizes emissions. But it will be very difficult to reduce our impact as long as we rely so heavily on bus transportation to move children daily across long distances. We need to reduce motor vehicle traffic and replace it with foot traffic. We need accessible, quality neighborhood schools.

5B. Do you plan to take advantage of clean school bus funding opportunities offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency such as the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) School Bus Rebates and Electric School Bus Rebates?

[No answer provided]

District V — Maria Benzon

Campaign website: benzon4hisd.com

School Role in the Community

1. What is your philosophy about the role that HISD campuses play in their broader neighborhood?

HISD campuses play an important part in the broader Houston community. Neighborhood schools are the hubs of our community, especially for families of children. Many students attend their zoned school while many other students attend magnet schools which are not in their neighborhoods. Some schools have an abundance of extra support through active PTAs and community or business partnerships while other schools lack resources and those external support. Therefore, it is imperative to have resources like wraparound services available at ALL HISD schools so parents, students, and community members can be served. When the needs of students and families are met, kids will be better able to learn and grow and contribute to a healthier learning environments for themselves and the larger community.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access

2A. How do you plan to ensure safe access to schools for students with transportation challenges and in school zones with unsafe walking conditions?

To ensure safe access to schools for students with transportation challenges, HISD can invest in routing experts who can evaluate and create safe and efficient routes that also save money. We should investigate if more crossing guards are needed in school zones because their presence can help enforce slower speed limits with marked crosswalks. Also, I plan to also meet with students and families to identify other specific transportation challenges as well locations of unsafe walking areas and work together to create viable solutions to these concerns.

2B. How do you envision HISD working with local governments to meet the Vision Zero goal to ensure no person is killed in a crash by 2030?

I support the Vision Zero goal to ensure no person is killed in a crash by 2030. To work toward this goal, HISD needs to collaborate with the City of Houston to install speed bumps around school zones and consider changing school zone speed limits from 20 mph to 15 mph during busy times.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access (Bus Service)

3. How will you work to ensure all students presently walking in hazardous conditions can safely access HISD schools, whether the student lives within two miles of their neighborhood school or is walking to reach a bus hub to reach their magnet school?

I will work to ensure that a report focused on students who utilize bus services and live within 2 miles of their school be conducted as well as students who utilize bus services to attend magnet schools. This report should include information about the traffic patterns on the street, crime data, and other criteria that deem an area as “hazardous conditions.” From this report, I will work with the Board to establish policies to ensure bus services are provided to students in these areas as well as auditing procedures to ensure that HISD receives reimbursement from the State of Texas for this service. This must be done to ensure all students have access to safe and equitable transportation.

Air Quality, Health, and High-traffic Road Proximity

4. What will you do to address this major health concern?

Every parent expects that they are sending their child to a safe environment. Unfortunately, some schools are not safe due to poor air quality. Therefore, HISD should regularly measure and monitor air quality in and around the school. In a partnership with CELF (Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation), my middle school students investigated air quality in different areas around school and in their Gulfton neighborhoods. I will encourage schools to develop similar partnerships to educate their students and communities about air quality and to help advocate for improvements if needed. In addition, I will ensure schools, especially those near high traffic roadways, will have air filters in classrooms. With the ESSER funds, HISD can appropriate monies to improve the air filtration systems in schools.

HISD Vehicle Fleet

5A. What are your plans for improving the environmental impact of the HISD vehicle fleet, such as school bus replacements, retrofits, and routing changes?

HISD’s school bus fleet of diesel buses should be replaced with diesel-electric or compressed natural gas buses as soon as possible. Also, non-bus vehicles should also be replaced with electric vehicles or with fuel-efficiency of at least 40mpg. If we can retrofit buses, I would support that. If we can change bus routes to reduce pollutants, I would support that. My first step would be to develop plans for these changes so we can begin discussions with the community. Furthermore, I would utilize grants and rebates to get HISD started in this direction.

5B. Do you plan to take advantage of clean school bus funding opportunities offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency such as the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) School Bus Rebates and Electric School Bus Rebates?

Yes.

District VI — Kendall Baker

Campaign website: bakerforhouston.com

School Role in the Community

1.What is your philosophy about the role that HISD campuses play in their broader neighborhood?

Educational outreach.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access

2A. How do you plan to ensure safe access to schools for students with transportation challenges and in school zones with unsafe walking conditions?

Well informed transportation staff.

2B. How do you envision HISD working with local governments to meet the Vision Zero goal to ensure no person is killed in a crash by 2030?

Requiring ongoing self defense driving. It has been my reason for not crashing in 30 years.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access (Bus Service)

3. How will you work to ensure all students presently walking in hazardous conditions can safely access HISD schools, whether the student lives within two miles of their neighborhood school or is walking to reach a bus hub to reach their magnet school?

Research walk space and require parents to sign off on safest suggestions.

Air Quality, Health, and High-traffic Road Proximity

4. What will you do to address this major health concern?

Stop all unnecessary engines while idle. Provide training for all drivers.

HISD Vehicle Fleet

5A. What are your plans for improving the environmental impact of the HISD vehicle fleet, such as school bus replacements, retrofits, and routing changes?

Moving to hybrid and electric vehicles.

5B. Do you plan to take advantage of clean school bus funding opportunities offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency such as the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) School Bus Rebates and Electric School Bus Rebates?

Yes.

District VII — Bridget Wade

Campaign website: bridgetforthekids.com

School Role in the Community

1. What is your philosophy about the role that HISD campuses play in their broader neighborhood?

HISD campuses should be the standard bearer for the neighborhood. With the school as the anchor for desired prosperity for all who reside. The HISD campus, should be a refection of the community and hold high the acheivemnets of those it serves.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access

2A. How do you plan to ensure safe access to schools for students with transportation challenges and in school zones with unsafe walking conditions?

As a Trustee, the goal should be to insure good policy surrounding all areas concerning safety for our students and families. The Board should be able to work with the county leaders to find workable solutions to matters of sidewalk safety and protective zones for students. This should be a whole communtity effort. I have worked with city leaders in the past. We have met to actually drive and walk areas of my district to look at light timing, traffic congestion hot spots and crossing concerns. I look at issues with a common sense approach, and a best outcome for all.

2B. How do you envision HISD working with local governments to meet the Vision Zero goal to ensure no person is killed in a crash by 2030?

I believe HISD can work hand in hand with the local government, but that also means that the local govenment needs to hear from the citizens. As it stands, our government leaders in certian areas are adding to the problem. They would like to control larger areas, and take authority of those jurisdictions. This poses the biggest threat to the communities in safety and in response. Large territories can’t be managed effectivlly and efficiently. This should be of great concern for the future.

Safe and Equitable Physical Access (Bus Service)

3. How will you work to ensure all students presently walking in hazardous conditions can safely access HISD schools, whether the student lives within two miles of their neighborhood school or is walking to reach a bus hub to reach their magnet school?

Sidewalks are city and private property controlled. The sidewalks around HISD campus, should be properly maintained and all trees and hazards should be managed under HISD purview.Trustees need to have a working relationship with the city and it’s neighbors to actively manage the areas around the schools.

Air Quality, Health, and High-traffic Road Proximity

4.What will you do to address this major health concern?

I believe that an informed public, should be advised of these hazards. Our roll is to inform and actively seek good governing policies the improve wher we have the ability. HISD has moved away from improving upon local neighborhood schoola nd the natural feeder pattern. In the 80’s, HISD started to move students farther from thier neighborhoods, instead of activilty improving them. This has direct effect on public safety and neighborhood investment in schools. Bussing has only increased because of this. This, then creates more pollution. We must return public schools to a model that brings great schools closer to the families they serve.

HISD Vehicle Fleet

5A. What are your plans for improving the environmental impact of the HISD vehicle fleet, such as school bus replacements, retrofits, and routing changes?

Routing Changes and improving neighborhood schools.

5B. Do you plan to take advantage of clean school bus funding opportunities offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency such as the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) School Bus Rebates and Electric School Bus Rebates?

Maybe.

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