The Lake Travis school board has three seats up for grabs, drawing 11 candidates, including a husband and wife who were once sued by the district for filing voluminous public records requests for documents regarding spending and administrative decisions.
Known as a high-performing district, the 10,387-student Lake Travis is grappling with booming growth, and expects nearly 3,000 additional students in the next five years. Also growing is the district’s annual recapture payment to the state, which hit $43.5 million this year. Under state school finance laws, school districts like Lake Travis that have high land values, and hence strong property tax revenues, are required to pay a portion of their property tax levy to the state to help subsidize districts with lower property values.
Incumbent Guy Clayton is being challenged by David Lovelace, a parent who has made five previous bids to get on the school board.
Clayton, a financial advisor, grew up attending Lake Travis schools and is a 1990 Lake Travis High graduate. He has served on the board for the past nine years. Clayton said he’s focused on managing the district’s growth, having the district’s CFO find more ways to cut costs and budget efficiencies, and finding ways to enhance school security and safety. Clayton said his financial background helps him analyze the district’s budget and the impact of school finance laws. He said the district is financially transparent, with details about the budget, financial statements, debt service analysis, and its check registers available online. In response to criticism from Lovelace, Clayton says any lobbying the district does is handled by senior staff at no cost when they go down to the Capitol and talk to state representatives. The district also receives some lobbying help, he said, as a member of groups such as the Fast Growth School Coalition, which shares information and resources about the unique challenges faced by fast growth districts in Texas.
Lovelace, an electrical engineer, said the district and board members must be more open and transparent about spending and other decisions, and should not pay for any legislative lobbying. He said the district should only focus on education and academic achievement. He questioned Superintendent Brad Lancaster’s salary — a base salary of $316,865, plus benefits — and also said he is opposed to any tax increases, saying the district must live within its means.
Lovelace, and his wife Melissa, who is running for another school board seat in the May 5 election, were sued in 2006 by the school district, which claimed the couple buried the district’s staff with excessive open records requests. According to the district, the couple requested more than 2,200 records in one year, including as many as 238 requests in a 24-hour period. School officials at that time estimated the requests and complaints submitted by the Lovelaces between August 2005 and September 2006 amounted to $700,000 in staff time and labor.
A Travis County judge ruled that the district was required by law to provide the information because the Texas Public Information Act set no limits on how much material could be requested, a decision that was affirmed by an appellate court.
At that time, the district and government agencies could charge labor costs only if requestors wanted to obtain copies of records, not solely to view them. The law was later changed to allow government agencies to charge for staff time. The Lovelaces continue to file routine records requests, though not as frequently.
Four candidates are vying to fill the Place 2 board seat being vacated by Lisa Johnson, who did not seek re-election.
Daniel Gonzalez, a lobbyist, said he wants to ensure board members have better relationships with state leaders to ensure the Legislature understands the financial constraints the district faces, and the hardship posed by the recapture payments. Gonzalez said his goals would include improving school safety, including a biannual review of the district’s emergency management and crisis response plan; and student mental health, including advocating for reduced homework for elementary and middle schools.
Jan Moreland, a real estate agent, said she wants to reduce class sizes, which would mean changing budget priorities as well as forming partnerships with such organizations as the Lake Travis Education Foundation to help pay for shortfalls. Moreland, a former teacher and longtime school volunteer, said she also wants to put in place SEL, social-emotional learning, in earlier grades and at every school to “mitigate safety issues longterm by promoting the holistic growth of each child.”
Adrienne Trigg, a construction consultant who specializes in designing homes for the elderly and people with disabilities, for years has advocated for students with special needs, and has helped to make all playgrounds accessible to all students. She has also advocated at the state level. As a trustee, she said her decade of experience in budgeting and analysis of large construction projects, as well as work assessing financial risk for lending institutions, would help her analyze the budget.
Lauren White, a former elementary and special education teacher, said the district can do a better job with early intervention for students with learning and behavioral issues. As a trustee, she says she would seek to expand high-quality prekindergarten and add counselors at every campus, particularly in the middle schools to address student mental health and wellness. She said there must be more open dialogue between the administrators and school board and the district’s teachers since teachers have firsthand knowledge about the best ways to spend money to help students learn.
Five candidates have entered the race to fill an unexpired one-year term for Place 3, which was vacated by Alex Alexander after he received a pastoral job out of state.
Tritia Land, a longtime school volunteer, said the district needs more counselors, and should expand student-led support programs to provide emotional support for students. She said her background managing multi million-dollar restaurants and country clubs, numerous volunteer leadership roles and fundraising duties have given her the business knowledge and skills to oversee and prioritize district spending on staff, safety and academics.
Melissa Lovelace, a former nurse and school volunteer, said she wants more transparency with district spending and board decisions. She said she hasn’t liked decisions the school board has made in the past — she believes the district spends too much on administrative salaries, for example — and rather than complain, she is volunteering to be a part of the solution. She said there needs to be more public discussion by board members before decisions at meetings, and questions why nearly all board actions are approved with no dissent. As a trustee, she said she will not just approve the decisions that the superintendent or other trustees support. Like her husband, she questioned Lancaster’s salary.
Jessica Putonti, an attorney, said the district is managing its growth with a $253 million bond approved by voters in 2017, but another likely will be needed soon. She said she wants the district to examine ways to improve students’ health by expanding programs that address drugs and mental well-being issues and by hiring more health and well-being counselors. She said the district also must improve safety by determining areas of vulnerability in its security, and by considering options for repairs. She also said more certifications should be offered in high school for students who choose not to attend college.
Kris Robinson, is a licensed psychologist who conducts neuropsychological evaluations for autism and learning and medical issues. Robinson, whose parents were elementary teachers, said she offers a unique voice to the school board with her experience with budgeting and finances as a small business owner, and her understanding of the neuropsychological needs of students.
Donald Scott II, information management consultant in marketing data integration and campaign performance analytics, said the biggest improvement needed is increasing the number of counselors at the schools, not just for students, but also offering it for their parents. He also said parents and educators must be given opportunity to share their wishes directly with the school board.
About the candidates
Incumbent Guy C. Clayton, 46, is a financial advisor. He’s lived in the district for 33 years and is a Lake Travis graduate. He has served on the board since 2009.
Education: bachelor’s degree in finance from Texas Tech University
Civic participation: Former board of trusteeat the Boys and Girls Club Foundation, Austin Sports Commission and Lake Hills Church board of trustee.
David Lovelace, 54, is an electrical engineer. He has lived in the district for 14 years.
Education: master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla (Missouri University of Science and Technology)
Civic participation: Served on advisory committees and in leadership roles with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers IEEE. He has also volunteered for multiple years as a senior/junior judge at the Austin Regional Science Fair and recently as a senior level judge at the 2018 Texas Science and Engineering Fair.
Daniel E. Gonzalez, 45, is director of legislative affairs and chief lobbyist for Texas Association of Realtors, has lived in the district for 8 years.
Education: bachelor’s degree in political science and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from St. Edward’s University.
Civic participation: Gonzalez is on the executive board of the Boy Scouts of America Capitol Area Council and volunteers for Meals on Wheels and Travis County Victims Services. He is a member of the tax policy committee for the National Association of Realtors and is a former board member of the Austin Building and Standards Commission.
Jan Moreland, 47, a real estate agent, has lived in the district for 15 years. She is a former teacher who taught in Fort Worth and Austin.
Education: bachelor’s in education from the University of Texas; master’s in early education, Texas Christian University
Civic participation: district bond committee member, member of the Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce, National Charity League Lake Travis chapter, PTO member and volunteer at three schools, troop leader with the Girl Scouts of Central Texas and chairwoman for the high school homecoming parade.
Adrienne Trigg, 41, accessibility construction consultant, has lived in the district for 12 years.
Education: bachelor’s in journalism and mass communications, University of New Mexico. Masters of Business Administration, Regis University
Civic participation: Protect Texas Fragile Kids advocate, Spina Bifida disability advocate, and special education advocate.
Lauren White, 37, a former elementary and special education teacher, has lived in the district for five years.
Education: bachelor’s in elementary and special education from Vanderbilt University
Civic participation: former teacher in Washington D.C. and Austin school district and current substitute special education teacher in Lake Travis, volunteer at Lake Travis United Methodist Church preschool and school reading volunteer.
Place 3 (unexpired 1-year term)
Tritia Land, 49, a longtime school volunteer, has lived in the district for five years.
Education: bachelor’s in hotel and institutional management from Texas Tech University
Civic participation: Lake Travis Education Foundation board of directors, scholarship committee, chairwoman and co-chairwoman of the foundation’s gala; school volunteer for Cy-Fair, Harmony schools; various volunteer leadership roles and PTO roles in the Lake Travis school district; served on committees and in leadership positions with the Junior League, National Charity League, St. John Vianney Catholic Church and Emmaus Catholic Church.
Melissa Lovelace, 51, a former nurse, has lived in the district for 14 years.
Education: bachelor’s in nursing, Harding University
Civic participation: school volunteer, including with literacy and the science fair and volunteer with the Dripping Springs Church of Christ.
Jessica Putonti, 43, an attorney, has lived in the district for eight years.
Education: bachelor’s in molecular and cell biology from University of Connecticut and law degree, University of Connecticut School of Law.
Civic participation: former secretary and legal counsel for the Lakeway Police Foundation. She serves on the city of Lakeway Board of Ethics. Served on the RM 620 Corridor Advisory Committee and the Justice Center Advisory Committee. Former court-appointed child advocate. School volunteer, cheer coach and board president of the Lake Travis Youth Association.
Kris Robinson, 44, a licensed psychologist, has lived in the district for three years.
Education: bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Minnesota, master’s in counseling psychology from St. Cloud State University and a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Argosy University.
Civic participation: Serves as the elementary school library volunteer and was chairwoman for the Box Top for Education committee. Also was a member of numerous nonprofit boards and advisory committees serving people who are disabled, including Pride Inclusive Sports and Autism Society of Texas.
Donald Scott II, 37, an information management consultant, has lived in the district for three years.
Education: bachelor’s in electrical engineering, Princeton University.
Civic participation: Scott volunteers at West Cypress Hills Elementary, including as a Watch DOG (dads of great students), volunteer at the high school college fair, is a member of the Princeton Club of Austin and conducts interviews for Princeton applicants.
About the job
Lake Travis school board members are elected at-large by voters in the 9,900-student district and serve three-year terms for no pay. The board hires the superintendent, establishes policies, levies taxes and approves the budget.