Katy ISD candidates call for increased teacher pay, bus driver perks in Position 4 trustee race

Erica Brettell, Cicely Taylor and Morgan Calhoun are vying for the Katy ISD board of trustees Position 4 seat.

Erica Brettell, Cicely Taylor and Morgan Calhoun are vying for the Katy ISD board of trustees Position 4 seat.


Three candidates vying for Katy ISD board of trustees Position 4 in the May 6 election weighed in this week on restricting students' access to books , teacher pay and addressing bus driver shortages.

The seat is currently held by Leah Wilson, who has chosen not to run for re-election. The candidates, Morgan Calhoun, Cicely Taylor and Erica Brettell, were all given the same questions.

The deadline for voter registration is April 6, and early voting begins April 24.

Taylor has lived in Katy for more than 17 years, and she’s the mother of two Katy ISD graduates. She’s a “lifelong educator,” she said, having worked in the classroom as a teacher and now as an administrator. “There are many local and national distractions that take away from the true mission of public schools,” Taylor said. “We need strong leaders to ensure our Katy ISD schools are spaces where all students have the joyful and rigorous educational experience they need to achieve their full potential.”

Calhoun is running for school board “to ensure all voices in our community are heard,” she said. She wants to uphold family values in the district while providing taxpayer oversight, she said. “I want to serve this diverse community with a servant leader mentality,” Calhoun added.

Brettell is a third-generation graduate from Katy ISD and she has four children enrolled in the district. She has worked in governance, business and the nonprofit sector, and she spent ten years working on education policy in the U.S. Senate, she said.

“My nonprofit experience has further provided the understanding of how to adapt programs to specific audiences and needs,” Brettell said.
The candidates weighed in on some of the biggest issues facing the district.

Restricting access to literature

Katy ISD implemented a new policy in November in which parents must now formally agree to let their secondary school students check out books from classroom libraries . Parents will also automatically be notified when their children check out any school library books

Calhoun believes that sexually explicit material does not belong in schools. She also said book banning is an incorrect term for the changes she intends to precipitate across the district.

“Book banning is an inaccurate term applied by the media to a legal process intended to remove harmful material that does not align with Texas law,” she said.

Katy ISD is making strides to address parents' concerns over reading materials, Brettell believes, and she feels the district needs to encourage further transparency with parents.

“The current policy includes various points of review and audit, in addition to the option for parents to be notified any time a child checks out a book from the library,” she noted. “The district should always be vigilant about the influences on its students and review policy as needed.”

Taylor is against broad book banning policies, she said, but added that parents should have the right to determine what is appropriate for their children. “Our students deserve literature that is not only age and developmentally appropriate but also presents diversity in thought, language and experiences,” she said.

Katy ISD already has comprehensive parental controls over library materials, she said, and the issue with book banning, “has become a significant distraction to teaching and learning, where our true focus should be."

School safety

Brettell lauded the district’s efforts to promote school safety, but added that she thinks there should be police presence on every campus, and the district needs to fill staff vacancies in security guards and dispatchers. ”We should also invest in current programs already in place, such as 'Men on Campus' and 'Watchdogs,' which proactively provide extra eyes and ears on campuses, act as a deterrent and put students more at ease,” she said.

“Before students can learn and teachers can teach, they must be safe,” Taylor said. She supports bolstered campus security but also believes anti-bullying initiatives will mitigate some of the risk of school violence. The district also needs a comprehensive intervention plan for students who are exhibiting signs of needing help, she said.

The safety of students and staff is an issue that requires a proactive approach, Calhoun said. “Katy ISD has taken an aggressive stance in upgrading the security of the facilities, we should and will continue to audit and ensure that the district’s campuses are safe and fortified against anyone seeking to cause harm,” she said.

Teacher retention

Like most Texas school districts, Katy ISD is struggling with a teacher shortage .

By having open communication with teachers, Taylor said, the district can ascertain the needs of teachers and address them accordingly. Teacher pay must also be increased, she said, and the district needs to invest in resources for performance-based compensation.

Teacher retention requires more than an increased salary, Calhoun believes. In order to be successful, she said, teachers must be able to teach without distraction. “Minimizing burdensome paperwork (and) maximizing classroom instructional and planning time allows a district to hold onto the best teachers out there,” she added.

In addition to better compensation, Brettell said, teachers need a reduced workload and incentives for professional development. “Most importantly,” she added, “we should ask our teachers what would make the biggest impact to foster a better learning environment.”

Bus driver shortages

Houston-area schools are scrambling to address a statewide bus driver shortage.

Bus drivers are a critical part of safety and the school community, Calhoun said, and they need increased pay as incentive to work for the district. “Their job is sometimes thankless and their compensation should always be part of any pay discussion going forward,” she said.

Brettell suggests actively listening to the bus drivers themselves as part of the solution to the issue. Making sure Katy ISD’s pay is competitive will also mitigate the issue, she said, and working with community partners like local colleges and civic groups could help attract new drivers.

Increased hourly pay and free childcare would incentivize drivers, Taylor said, noting that Katy ISD has already implemented a tiered bell schedule to alleviate some of the strain on the district.