Midway Independent School District Board of Trustee Vice President Tom Pagel faces a challenger in the May 9 election, and voters’ decision might affect the district’s bottom line.
Challenger Ross Larson, a certified public accountant who works as Baylor University’s senior finance and business manager for academic affairs, thinks his insight into finance and budgeting will be a boon for the district in the upcoming years.
“I’m a bean counter,” he said.
School board trustees are volunteer positions elected to three-year terms, with no term limits.
Each year, one-third of Midway’s board is up for re-election. The board is responsible for hiring the superintendent and setting the district’s goals, according to Midway ISD’s website.
Both Place 3, held by Tom Pagel, and Place 4, held by Bobby Deaton, are up for election this May. Deaton doesn’t have a challenger this year.
Larson has lived in Woodway for more than four years and decided to run for election because he is concerned about the amount of money the administration is spending and wants more areas of the district to be represented on the board.
Larson and his wife have six children, five of whom attend Midway schools.
He said he is sure there will be substantial state cuts to education in the current legislative session and that Midway ISD isn’t prepared to handle them. If the state cuts funding, Midway could be forced to increase the local property tax rate and he wants to prevent that, he said.
“The amount of money this district has spent — it blows my mind and I’ve been in charge of budgets of $160 million,” he said.
Pagel, who has served eight years on the school board, disagrees with Larson’s assessment of the district’s finances.
The bond service is paid entirely through local property taxes and the rate wouldn’t be affected by state education cuts, he said.
“If the state cuts our budget, which they may, it would have zero impact on our ability to service our bond structure,” he said.
The district also has a $21.6 million fund balance, which is about 37 percent of the district’s current budget of more than $58 million per year, Midway ISD officials said.
Larson thinks the district could avoid future budget woes through refusing transfers and lowering the student population of the district.
If Midway High School dropped back down into a Class 5A district, it could save money on the amount traveled for sports competitions, he said.
Lowering the student population also would reduce class size and prevent the need to build more schools and have additional bond elections, Larson said.
“I think getting back to a 5A-type of school population is going to help immensely,” he said.
Midway High School’s enrollment is 2,250 and would need to drop by 150 students to have an enrollment of less than 2,099 to be classified as a 5A district. Midway ISD’s overall residential population is about 7,600.
Pagel, part owner in a local residential construction and remodeling company who has two children who graduated from Midway ISD, said he decided to run for re-election because he still thinks it is his responsibility to volunteer his time for the community. He said he has confidence in the board’s ability to navigate any changes ahead.
“I still think I have something to offer to the kids in the district, and to the district and to the community,” he said.
Pagel said he sees some of his greatest accomplishments as steering the district through previous state funding cuts without having to reduce staff or any student programs.
“We sort of expected to see some cuts and funding from the state. So when it happened it was difficult, but we were prepared for it,” he said.
Pagel said he is unsure what the state Legislature will do with education funding this session, but he is satisfied that Midway could weather any decisions made in Austin.
“The state is not irresponsible. They’re not going to come in and cut $10 million out of our budget. That’s not going to happen,” he said.
Pagel wants to see an increase of students in extracurricular activities and to continue expanding career and technical education programs, such as the current classes of florist design and robotics.
Pagel said 82 percent of high school students in Midway participate in extracurricular activities, which helps academic performance.
“We want more of them involved because we know they’ll do better in school,” he said.