Voters gave Republican-endorsed, conservative trustees a strong majority on the Cypress-Fairbanks school board, marking the end of a heated battle for control over the Houston area’s second-largest school district.
The contentious race in the Cy-Fair Independent School District drew widespread attention when several candidates received support from Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican party and conservative action committees. Their victories come amid a national push for Republicans to get more involved in education policy and create a 6-1 conservative majority.
For Cy-Fair’s Democratic-aligned voters, the race was a mission to avoid losing any ground. All four teacher union-supported candidates — a bipartisan slate dubbed “ALL4CFISD” — needed to win their races to maintain the slim majority held by moderate trustees.
But in the end, Todd LeCompte, Justin Ray and Christine Kalmbach won their respective races, edging out Tonia Jaeggi, Leslie Martone and Frances Ramirez Romero.
“We’ve allowed the left in this country to run education probably for about six decades,” said Cy-Fair grandparent Clark Denson, who voted for the winning candidates. “Republicans and conservatives are not as voiceful, traditionally. … I think that’s changing.”
School board races are nonpartisan, meaning candidates do not choose an official party affiliation, but many still campaign on issues that align them with one side of the aisle and receive support from local parties.
Julie Hinaman, the only incumbent on the ballot, secured a position as the lone Democrat-supported trustee on the new board. LeCompte, Ray and Kalmbach will join three sitting conservative trustees, Natalie Blasingame, Scott Henry and Lucas Scanlon, who were elected in 2021.
As he greeted voters at a poll station on Election Day, Ray said he felt confident about the outcome he’d see that night.
“We’ve worked very hard. We’ve left everything out on the field,” Ray said. “We’re also very optimistic about the future of the community, and we just want to be the leaders that are going to help shepherd us into the upcoming years.”
Cy-Fair shows its stripes
Ray said the amount of support for the conservative candidates confirms what issues matter to the district, which serves about 116,000 students in northwest Harris County and received an A rating under Texas’ academic accountability system in 2022.
But more left-leaning voters were hopeful the community would prove with their ballots that such conservative values weren’t reflective of the large district.
“The patriot slate is endorsed by Ted Cruz,” said Cy-Fair parent Jen Chennette as she stood outside an early voting location Thursday. “And we don’t need politics in our nonpartisan school board election.”
Some Cy-Fair residents have expressed fear that a new conservative majority would lead the district to get tangled up in the culture war issues that have led its neighbors, like Katy Independent School District, to make constant controversial headlines.
“I’m concerned about policies that may pass that are harmful to marginalized students,” said Lesley Guilmart, president of grassroots group Cypress Families for Public Schools. “Policies that might require parental permission on pronouns and name changes and requiring teachers to out students. I’m really concerned about our students’ mental health.”
To date, Cy-Fair has largely avoided getting involved in hot-button political issues, though it has not aligned with the farther-left views typically favored by the nation’s largest teachers unions. With its new tilt in power, this middle-of-the-road approach may change. Several nearby districts with a majority of conservatives on their boards have taken on thorny issues such as book bans and gender policies.
‘Back to basics’
Some, like Cy-Fair resident Dave Juda, were drawn to the polls to vote for the Republican-endorsed candidates, preferring the traditional approach they campaigned on.
“I don’t like the current board. They’re too radical,” Juda said. “I’m looking for conservative guys and girls. I’m primarily for education, not indoctrination.”
LeCompte, Ray and Kalmbach campaigned on returning to the “basics” of education and keeping liberal ideologies out of the classroom, a conservative critique used to argue that topics such as race and gender shouldn’t be discussed in schools.
This approach, which they’ve argued will improve student outcomes, attracted Denson, the grandparent. He said the new conservative trustees represent his Christian ideals and won’t entertain far-left education issues.
“Having kids that can read, write, spell, history, arithmetic, sciences,” Denson said. “These are important things, not social emotional learning, not counseling. Frankly, over my dead body, am I ever gonna sit by and idly allow a board of any kind to let such dastardly policies come into play, that don’t belong.”
Sticky superintendent situation
The new trustees are joining at a contentious time: One of their first major decisions will be to swear in the district’s new superintendent after current chief Mark Henry steps down in December.
The current board planned a split approach to finding the new leader. They will soon determine a finalist, whose contract will be approved by the trustees sworn in after the election.
However, this means the new, conservative-dominated board will be responsible for finalizing a superintendent chosen by a more-moderate board, who likely had different values in mind during their search. Cy-Fair could lack a permanent leader for weeks if board members do not approve the finalist and move to conduct an entirely new search.
As Guilmart worries about the selection process with a new conservative board majority coming in, she said she’s not surprised at the outcome of the election and the issues the district will have to deal with next.
“The way folks are falling for lies and misinformation and propaganda, I mean, none of this surprises me,” Guilmart said. “This is nothing new at this point. And we know what we need to do to save our communities and save our democracy. And so we keep doing it.”