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What has happened in SBISD? It's all in here.

We have an ever increasing national readership and are continuing to receive press inquiries so we thought it would be appropriate to write a summary update covering the events of the last 10 months. Full coverage is available in our archives at SaveSBID.org.


If you would like to receive future updates from Save SBISD, please subscribe here.


If you would like to follow us on Twitter, we are @SaveSBISD


Executive Summary of events

Following a seminal election in May 2021, the defeated candidate for SBISD Board of Trustees sued the district calling for the creation of "Single-Member Districts" or SMD's within SBISD. SMD's would disenfranchise almost 80,000 voters in SBISD because they would no longer be able to cast a vote for each candidate on the school board, and some years they would not be allowed to vote at all.


For seven months, the school board did little to battle the lawsuit, and even less to inform the public on developments. The Board of Trustees initiated settlement talks with the plaintiff in November 2021. Under state law, any settlement to an SMD structure would require breaking the district into at least 5 separate pieces.


Public outcry reached a fever pitch in December 2021, as news of the settlement talks broke. The Board's ineffective and generalist defense firm, Thompson & Horton LLP, caved to the pressure and removed themselves from the case. The district retained a specialist law firm that has experience successfully defending these types of attacks on voter sovereignty.


In February, with trial only a few months away, the Board and the plaintiff ask the judge to cancel the upcoming May 2022 election, arguing "it is not a good idea to change horses in midstream."


This eggregious usurpation of voter rights elicits a flood of legal filings in federal and state Supreme Court, including filings by SBISD citizens, candidates in the May 2022 election, and Statewide leadership in Austin.


In the face of this public outrage, board members double down on their arguments to cancel the upcoming election. Last week, the Court ruled against the Board, and assured our election will happen this May.


Summary Conclusions


Save SBISD was founded on the principle of supporting the Board in this fight, but the board has let the community down, repeatedly, since June.


The district needs new, invigorated Trustees able to bring strength and active leadership to the board, and, direct, forthright communication to their constituents. This May, three seats on the board are up for election.


Carter Breed is the only incumbent seeking re-election, and must be replaced. Mr. Breed has repeatedly stated a willingness to settle the lawsuit in private remarks from August through November, favoring a 5-district model over a 7-district model.


History of Events

May 2021


Virginia Elizondo and Chris Earnest campaign for an open seat on the SBISD Board of Trustees.


Ms. Elizondo had previously lost an election to the Board of Trustees in 2015 while running against an incumbent. She garnered 359 votes in that 2015 contest (17%) falling well short of her incumbent opponent's 1,739 votes (83%).


In 2021, however, Ms. Elizondo was in a much different political place. She had been volunteering for the district on various boards and committees, and had established deep relationships with district insiders, including employees, Trustees, and members of the not-for-profit Spring Branch Education Foundation.


When she ran for office a second time in 2021, Ms. Elizondo had the endorsements and vigorous, active support of all six incumbent members of the school board and increased her vote total by almost ten-fold to 3,467 votes.


Chris Earnest, a grassroots candidate and self-described board outsider, using a fresh and sensible approach to district governance, rode an anti-incumbent wave of Covid frustration to an overwhelming 5,291 votes and won the election.


The 2021 SBISD election was the largest turnout in the history of the district. There were nearly three times as many votes cast in 2021 as there were in the previous record turnout.


June 18, 2021


Attorney Barry Abrams files a lawsuit in federal court alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act in the 2021 SBISD election, on behalf of his 'client', Virginia Elizondo. The lawsuit seeks to dramatically alter the manner by which Trustees are elected, and will unquestionably disenfranchise over 80,000 people if successful.


Barry Abrams is doing this work on Elizondo vs. SBISD pro bono, and is serving as chairman of the Blank Rome LLP pro bono committee, and can likely influence which cases the firm may take on that basis.


In addition to chairing the idle hands / devils workshop contingent at his law firm, Barry Abrams is ALSO on the board of the aforementioned Spring Branch Education Foundation ("SBEF"). In fact, he has served on the SBEF board for over 20 years, including as its Chairman, and as chairman of its Endowment Committee, such as it is.


The speed with which the lawsuit was filed (36 days), along with the fact that Ms. Elizondo is not paying for her legal services, and the fact that Ms. Elizondo and Barry Abrams are likely quite friendly since at least 2015, leads Save SBISD to conclude that this suit is nothing more than an idealogical vanity project for Barry Abrams as he rides toward the twilight of his legal career.


For those of us with a stake in the district, it is far more serious.


June 20, 2021


Certain troubled stakeholders in SBISD have their sunday interrupted with news of the lawsuit, and form SaveSBISD on the following principles:


  • To keep readers updated on potential changes to SBISD governance,

  • To support Spring Branch ISD and its Trustees in this fight, and,

  • To provide readers with actionable steps they can take to help prevent disenfranchisement

Save SBISD remains the leader in information updates on Elizondo vs. SBISD.


June 21, 2021


The next day, the SBISD board held its first meeting post lawsuit filing. A small group of citizens (none of whom are members of Save SBISD) expressed their concerns over the suit in public comment. Each spoke rationally about voter disenfranchisement and governance conflicts that would unquestionably arise if Barry Abrams' lawsuit was successful. Each implored the board to vigorously fight the lawsuit.

Lisa Alpe addresses the Trustees on June 21, 2021

The first to speak at this critical meeting was Lisa Alpe, who is now a candidate for SBISD Trustee, position five, opposed by Carter Breed. Ms. Alpe remarked, "You fight for every single one of our kids every day, all year long...50 years of leadership is sitting on this board...every child has a better chance to get what they need with seven voices fighting [for them], versus one" as would occur under a single member district system.


The board chose to not comment on the lawsuit at this meeting.


Early Summer 2021


Over the following weeks, much was uncovered about the precursors to this legal filing. Barry Abrams' own involvement with SBEF governance was the first, shocking revelation. Citizens wondered why a man who had spent 20 years ostensibly working to improve the district, now decide to sue the district, for FREE?


Next we learned that the district's own law firm, Thompson and Horton LLP laid the groundwork for this change to Single Member Districts Back in 2020. We also learned that their motives and incompetence (twice) might not make Thompson & Horton the best law firm to assure SBISD remained an at-large system.


Finally, we learned of the effects of internal and external political and commercial influence seeking to change the district to an SMD election structure.


In these dog days summer, meeting participation was unprecedented. Citizens flooded meetings to speak out against the lawsuit. They implored the Trustees to speak on the record and provide information on their stance, but none was forthcoming.


The silence, by the incumbent board, was deafening.


August 5, 2021


Chris Earnest, the newest member of the SBISD Board of Trustees, goes on the record opposing Barry Abrams' lawsuit, saying, in part,


"Adoption of [Barry Abrams' plan] would fracture and divide our district permanently." -Chris Earnest, SBISD Trustee

Mr. Earnest's six colleagues on the Board fail to follow their most junior member's lead, leaving their constituents in the dark on their position on SBISD election procedures. With their constituents begging them for information, the best response these "Silent Six" would muster was 'no comment'.


Carter Breed is the only member of this Silent Six daring to seek re-election this cycle.


Fall 2021


The Fall was marked by a lot of legal filings, but no actual progress or public discussion by the Silent Six regarding the election process change sought by Barry Abrams.


A series of legal filings led the judge to grant Amicus Curiae status to the client of Attorney Andy Taylor. This allowed a third party to observe the legal proceedings, and file briefs with the court. This was done over the objections of the district's own lawyers. The admission of Mr. Taylor proved valuable down the road.


As was later revealed in legal filings, the Board of Trustees had initiated settlement discussions with Barry Abrams in November 2021. Word of these talks got out, and public fury reigned down on the Board in late November.


December 2021


The district's then law firm, Thompson & Horton LLP, abruptly walked off the job in December, citing the community's "focus becoming the law firm" representing SBISD.


Whether Thompson & Horton quit or was fired doesn't matter, they were replaced by a superior firm. Thompson & Horton is admittedly a low bar in this regard.


The Trustees quietly replaced Thompson & Horton LLP with Abernathy Roeder LLP, a firm that has an actual track record of defeating activist lawyers like Barry Abrams who attempt to coerce weak school boards into SMD conversion.


All things considered, this was a first step in the correct direction, albeit long delayed. We certainly noticed a calming in our comments and emails from readers. For the first time, our readers felt like something had broken their way.


February 1, 2022

Barry Abrams politicizes the issue


Perhaps Barry Abrams felt the wind shift too. After all, this was no longer chummy litigation against his friends and fellow SBEF sponsors over at Thompson & Horton. Talented, specialist lawyers were now on the other side of the courtroom.


On February 1, Barry Abrams decided to expand the scope of his quest beyond the legal process, by asking the judge to enjoin (prevent) SBISD from having its scheduled May 2022 election.


By this act, Barry Abrams stepped wholly outside the legal framework and its neatly prescribed processes. Barry Abrams made the conscious decision to litigate this matter in the messiest possible arena available: Electoral Politics. Yuck, nobody wants that.


Of course, Barry Abrams could have put his name on the Ballot instead, and used the political process the correct way to get the (unacceptable) change he wants. The State of Texas makes the process to impliment his preferred change very clear in statute; the board can change the manner in which they are elected with a simple majority vote.


But Barry Abrams couldn't be bothered to do all that. After all, politics is hard. Winning elections is even harder. The political process is messy, slow, and not the most efficient way to make dramatic, overnight, unpopular changes, like disenfranchising every single voter in SBISD, which is his goal.


February 2, 2022


The day after Barry Abrams began his attempts to cancel the May election, the Board updated its webpage with the following statement (click to enlarge):

Screencap of written statement by the Board of Trustees, Feb 2, 2022

We did not even bother to tweet about this, because it seemed unnecessary. Of course the Board wouldn't cowtow to fantastical demands to cancel an election that was already in process...


February 15, 2022

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy


The most breathtaking development of this entire affair occurred when the Board of Trustees completely reversed its stance and asked the judge to cancel the May election in a court filing:



Paragraph 10 of the Board's filing makes their rationale clear, complete with footnote:



When Save SBISD pointed this flip-flop out to our readers, the Trustees were quick to update their website saying that the change was a "strategic decision", part of their "complex legal strategy" and that nobody should worry because "they are the holders of all the information."

You can read the Board's, um, 'revised position' I guess we should call it, for yourself (click to enlarge):


Screenshot of 3/15/22 Board Update

It was precisely at this moment that the scales fell from our eyes here at Save SBISD.


It says very clearly throughout the filing and in Paragraphs 9 & 10 above that this was nothing but a time crunch. There was nothing strategic, complex or informed in this action at all.


The board could have retained Abernathy in June 2021 and come out guns-blazing against the nonsense Barry Abrams was peddling.


Instead, the Silent Six circled their wagons and timidly reiterated their party line that 'we can't comment on pending litigation', which outspoken Trustee Chris Earnest had shown to be completely untrue.


This strategy would have been fine had the Trustees actually been effective in mounting a timely and vigorous defense to Barry Abrams' lawsuit. But they weren't.


Instead, the Silent Six watched as Thompson & Horton withered away any credibility or confidence the electorate had in them, Save SBISD's included.


February 16, 2022


Andy Taylor, representing Amicus Curiae, files an aggressive rebuttal to Barry Abrams' injunction request. It is quite possible that this brief is what prevented the election from being canceled. It is important to remember, a private citizen acting as Amicus is the only reason this rebuttal was made defending our voting rights.


The Silent Six certainly wouldn't deign to defend us; they casually cast their constituents aside like dirty laundry or a used paper plate.


In this moment, the Board showed that it could not be trusted to assure we even have an election, meaning any election at all. That is not conjecture, opinion, or speculation, that is a fact laid out, in writing, by the Boardmembers themselves, and published by them on their own Board of Trustees website.


If they can't pass this simplest of tests, why on earth would we trust them to determine what type of election process we should use?? Or to manage our tax dollars? Or educate our kids?


Elected members of school board governance are called "Trustees" for a reason. We are giving them our trust to do what is right. At this point, to us at Save SBISD, the Silent Six have lost our trust.


Their politically fatal miscalculation had rapid consequences.


February 25, 2022

MORNING


Just like Barry Abrams wanted, the political circus came to town this Friday morning:

Will Hickman, Jack Kagle, Lisa Alpe, John Perez, Caroline Bennett, Mano DeAyala et al, face reporters (Credit: KPRC)

Public officials from across Texas arrived at the SBISD administration building and levied a crippling indictment of the Silent Six and their disregard for voter rights and absurd silence on conversion of SBISD to Single Member Districts (SMD). Lisa Alpe spoke directly to the matter in this clip:


Our full update on the morning's press conference is here. It is a good political read considering Barry Abrams has decided to make this matter political instead of procedural.


February 25, 2022

AFTERNOON


Later this day, after nine months of silence, members of the Silent Six miraculously found their voices! They appeared out of nowhere in front of TV cameras on the steps of the federal courthouse downtown, now ready to discuss all manner of things! Hallelujah!!

Silent Six insert foot squarely into mouth, film at 11

Unfortunately for them, these members of the Silent Six did not acquit themselves of their transgressions. In fact, they only dug their hole much deeper. The Silent Six members insisted that moving the election date was no big deal, doing so was actually better, because of 'turnout' (like that's a problem), and regardless, they weren't in charge of the process anyway. We couldn't make this stuff up if we were fiction writers. You can read the details here. You can watch them say it in these clips:




Save SBISD dismantled this pathetic performance of these members of the Silent Six purposefully under our collective byline. We admit that this update was not dispassionate; neither do we apologize for its tone.


February 28, 2022


The Board of Trustees held a well-attended meeting, its first since these media interactions. President Chris Gonzalez attempted to gaslight the audience in her remarks before public comment. She said that a small portion of the community was spreading misinformation, and that the district was, in fact 1) vigorously fighting the lawsuit, and, 2) was the only reliable source of information on the lawsuit.


Is that a fact, Chris? Actually it isn't. It is a fabrication.

  1. If the district was vigorously fighting the lawsuit, why did the Trustees initiate settlement talks in late 2021?

  2. How can the public rely AT ALL on the Trustees' website if that very website DELETES INFORMATION and replaces it with completely contradictory information a couple weeks later?

The world wonders...


March 13, 2022


Thankfully, wisdom prevailed when the Court denied Barry Abrams' injunction request, and brought some sanity back to the circus. The Court made sure to note that the Trustees were in the wrong as well, saying:


Court ruling, March 13, 2022

While this was a victory for the cause we suppose, it was ridiculous to even debate the question, whether we should have an election at all, in the first place. The question arose for two reasons.

  1. Barry Abrams deliberately moved the discussion into the political arena

  2. The Silent Six agreed with Barry Abrams, and asked the court to make an unprecedented leap and cancel a pending election.

So, in the course of one month, we went from having an election, to still having that same election, but with the Silent Six now having shown they are no longer fit to continue in their governance roles.


Conclusions: we face two uncomfortable truths

After years of supporting our board, we are truly saddened to reach our first conclusion, as they have been our friends.


ONE: What the district needs now are new, invigorated Trustees able to bring strength and active leadership to the board, and, direct, forthright communication to their constituents.


New Trustees are the easiest need for the commmunity to address. We have a direct mechanism to do so at the ballot box.


Carter Breed, an area realtor and incumbent trustee, is seeking re-election this May.


Mr. Breed faces a sterling challenger in Lisa Alpe, who has demonstrated through her acts an unwavering commitment to the long-term success of the district. In addition, Lisa Alpe is firmly on the videotaped record, repeatedly calling for more aggressive legal actions by the district.


Two other trustees have decided not to seek re-election, and will automatically be replaced this May. Every member of Save SBISD would like to thank Pam Goodson and Karen Peck for their service and wish them all the best in their future endeavours, notwithstanding our recent disagreements.


Josef Klam and Chris Gonzalez face re-election in May, 2023.


Minda Caesar and Chris Earnest do not face re-election until 2024. Mr. Earnest, based on his early and forthright statements opposing SMD's, seems like the absolute least of our worries.


TWO: The district needs an idealogical adjustment in a small portion of its unelected volunteer community. Specifically, the district needs Barry Abrams and his fellow activist ideologues removed from positions of discretion or influence at the Spring Branch Education Foundation. This is something only SBEF or the District can do.


We will be shining a very bright light on Barry Abrams' activities, including at the Spring Branch Education Foundation, but that is an update for another day.


If you have read this far, you are a true believer. Please help recruit others by SHARING THIS UPDATE on social media. Districts Die in Darkness.


If you would like to receive future updates from Save SBISD, please subscribe here.


If you would like to follow us on Twitter, we are @SaveSBISD


You can reach us directly at halsey@savesbisd.org


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