-What relevant experience qualifies you to serve as a school board trustee?
I am a product of EPISD. I graduated from Irvin HS and then attended the University of Texas at El Paso (then known as Texas Western), where I was the first Mexican-American to earn a scholarship for the tennis team. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree and later two Master’s Degrees, all in education. Prior to that, I served in the armed forces, and was stationed overseas in Vietnam. Afterwards, I was a public school teacher for almost forty years, most of them at Irvin High School. I’ve always believed that service to others is the key to a happy and fulfilling life and my wife and I raised our sons the same way. Even after my retirement I have continued to serve my community by running after-school programs and volunteering at my parish church.
-What is the top issue that's driving you to run for this position?
The district has been mismanaged for many years and because of that, parents no longer trust our schools. We are in the process of hiring our third superintendent in less than ten years and the last two have not left the district in a good place. There has been a lack of oversight by the prior board members and the district continues to make decisions that appear to be racist and harmful to our students’ and employees’ health. I want EPISD to be the best district in the region, with the best teachers and the highest performing students. I am running on the principles of increased accountability, improving communication with the community, and transparency in all decision-making.
-On the search for the new superintendent: what are the top 3 qualifications you seek in a candidate?
First, he or she must have a clear vision for the district that takes into account the culture and sensibilities of the community.
Second, he or she must be an effective communicator who engages in frequent dialogue with members of the community. El Paso is a unique community where many students and parents speak Spanish at home. So being a good communicator would require someone who speaks Spanish fluently.
Finally, he or she must be a great leader who will be completely committed to improving the district, and not be distracted by consulting businesses on the side.
-What's the biggest challenge the district faces when it comes to educating the students and what will you do to address it?
As a result of COVID-19, students were left to largely fend for themselves as the district had to transition to remote learning. But studies have shown that the education gap has only grown larger as students with limited technological capability and unstable home life have been left to figure out ways to ensure their continued virtual attendance.
This lost time will never be recovered without additional instruction. First, I would recommend extending the school year or making summer school available for all students. I would also support partnering with local organizations to conduct one-on-one or small group tutoring. Finally, parents need to be provided with the resources to help them encourage their children to pursue educational advancement at home.
-Another challenge the district is facing is that enrollment continues to decline. What should the district do to better address this?
Declining enrollment is a district-competitive issue. It means we are not attracting or retaining enough students to maintain full enrollment. Unfortunately due to the last 10 years of mismanagement, the families in our district have lost trust in EPISD’s ability to provide a first-rate education to their children. We are losing too many students to other districts and charter schools, which directly affects the district’s budget. We need to be able to attract and retain the best qualified employees while providing the best environment for student achievement. We need to work with all stakeholders, including teachers and parents, to make sure that students can focus on learning and improving their in-class performance. We need to create the conditions to restore faith in the school district, and it all starts with hiring the right superintendent.
-Do you see the value in the hybrid learning model in a post-pandemic classroom? What do you think is needed to improve upon what exists?
No. Unfortunately too many students have fallen behind as a result of the digital divide and the very different home lives of each student. We need to focus on maximizing learning experiences for all students so that every student received a Grade A education. Our school district can’t just pick and choose our students like charter schools can. But because not all kids are the same, there is also room for specialized teaching, like magnet schools, special education and vocational classes. We need to make sure we’re hiring enough teachers and support staff to be able to deliver that unique learning experience to every individual.
-Knowing that kids won't be vaccinated for many more months if not another year, should the district dedicate money to improve air flow and social distancing in facilities or should those funds be used elsewhere?
It is important that all students, teachers and other school employees be in a safe environment. But this is hard to answer without full knowledge of the budget. We need to advocate first and foremost to make sure Texas distributes all federal funding from the CARES Act to our school district in a meaningful manner. Meaning, it doesn’t just use the funds to supplant what the District would have received anyways. If the funds are there, we need to make sure they are spent in the most efficient way to maximize the safety and health of everyone.
-Last summer, the board was set to consider another $242 million bond to pay for security upgrades, conversion to refrigerated air conditioner and LED lighting, and improving athletic facilities. The district is still working on completing the projects from the $669 million bond approved in 2016. Would you support another bond issuance in 2021 or 2022? Please answer Yes, No and Why.
No, see my answer to the 5 percent increase question on the next page.
-You represent voters in your district. Do you commit to communicating directly with your constituents and answering questions when asked about your opinion on a given issue? Some trustees punt to the board president even though they are not being asked to speak on behalf of the board, but to only share their opinion as an elected official for their specific district.
Absolutely. I believe transparency in decision-making is key to getting community buy-in. I am committed to sharing my own process with community members of District 1.
-Last year, the board approved a 5 percent increase to the tax rate, raising taxes by $75 dollars on the average home (worth $150 million). The pandemic has brought deep financial challenges for most families and now the Central Appraisal District has raised valuations, too. Would you support a tax rate increase, tax rate decrease or leaving it flat?
Now is not the time to be talking about tax rate increases via a new bond. The pandemic has been financially catastrophic to many in the community, and already homeowners are faced with a 5% tax increase this year for the third and final part of the 2016 bond. Asking the community to consider yet another tax rate increase would be insensitive to the daily struggles of the community and might turn the community against the district. The district needs to focus on successfully completing the last part of the 2016 bond before going back to the voters and asking for more.
-What makes you the best candidate for the job?
No other candidate has the combination of experience and service to the district that I do. Not only did I teach in EPISD for over thirty years, but I have lived in District 1 for over thirty years as well. On top of that, I continue to serve the students of District 1. Since my retirement and before the pandemic I served as Founder and Director of Tenis para Todos, an afterschool tennis program launched at three District 1 area elementary and middle schools as part of their after-school programs. As an EPISD Trustee I will be able to contribute my knowledge and experience to the governance responsibilities on the EPISD Board. I love my community and want to help and support our children to provide opportunities for them to become better adults.