McALLEN — Four of the seven seats on the McAllen Independent School District Board of Trustees are up for election this spring and all of the current seat holders face a challenger come May 4.
Place 1 incumbent Marco Suarez is running for a second four-year term against newcomer Juan “Johnny” Cano.
“First, I’m very excited about the progress of our district and where we’re going, and second, and most importantly, my constituents are really excited about me running for re-election,” Suarez said when asked why he is seeking another term.
Suarez, 44, works in sales at an engineering firm and has two children enrolled in McAllen ISD — a high school freshman and second grader. If re-elected, he said he would continue to implement the Strategic Plan and Facilities Education Master Plan, which the board adopted last year, noting the plans reflect the input of the community.
“I would just continue to listen to the community (and) continue to be engaged,” he said.
Cano, 41, is a teacher for the La Joya Independent School District and said he was motivated to serve on his local school board because “there’s a dire need of changing the school culture,” particularly special education programs. His dissatisfaction over the quality of these programs led him to pull his children out of the district, he said, and enroll them in Vanguard Academy, a public charter school district.
He also said he wants to address the issue of current board trustees negotiating contracts with the district with companies owned by their families, but didn’t cite any particular trustee or contract.
Before being elected to the Place 2 seat in 2015, Conrado “Ito” Alvarado was a board member from 2006 to 2009 and in a re-election news release said he wants to “continue being a strong advocate for our children, our teachers, our district employees while continuing to be a prudent and fiscally responsible voice on the board.”
Alvarado, 49, could not be reached for comment Monday.
He is executive director of the Texas Health Plan under United Healthcare, according to the release, and has one child still enrolled in the district, the other two in college.
Attorney Lynse Guerra filed for Alvarado’s Place 2 seat.
Her name is familiar to voters, having unsuccessfully run in 2017 for the Place 7 seat.
“We’re going through a lot of changes in the district with declining enrollment, and I think we need different perspectives from new members to keep the district going in the right direction,” she said.
Guerra, 43, has three daughters enrolled in the district and said her experience litigating construction defect cases for neighboring school districts would be an asset for McAllen because it has given her knowledge about large construction projects and school budgets, in addition to a “practical approach”.
If elected, she said her top priority would be addressing the district’s decreasing student enrollment and finding ways to attract families back to McAllen schools.
Place 4 Trustee Jorge Antonio “Tony” Forina faces newcomer Gina Karam Millin as he seeks a second term.
Forina, 46, is the field operations director for Hidalgo County Precinct 4 and has two children in the district — a high school freshman and senior.
“We’ve started some projects that I want to see through to fruition,” he said, highlighting building upgrades that can be undertaken as a result of last fall’s tax ratification election, which increased tax revenue funds for maintenance and operations.
If re-elected, Forina said this would be his last term. He doesn’t plan on serving more than eight years as that would be “overkill.”
Karam Millin, 47, said she was motivated to run after volunteering in her children’s schools — who are both middle schoolers — and for the district as a whole, such as co-chairing the McAllen ISD Facilities Forecast Advisory Committee in 2013, which was tasked with evaluating the needs of the district’s facilities.
“I bring my own interest, curiosity and concern as a parent of students in the district and as a graduate of the district,” she said, also citing her three years teaching Spanish and second grade in Travis County’s Eanes Independent School District and her experience as an attorney.
Areas of concern include schools that are not meeting state proficiency standards in reading because “literacy is the foundation for all other success” and decreased enrollment as it impacts school funding.
After running unopposed in 2015, Place 5 Trustee Daniel D. Vela faces a challenge from Don Delaney.
Vela, 63, has been a trustee since 2007 and said he is seeking a fourth term because he wants to continue serving the community. The Lee’s Pharmacy owner’s only child still left in the district is a high school senior.
“I feel like I work well with my co-trustees, and I have a lot of experience both at the administration level and at the board level and I’d like to continue,” he said, adding that his experience navigating lawmakers’ school finance reform efforts is “valuable to the community.”
Delaney did not return requests for comment.
In 2015, the then-McAllen ISD special education teacher, unsuccessfully ran for the Place 2 seat.
Early voting runs from April 22 to April 30 with Election Day on May 4.