McAllen school board candidates make their cases

Candidates vying for a seat on the McAllen school board voiced their vision Thursday evening to propel the district forward during a student-held forum, where merit pay, enrollment and addressing mental health issues were among the concerns raised.

The RGV Matters, a student organization, hosted the McAllen ISD School Board Candidate Forum in the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. The district elections will take place on May 4 for Places 1, 2, 4 and 5. Out of eight candidates, seven were present to make their case for a seat on the school board.

Compensating teachers for their work was a major component to the evening’s forum.

A pay raise for teachers is long overdue, board President Daniel Vela said. However the issue lies with putting it into practice. Property taxes are a major source of income for education, but if they are cut, it strains the options educators can take, the Place 5 incumbent added.

Legislators should be the ones to take that responsibility, as it would be unfair to local taxpayers to take the brunt of it, he said.

Vela said as a small business owner, incentives are important for success. However, public education does not work the same way as teachers face many constrictions in their classrooms.

“They cannot get outside of that square, and it’s not fair to tell them to do something if they don’t have the tools to do it with,” Vela said.

Enrollment and its relation to funding became a staple of the discussion.

Place 2 Trustee Conrado Alvarado said having academically successful schools along with competitive extracurricular programs will make the district attractive. Schools have improved over the past four years, this should achievement should be told make the district more appealing, he said.

Place 1 candidate Juan “Johnny” Cano stressed the need to be inclusive and to not leave any group of students behind. Even students who are not as high-achieving deserve support, he said.

Vice-president Marco Suarez, the Place 1 incumbent, said charter schools succeed through their marketing, and are selective in which students enroll into their campuses.

Place 2 candidate Lynse Guerra stressed the need to listen to teachers as the “frontline” of education and their input should always be considered. She relayed an anecdote about an art teacher who did not have a sink in their classroom, a necessary item that she said was overlooked.

Schools rely on enrollment to ensure they have the funding to provide adequate support for programs and operations, Guerra said. If the district loses students that go elsewhere, that source of income declines with a downward trajectory in enrollment.

Over a 100 parents, students and community leaders trickled into the room. Student moderators ensured the debate remained fair to the candidates and ran smoothly.

A discussion on the well-being of a student hit a chord with some candidates.

Suarez said keeping an open line and listening to the needs of parents is the way to address this issue.

Place 4 candidate Gina Karam Millin said there needs to be a balance between administration and teachers, as many counselors are overwhelmed. Ensuring proper resource management will enable adequate mental health care for students.

As candidates made closing statements on their platforms, they thanked the student organization for their dedication to serving their community.