Two seats on Sharyland ISD’s school board are being contested this year with both incumbents defending their places.
Ricardo Longoria, Place 1 board member, has three challengers: Jozabad “Jay” Palacios, Cesar Ramirez and Matthew Richter.
Alejandro Rodriguez is vying for Julio Cerda’s seat as a Place 2 board member.
Longoria is a certified public accountant at the local accounting and management consulting firm, Burton McCumber & Longoria LLP. He says as a board member, his focus has been to continue providing quality education for the district’s students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county’s executive orders for all public schooling to be done remotely is set to expire Sept. 27.
“Right now we are distance learning and we have to make a decision on how we proceed after that date,” Longoria said. “It is my objective in that decision … to make sure that our employees and that our students are safe in that process, and trying to find the right balance in all of that. There are going to be some hard decisions to be made, they are not going to be easy — and I do think that a more experienced candidate will be up for the task.”
Longoria has been on the board for 12 years and a CPA for 30 years, and being privy to finances, he says, has made him a valuable board member. He has also sat on several other boards in McAllen and Mission, including the boards of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, and the Texas Business Leadership Council.
“I think it has made me a strong candidate in the past, and continues to make me a strong candidate moving forward,” the 55-year-old Mission native said.
Three of Longoria’s children have gone through Sharyland ISD schools, with the youngest currently attending Pioneer High School.
Palacios, who is on his fourth year as the assistant principal of McAllen High School, says his priorities as a Sharyland board member would also be ensuring safety of students and staff as operations during the pandemic continue.
“We need to make sure that we have a solid plan of action when reentry of schools (is allowed),” the 37-year-old Mission native said. “That we have a plan of action that can be communicated to all schools within the district. Once that is done, we need to look at our facilities, we need to look at our structure of leadership, our healthcare facilities, our nurse facilities so that we can be as protective.”
Palacios was a teacher for eight years at La Joya ISD prior to being an assistant principal, and is currently pursuing his doctorate in educational leadership with an emphasis on healthcare administration.
“I have a passion for learning, I have a passion for understanding the needs of the community,” he said. “… Everything I have learned has lent itself to being a leader that has an awareness of healthcare that has an awareness of leadership, that has an awareness of what the community needs.”
Ramirez also has a healthcare background as the health and wellness director of several Walmart pharmacies in the region.
“Obviously as one board member, you can’t change much because it takes four votes to get anything passed or anything accomplished,” he said. “But going in there bringing a new face, and really wanting to put the children first more than anything. Putting children’s interest first before any adult interest is my main priority, being able to be a voice for the community.”
Ramirez served two terms on the La Joya school board, starting in 2000. His experience in the education field, he says, is his best quality as a candidate.
“I am not your typical candidate in regards to being freshly new,” he said. “It is not my first rodeo, I have been there before. I have done it, so I think I am more than qualified to be the next of anyone on the board.”
Richter’s priorities as a board member would be to ensure students have devices and Wi-Fi connections throughout the virtual school year.
“(My priorities would be) ensuring that students can actively learn, because of course that is what school is for: progress in their education, and making sure they keep moving forward,” he said.
Richter is a 27-year-old attorney practicing in McAllen.
Another priority he said he would have as a board member would be supporting after-school electives and activities. Richter was part of Sharyland High School’s UIL band when he was a student there.
“That is definitely a priority on my end, seeing how I can help further those activities and promote students to not just learn in the classroom, but be able to better themselves through opportunities that UIL presents, like leadership and thinking outside of what is taught in the classroom,” he said.
Richter attended Sharyland ISD schools from pre-K to graduation, and says his best qualification for being on the board is that he knows what it is like to be a student at the district.
“I am a product of the Sharyland school district, and it helped me to become what I like to think of as the successful person I am today,” he said.
Cerda has served two terms on Sharyland ISD’s board, and in his third, he says he will strive to continue holding the district to its standards.
“We’ve had a lot of accolades as far as the school district with our kids, with our teachers, with our principals, with our schools, in academics and sports,” he said. “My priorities would be to continue to provide the support that is needed for the school district to continue as one of the best school districts not only in the Valley, but in the state.”
Cerda is a former city manager of Mission, and is currently a civil engineer with the South Texas Infrastructure Group, and R.O.W. Surveying.
“Running eight fiscal years as city manager in the city of Mission has allowed me to understand a little bit more about how government works,” he said. “I believe that the qualifications that I have as a professional engineer at the state of Texas also allows me to help with infrastructure within the school district as it grows, and also helping with the budget. The budget is one of the most important aspects of making sure that our kids are being taught as best as possible with all the resources that are needed by the teachers.”
Cerda’s only challenger is Rodriguez, a criminal investigator in McAllen. Rodriguez’s priorities as a board member would be making sure students are comfortable reporting any forms of misconduct and mistreatment within the student body.
In July, Sharyland Pioneer High School students spoke out about alleged hazing incidents within the school’s swim team.
“We need to make sure that our kids are being taken care of,” he said. “That they are safe, that they feel that they can come to us to report allegations of misconduct…. We need to make sure that our teachers and administrators are well-coached, are well-trained, to deal with these matters because it’s something that is important not only to me as a parent, but certainly to me as a community member.”
Rodriguez added that he has a strong understanding of financing,
“Any organization, including a school district, needs to run, in my mind, as a business because there is limited funds,” he said.
All four of Rodriguez’s kids have been taught in Sharyland’s school system.
“It is important as a parent that we stay on top of our administrator, certainly of our superintendent, make sure things are done accordingly,” he said. “Not only most importantly for our kids, but also for our teachers, because our teachers are our core.”
Early voting starts Oct. 19, and Election Day is Nov. 3.