FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Edinburg Mayor Ramiro Garza, Jr., who were on hand on Friday, August 5, 2022 during public ceremonies in Edinburg to recognize major advancements in the delivery of medical and health care in the region.
Photograph By NAYELI ZENTENO
Moderators, times announced for Futuro RGV’s Saturday, September 17, 2022 Candidate Forum featuring deep South Texas’ two Senate races and region’s State Board of Education campaign
Public education advocate and retired classroom teacher Cris Ardis, former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, and Monitor newspaper journalists Naxy López-Puente and Valeria González will serve as moderator(s), respectively, for a Candidate Forum, sponsored by Futuro RGV, that will the State Board of Education, State Senate District 20, and State Senate District 27 election races.
Each Candidate Forum, which will take place on Saturday, September 17, 2022, will be streamlined (broadcast) live on the organization’s Facebook page:
For those who miss the live presentations, videotapes of those forums will be available on the Futuro RGV facebook page.
The event, which is not open to the public, will take place at the Monitor newspaper headquarters in McAllen.
However, members of the public are encouraged to email by Thursday, September 15, 2022 their questions to Futuro RGV for possible use by the moderator during each forum.
Those questions may be emailed to:
by Wednesday, September 14, 2022.
The schedule for the candidate forums follow:
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, DISTRICT 2
9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Saturday, September 17, 2022
Candidates: L.J. Francis, R-Corpus Christi, and Victor Pérez, D-Pharr
Moderator: Christine “Chris” Ardis
For the past 11 years and two months, Ardis has been a business communications consultant, education blogger, and social media manager. She handles Facebook Twitter, and Pinterest for local businesses, creates and edit content for brochures, fliers, letters to customers/clients/vendors and other other business-related and political communications.
Her blog – chrisardis.blogspot.com– primarily focuses on education-related issues.
In May 2013, Ardis retired after almost 30 years as a classroom educator (April 1983 – May 2013). She taught students in the McAllen Independent School District’s Regional School for the Deaf Program for 13 years (middle and high school) and taught in the Brownsville Independent School District’s Deaf Program for one year. She launched American Sign Language for McAllen ISD and spend the last 15 years of her career teaching American Sign Language to high school students.
STATE SENATE, DISTRICT 20
11 a.m. – Noon
Saturday, September 17, 2022
Candidates: Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Westley Wright, R-Bluntzer
Moderator: Jim Darling
Darling served as mayor of McAllen from 2013 to 2021. He won re-election in May 2017, but did not seek reelection in 2021. Darling spent 28 years as a city attorney with the City of McAllen and other governmental entities and served as City Commissioner for District 6 prior to being elected mayor.
As an attorney, he has 44 years of experience, focusing on employment law, family law, government and administrative law.
Darling is a Vietnam veteran, having served two tours of duty (1967-1971) USAF SSGT, and a U.S. Navy Reserve 2nd Class Petty Officer (1973-1977).
STATE SENATE, DISTRICT 27
1 p.m. – 2 p.m.
Saturday, September 17, 2022
Candidates: Adam Hinojosa, R-Corpus Christi, and Morgan Lamantia, D-Brownsville
Moderators: Naxy López-Puente and Valerie González
López-Puente has been with the Monitor for six years and nine months. Previously she served as a Public Relations Specialist with the San Juan Economic Development Corporation beginning in April 2014. For eight months, from September 2013 through April 2014, she was a Media Coordinator with the University of Texas-Pan American.
From October 2012 though July 2013, she worked as Provider Executive Relations with CIMA Hospital in McAllen. She first began work with the Monitor from June 2010 through September 2012, and before then, from January 2007 through June 2009, she served as an Associate Producer for KRGV-TV in Weslaco.
Similar to López-Puente, González’ professional background features credentials in both print and broadcast news media.
Since October 2020, González has served as an investigative reporter with AIM Media Texas, LLC, the parent company of the Monitor, the Valley Morning Star, and the Brownsville Herald. Also, she has been a freelance journalist, videographer and editor for hire in South Texas since August 2020.
From August 2017 through July 2020, she was an investigative producer and reporter with KRGV-TV Channel 5 in Weslaco. From June 2014 through July 2017, she was a multimedia journalist with KGNS-TV in Laredo, and from September 2010 through August 2014, she was a morning news producer with KGNS-TV.
ABOUT FUTURO RGV
Futuro RGV is a group of citizen volunteers who present information regarding issues and concerns in our communities. It is committed to bringing impartial and non-partisan information on quality-of-life issues affecting area cities including economic growth, educational opportunities, healthy families, safe neighborhoods, green space, culture and the arts.
Futuro RGV is among the numerous prominent public affairs organizations in deep South Texas. It began as Futuro McAllen as an advocacy citizen group in 1999 for quality-of-life issues that were in danger of being side tracked due to the tremendous growth taking place in that city.
Quality of life is a highly subjective measure of happiness that is an essential component of many financial decisions. Factors that play a role in the quality of life vary according to personal preferences, but they often include financial security, job satisfaction, family life, health, and safety.
Just this year alone, Futuro RGV has organized and hosted Candidates Forums for:
• 2022 McAllen City Commission District 4;
• Republican and Democratic Forums for U.S. House Districts 15, 34, and 28;
• Texas State House District 37;
• Texas State Senate District 27;
• State Board of Education District 2;
• Hidalgo County Judge;
• Hidalgo County District Attorney;
• Hidalgo County Commissioners District 2 and 4; and
• Mission Mayor 2022 Run-off Election.
Other forums also held in 2022 are:
• 2022 Festival of Facts;
• Meet & Greet honoring former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling;
• Futuro RGV recognition of a UTRGV School of Medicine White Coat Recipient;
• Rio Grande Valley Leader Interviews;
• Immigration & Border Security Review; and
• 2020 CENSUS Review.
Teacher Retirement System, funding methods for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for retired teachers, discussed by Texas House Committee on Appropriations
The Texas House Appropriations Committee met on Thursday, September 8, 2022 to discuss the status of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension fund and the possibilities for providing TRS retirees with a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or supplemental payment in the coming legislative session.
More than half of current TRS retirees have never received a COLA, according to the Texas Retired Teachers Association. The last COLA that was passed by the Texas Legislature went to those who retired in August 2004 or before.
A COLA for retirees could be considered when the 88thTexas Legislature convenes in January 2022.
Tim Lee, Executive Director, Texas Retired Teachers Association, provided public testimony during the hearing.
With 458,000 TRS retirees, Lee commended the state’s efforts to have a well-funded pension system, something TRTA made a priority and worked with the Legislature on for many years.
“Our members have told us very clearly that they want our work to focus on some form of benefit increase, preferably a COLA,” Lee said to the committee members.
Lee said that TRTA and its members want to work with the Legislature to make the COLA a reality.
Lee also said that while TRS retirees are grateful for supplemental checks that were provided in 2019 and 2021, the funds went quickly to pay for unpaid bills, property taxes, and healthcare costs.
Brian Guthrie, Executive Director, Texas Retirement System, also provided testimony.
Guthrie made a similar to a presentation made to the Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee (PIFS) on June 6, 2022.
Guthrie stated that the pension fund is considered actuarially sound as of today, mostly due to the passage of Senate Bill 12 in 2019, which gradually increased contributions to the fund by the state, active school employees, and school districts.
The last set of contribution rate increases will occur in Fiscal Year 2024 and Fiscal Year 2025.
The state and active employee contribution rates will be 8.25 percent, while the employer rate will rise to two percent.
Guthrie also explained that the TRS Board of Trustees recently voted to lower the pension fund’s investment return assumption from 7.25 percent to 7 percent.
That change is now in effect, and Guthrie said he was “pleased to say that lowering it did not have a significantly negative impact on the health of the fund.”
He also said that the fund is on a path to reduce its unfunded liabilities to 0 by the year 2048, a funding period of 26 years. TRS will provide updated numbers to the Legislature in February 2022 when it conducts a fund valuation.
The topic of funding supplemental payments and COLAs generated much interest and many questions from the legislators on the committee.
A bill filed by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, in 2021 would have provided a 6 percent COLA to retirees (with a cap of $100 per month) would have cost $2.8 billion if paid for upfront by the state, or $17.2 billion if financed through the pension fund.
Guthrie said there are many ways to pay for a COLA, including the option to increase contribution rates, which are based on active teacher payroll, from the state, active employees, or school employers.
Capriglione asked what the contribution rate increase would have to be to fund a 6 percent COLA and Guthrie answered that the figure would be approximately 0.45 percent.
Capriglione added that for retirees, one-time supplemental payments “are worth less in today’s dollars due to inflation . . . it means less and less each year.”
Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, and Chair, House Committee on Appropriations, explained the combination of possible ways to pay for a COLA, saying it could include both increasing contribution rates as well as providing money upfront.
Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, asked what the purpose was last session (2021) for including a cap of $100 per month in the COLA bill that ultimately did not pass.
Guthrie explained that it was meant to benefit retirees who receive significantly lower monthly annuities and can help to control the overall cost of a COLA to the state or the system.
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, reminded committee members that most TRS retirees do not receive Social Security benefits, saying “TRS is all they are getting.”
Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, reiterated the need for information about a graduated COLA, which could provide insight on the cost to give higher COLAs to older retirees.
Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, pointed out retirees rely on TRS-Care for their health insurance and that controlling the cost of TRS-Care was important to having a sustainable retirement.
Four-and-a-half day work week to continue through August 31, 2023 at South Texas College
Following a positive response from faculty and staff during the summer 2022’ pilot program of four-and-a-half-day work weeks, South Texas College Board of Trustees in August voted to extend the initiative into the academic year, while keeping student interests in mind.
The modified work week began August 2022 and extends into August 31, 2023.
The revised work week was first approved by the South Texas College Board of Trustees on May 12, 2022, and launched on Monday, May 16, 2002.
South Texas College President Ricardo J. Solis said this is the college’s way of staying on top of employment trends.
In a survey completed by college employees, 83 percent who responded showed an interest in extending the adjusted schedule.
The survey also provided feedback on work productivity, work/life balance, lunch schedules, longer weekend and employee morale, which showed that at least 75 percent of employees are satisfied with new work schedule offered.
Héctor Cerda, Coordinator of Enrollment Services, South Texas College, said the four-and-a-half-day work week has been beneficial to him professionally and personally.
“Of course, I enjoy having an extended weekend and having more time to spend with my family,” said Cerda. “But, during the week, we also get to serve more students; especially our non-traditional, working students because we are open later during the first part of the week.”
He added, that on Monday through Thursday, with hours extending into 6 p.m., because of the new schedule, he has seen an increase of non-traditional students visiting Enrollment Services and requesting information on how to return to the classroom.
“I’ve received great feedback from the students we serve,” he said. “They’re thankful that we now have later hours that fit their schedule.”
Jaime Pérez, Operations Management Program student and part-time Student Activities Coordinator Assistant, said for him as a student who also serves students, he has also seen the benefit of the four-and-a-half-day work week.
“Students have more time to visit student activities and enjoy the services we offer,” he said. “They get to meet up with friends after class and have time to enjoy their college experience on campus. It’s helps them discover student life.”
The quality of service the college provides to its students, especially during peak registration times has not wavered. For the month of August 2022, South Texas College extended hours including Fridays until 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We are adjusting our hours to better serve our students,” said Matthew Hebbard, Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, South Texas College. “For us, this is all about meeting the needs of our students and servicing their needs on the days and times they prefer, while also meeting the needs of our faculty and staff. It’s a win-win.”
Joey Gómez contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).