Edinburg school board trustee Carmen González, who is finishing up her first term on the seven-member school board, greets Saúl Ortega of Edinburg, one of several hundred supporters who showed up on Thursday, August 21, for her campaign reelection bid kick-off, held at the ECHO in Edinburg. A retired educator whose career saw her rise from the classroom to the top leadership position as interim superintendent of ECISD, Mrs. González pledged to focus on her continuing vision for the school district, not personal attacks. “For my part, and in my campaign, there will be no mud thrown from my direction, from my camp,” she promised. “I will not throw mud, and I know I will be blessed because I will not be interrupted by negativism that may be circulating. I hope this will be a clean race, like it was when I ran (in 2005) against Obie Salinas, who was a gentleman with me all the way. We ran a good, clean campaign. I am going to ask the public to keep it clean.” The election is on Tuesday, November 4.
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
A lifetime of personal and professional successes have never taken away the distant, but still powerful memory of poverty – and the injustices associated with such a monumental struggle – from Edinburg school board trustee Carmen González.
So it is no surprise that she was willing to push for last May’s passage of a $112 million school bond construction issue – a political risk, many of her supporters feared – to make sure that every student in Edinburg will learn in state-of-the-art facilities, rather than be forced to endure classes in the less-than-ideal conditions of portable classroom trailers.
Last year, about 5,000 students attended class in 179 portable classroom trailers, many which are located on campuses in the less-affluent regions of the community.
Supporting the classroom construction bond issue is one of the ways to help Edinburg students and their teachers to be spared from the educational roadblocks caused by financial inequalities, she suggested.
Hundreds show up at kick-off
Mrs. González, who is finishing up her first term on the seven-member school board, shared some of her life experiences at the ECHO on Thursday, August 21, before hundreds of friends and political allies who showed up to help kick-off her reelection bid for a four-year term.
A retired professional educator whose career saw her rise from the classroom to the top leadership position as the former interim superintendent of ECISD, Mrs. González is being challenged by another well-known political figure.
The election is on Tuesday, November 4.
Mrs. González was joined by her husband, Edward, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchild.
“This is my rock,” she proudly beamed as her family stood by her side in front of the standing-room only event, held in the Hidalgo Room, which is the main ballroom at the local hotel and conference center.
Other notable area leaders who showed up to support her were: Hidalgo County 92nd District Court Judge Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr.; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Hidalgo County Tax Assessor-Collector Armando Barrera; former Hidalgo County Sheriff Brig Marmolejo; ECISD Board President Omar Palacios; ECISD Board Vice President David Torres; ECISD Board Secretary Ciro Treviño; Edinburg City Councilmember Alma Garza, who served as Mistress of Ceremonies; former Edinburg Mayor Richard García; former Edinburg Mayor Al Ramírez; Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios; Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios; Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza; and Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Constable-elect Eddie Guerra.
In taking her candidacy to voters, Mrs. González also will be reminding them of the many achievements which have occurred since she first took office in May 2005, and especially during the past academic year, during which she was president of the board.
“The thing of which I am most proud is the tremendous academic success,” she said. “I don’t know how many of you read the papers, but this (holding up positive newspaper articles) doesn’t happen by accident. The academic successes this district experienced this year are beyond expectations. People ask me how did it happen? I told them we are not cheating, we just work hard.”
Always a diplomat, Mrs. González spread the credit to her colleagues on the board, but especially to the estimated 4,000 employees of the district, ranging from the administration to teachers and coaches and all the support personnel, from aides to bus drivers.
The results, she said, were outstanding, including the following highlights for the past year:
• The Texas Education Agency has heaped praise on the school district, designating 12 Exemplary and 15 Recognized campuses, while dropping the number of struggling campuses from 22 in 2005 to eight today;
• Six schools were named in Texas Monthly’s prestigious list, Best Public Schools in Texas;
• Thirty-three Edinburg schools received Gold Performance Acknowledgments for high academic accomplishments;
• Two high schools were awarded the national College Board Inspiration Award;
• Two high schools were named by Newsweek as being among the Top Five Percent of Schools in the nation;
• The school property tax rate has dropped from $1.58 per $100 assessed property valuation when she first took office in May 2005 to $1.1898 per $100 assessed property valuation for this coming school year; and
• The fund balance – the savings account for the school district – has increased from $15 million in 2005 to $23 million, while still setting aside money – without borrowing from the bank – for key projects, including remodeling Barrientes Middle School, which had been closed for two years, adding 49 classrooms to seven elementary campuses, installing artificial turf at Cats Stadium, and improving numerous parking lots.
Proud as she was of the academic and budgetary achievements posted by the school district, Mrs. González reminded constituents that attacking possible cronyism in the school district was also important.
Mrs. González said she helped spearhead a nepotism policy, approved by the board, that is designed to do away with favoritism in the doling out of school district contracts and jobs.
“No longer do (campus principals) get calls from board members or powerful individuals in central office, telling them who to hire, who to fire, who belongs, who doesn’t belong, who to promote, who not to promote, what to do, what not to do,” Mrs. González said. “It was so bad at one time that principals couldn’t move a teacher from one grade to another grade without getting a call from somebody.
“You people in the school business know what I am talking about,” she told many educators who attended her campaign event. “I can honestly say that the majority of that has stopped.”
She said she applied the same high ethical standards to herself, noting that her daughter-in-law taught classes in a portable building in the Edinburg school district.
“Now, go back in time – and even today – do you think that the sister, the friend, the daughter of any board member would be in a portable?” she asked. “But this is what I am all about – fairness. It is a need. That is why we passed the bond issue, so someday, all of our children will be in a beautiful school.”
Bond issue part of her legacy
The $112 million bond issue, overwhelmingly approved on May 10, could be one of her biggest accomplishments and part of her legacy to the community.
“I remember saying at the first community meeting we had (last fall on the bond issue) that the importance of this bond issue is so close to my heart, that even if I lose my election, but we passed the bond issue, I would be satisfied,” she said.
The May 10 bond election involved two measures:
• Proposition 1 authorizes the school district to: build four elementary schools; build two middle schools; convert Harwell Middle School into a fourth high school; add one multi- purpose fine arts center to each of the three existing high schools; construct additions/ renovations at Brewster School; and buy land for the new schools. The total projected cost is $111,920,000.
• Proposition 2 authorizes the school district to refinance, at a lower interest rate, $37,675,000 of 1998 Lease Purchase Bonds, and convert them into Series 2008 voter authorized IFA supported bonds. IFA means Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA), which is a state fund available to help qualified school districts such as Edinburg receive help in paying for construction of new campuses. IFA is distributed through grants, most of which go to districts with low property wealth.
As part of her pledge to keep the school board’s activities in the open, she supported the creation of a citizens oversight committee last fall that drew on the talents, ideas, and scrutiny of a diverse group of community leaders. The citizens panel helped plan, critique, learn, and inform the community about the need for expansion of classroom facilities for thousands of students.
The citizens oversight committee – which still continues to interact with board members on the planned construction projects – is proof of her promise to the public that the school district would conduct its business in the open.
“Part of the success of the bond issue was the commitment of the citizens oversight committee,” Mrs. González explained. “We knew it was important for the community to help us with the need for a bond issue. We were lucky to have the leadership that we had, people like Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Norma Guerra, Bryant Morrison, Verónica Sáenz, and many, many others. They helped convince the community that your children, and my children, deserved better than portable buildings.”
Promises clean campaign
Mrs. González pledged to focus on her continuing vision for the school district, not personal attacks.
“For my part, and in my campaign, there will be no mud thrown from my direction, from my camp,” she promised. “I will not throw mud, and I know I will be blessed because I will not be interrupted by negativism that may be circulating. I hope this will be a clean race, like it was when I ran (in 2005) against Obie Salinas, who was a gentleman with me all the way. We ran a good, clean campaign. I am going to ask the public to keep it clean.”
She reassured voters that they know what they have in her.
“You know who I am. I don’t have to convince you of who I am,” Mrs. González said. “A person like me doesn’t change. I am still the same person you elected three and a half years ago.”
Emphasizing that she can be counted upon to remain steady in her principles, she poked fun at herself, smiling as she revealed, “I am even wearing the same outfit,” drawing cheers and laughter from her loyal audience in attendance.
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