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School board incumbents pledge no teacher layoffs, no tax hikes

April 13th, 2017 under Top Stories

By CAMERON DODD
cameron@bigbendnow.com

This article is part of an ongoing series of election coverage from the Presidio International. See next week’s issue for an article looking at the non-incumbent candidates vying for seats on the Presidio ISD Board of Trustees.

PRESIDIO — The race for seats on the Presidio Independent School District’s board of trustees is one of several contested elections in the May 6 general election. All four incumbents are seeking re-election against four challengers, pledging to help sustain progress the district has made and to avoid as best they can teacher layoffs and tax increases.

Presidio Independent School District (PISD) trustees Velva Saenz, Helio Franco, Alfredo Muñiz and Carlos Nieto are seeking reelection in the upcoming general election. Challengers Roberto Carlos Reyna, Aureliano Ramirez, Jose ‘Pino’ Armendariz and Luis Lozano are also vying for seats on the seven-member board.

PISD has made strides in recent years, from often overlooked renovation projects and the energy efficiency of the district’s facilities to the roughly 99 percent of Presidio High School seniors who will graduate this June. Still, the district is facing the loss of $1.2 million in state funding effective September 1.

Incumbents Saenz and Franco are both first-term trustees while Muñiz and Nieto have each served longer than either could accurately estimate. Regardless of experience, all four incumbents said they want to continue the positive changes the trustees have made in the face of looming funding cuts.

Helio Franco

Helio Franco

Helio Franco is a first-term trustee with a 10-year-old son studying in PISD. He ran for the board initially out of desire to help out the school district.

“I just figured school board members were complacent,” Franco said. “They had been there too long. They needed some change, somebody to ruffle their feathers.”

Franco was elected board president two years into his first term. Among the changes implemented during his tenure, Franco is happy about the support the board gives teachers and the new pay scale the district implemented for its non-teaching staff.

“I’ve tried to communicate to the teachers and faculty that we’re there to help out and enable them, ‘Tell us what you need to do your job better,’” Franco said. “We’ll try to do it as long as we can financially afford it. It always comes down to money.”

Like his fellow incumbents, Franco has served as a trustees in the run up to the September 2017 expiration of the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) revenue stream, which since 2006 has provided millions of dollars to PISD. Franco and his fellow board members have already been grappling with tough budgeting decisions for several years in anticipation of the funding cut. In a second term on the board of trustees, he would like to see the district through the coming obstacles.

“I think I can come up with some good ideas to keep the school running the way it has been,” Franco said. “We’ve been putting plans in place since we knew about this. We’re not going to fire anyone to make ends meet. At least, I’m going to do my best not to.”

More than anything, Franco emphasized that he has pure intentions motivating his reelection bid.

I don’t see the board raising it any more”

“I’m going to do right by the people of Presidio,” he said. “I’m in it for the kids and nothing else.”

A lot of schools would like to have their kids see the president in person, well our kids actually talked to him, shook his hand.

Velva Saenza

Velva Saenza

Velva Saenz is also a Presidio native and first-term trustee seeking re-election. Saenz is a Presidio High School graduate and a mother of two children in the district. Saenz graduated from Sul Ross State University and returned to Presidio in 2011.

She ran for the board of trustees five years ago out of a desire to give back to her community and the district educating her son and daughter.

“I’m just trying to give as much as I can,” Saenz said. “I wanted to give back and help make the district better.”

Saenz is especially supportive of the Early College High School program and said she would like to see the program continue to grow.

“That’s a big thing for such a small town to be able to help kids and parents who have a hard time paying for college,” Saenz said.

Saenz is also committed to avoiding layoffs and tax increases in the district.

“We’re not getting rid of any teachers,” Saenz said. “I really don’t want to raise taxes, I really hope that’s the last resort. We haven’t discussed it.”

Alfred Muniz

Alfred Muniz

Alfred Muñiz could not pinpoint exactly how many years he has served on the school board. But the former Presidio city council member, recently retired Presidio fire chief and long-time Napa Auto Parts store manager estimates he has served as a trustee for roughly 15 years since 1993. In that time he has seen the district overcome challenges in retaining teachers, develop a nationally recognized science and technology program and improve its facilities and transportation infrastructure.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s totally different from even five years ago,” Muñiz said of the district. “Presidio has been looked at in the past few years as the innovative district. Other districts look to see what Presidio is doing.”

To be sure, PISD has in recent years earned accreditation for its Early College High School program and partnered with high education institutions. Upwards of twenty students graduate each year with credit hours transferable to universities, saving them and their parents time and money.

Muñiz points to his niece, one of the first Presidio High School Students to complete four years in the Early College High School program, as a success story.

“If everything goes according to plan, she’ll graduate from Angelo State University [in three years],” Muñiz said.

Muñiz has also been involved in the budgeting process as the district anticipates the loss of $1.2 million in state funding. The board is committed to avoiding cutting teachers or staff, he said.

“As far as I can foresee, it’s not going to be something that would put the district in a bind,” Muñiz said. “We’re not going to be getting rid of personnel unless they want to leave or retire… Nobody is losing their job.”

Carlos Nieto

Carlos Nieto

Fellow long-time Presidio ISD board of trustees member and former Texas Association of School Boards President Carlos Nieto is also seeking re-election. Nieto has served consistently on the board since the early 1990s and was formerly the board president. He has had a hand in everything the district did, he said, to come back from the brink of bankruptcy and loss of accreditation.

“It’s all been part of a vision to become efficient in a world of limited resources,” Nieto said. “We were able to bridge our isolation with technology and leverage connections for the good of the district.”

In the 90s, Nieto’s networking and relationship building helped bring the district millions of dollars from Andrews Independent School District using the Robin Hood Law, he said. Since then, Nieto said, he has been involved in establishing the William and Susan Soza Scholarship Fund, building a school-based medical clinic at the elementary school and bringing the concept of the Early College High School to the board of trustees. In seeking another term as a trustee, Nieto hopes to help the district sustain the progress it has made, even without the $1.2 million in state funding that will be lost in September.

“We’ve proven to be resilient,” Nieto said. “We’ll have to polish up and do more of that to weather the coming storm as a team.”

The Presidio ISD election is May 6.

Next week: the challengers.

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