Six candidates for La Joya school board will appear on the November ballot, but the matchup between Trustee Johnn Alaniz and businesswoman Mary T. Hernandez is quickly becoming the marquee contest in western Hidalgo County.
Bad blood between Alaniz and Hernandez stretches back to October 2014, when her daughter — a cheerleader at La Joya High School — filed a lawsuit against him. Hernandez also blasted Alaniz last year, accusing him of steering a contract to a compadre. And when Alaniz announced he would run for re-election, Hernandez passed on the open seat vacated by Trustee J.J. Peña.
“I’m going to run my campaign like I’ve always run it before: Based on my qualifications, my experience, my passion for the district and the children of this area,” said Alaniz, who’s running for a fourth term. “I really don’t care who my opponent is.”
Monday marked the deadline for candidates to submit ballot applications.
Businesswoman Nereyda Cantu, 40, of Palmview — the sister-in-law of school board Trustee Alex Cantu — will run unopposed for Place 1.
Trustee Frances A. Salinas, 50, of La Joya, will run for re-election against former school board Trustee Espie Ochoa, 48, of Palmview and teacher Pamela Flores, 49, of Palmview.
Place 3 will pit Alaniz, the CEO of the La Joya Area Federal Credit Union, against Hernandez, a well-known businesswoman.
“A lot of people have asked me what my intentions are,” Hernandez said. “And like I tell them, my focus would be, right now, the students, the teachers and the staff.”
The La Joya Independent School District, the largest employer in western Hidalgo County, shouldn’t be a full-employment scheme for people with political connections, Hernandez said. During conversations with employees, she heard countless stories of people being judged based on political considerations rather than qualifications.
“It’s mostly with people that don’t even have an education,” Hernandez said. “And I don’t feel the teachers are being respected the way they should.”
Teachers told her the district created positions for people who weren’t qualified or couldn’t meet state standards. Asked for examples, Hernandez said she didn’t want to mention names.
“I’m trying to actually run a campaign where I’m not going to be so negative about what they’re doing,” Hernandez said. “I want to focus on the future.”
The history between Alaniz and Hernandez, though, is key to understanding her candidacy.
Her daughter, Zayde Hernandez, filed a lawsuit against Alaniz in October 2014.
The lawsuit accused Alaniz of indirectly influencing the district cheerleading program and steering business to a gym owned by his sister-in-law.
Alaniz never responded to the lawsuit, which quickly stalled.
“I don’t get involved with the day-to-day operations of the school district,” Alaniz said. “To be honest with you, I think that’s pretty petty on her part, if that’s why she’s running against me.”
Hernandez and Alaniz tangled again during September 2017, when the board awarded a six-figure contract to Dezvia LLC to maintain and replace air filters.
Former Palmview City Manager Ramon Segovia, who worked with Alaniz for years, co-owned the company. Hernandez confronted the school board during public comment, calling the contract a prime example of compadrismo.
To bolster her argument, Hernandez referenced documents from the school board meeting packet. The school district responded by conducting an aggressive leak investigation and restricting access to public records.
Alaniz said he plans to focus on the issues, not personal disputes.
“Change is not always good,” Alaniz said. “I think people need to be very careful as far as what is out there and what people are saying. I would say to people: Look at results, because that’s what matters.”