Seven of the eight MISD board candidates got the opportunity to respond to questions from the students themselves.
Last Thursday evening The RGV Matters, a local organization that is “dedicated to empowering community members through education, collaboration and communication,” held a candidate forum for those running for the McAllen Independent School District Board of Trustees. Held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, several McAllen community members filled the room.
“It feels really great to know that this student-led organization is really capable of doing something at this caliber,” Ramon said. “I think students are sometimes underestimated, and people assume there’s a lot that we don’t know.”
Ramon, who has participated in debates and forums in the past with the McAllen City Commission and mayoral races, wondered why the McAllen ISD board race wasn’t taken “as seriously” as other elections.
“We really want people to pay attention,” Ramon said. “We shouldn’t just work off of assumptions or Facebook pages, or signs. Just pay attention to their platforms.”
MISD has held forums for school board elections in the past, but Ramon did not think as many candidates have shown up in the past.
The forum consisted of questions gleaned from students at all three McAllen ISD high schools.
Each panelist represented the school they attend: Ramon for McAllen Memorial, Briana Pedraza for Nikki Rowe High School and Jonah Riojas from McAllen High School. The forum was moderated by Alyssa Yarritu from the International Baccalaureate Programme at Lamar Academy.
“These are questions we thought people really wanted to know, and we wanted to know the answers for,” Ramon said. “We also asked teachers questions too, to see what their problems are with the district, or what they like about it.”
Four rounds of questions were held, giving each participating candidate the chance to speak on the issues brought up one by one (for one minute each). Candidates who were not directly asked the question could request 30 seconds to speak on the subject matter in question.
Place 1 candidates Juan “Johnny” Cano and Marco Suarez (currently on the board) were asked questions about the decline in student enrollment, the MISD standing as a district of choice, the integration of vendors in the school system and use of technology in the classroom.
Place 2 candidates Lynse Guerra and Conrado “Ito” Alvarado (currently on the board) were asked about the quality of the special education program at MISD, the competition from charter and private schools in the area, how the candidates felt about an increase in student input for policies and procedures and the biggest challenges faced by the district today.
Place 4 candidates Gina Karam Millin and Tony Forina (currently on the board) were questioned on the greatest area of need in the district, the roles of the school board and superintendent, partnerships with institutes of higher education and the current teacher/student ratio in the district.
Place 5 candidate Daniel D. Vela (currently on the board) was asked about what the district was doing right and what he would do differently, his stance on Senate Bill 3, combating mental health issues in the student population and state funding at MISD. His opponent for Place 5, Don Delaney, could not attend the forum.
The topic each candidate requested extra time to speak on, however, was mental health at MISD. Because of the seriousness of the matter, they all spoke on the importance of mental health awareness and suicide prevention in the district.
During the forum, a team from the Texas Freedom Network set up a table in the back that gave the public present the opportunity to register to vote. The RGV Matters was started by Ramon in 2016 during the presidential election, and is not affiliated with McAllen ISD.
“There were a lot of misconceptions, I think, being thrown around about the Valley,” Ramon said. “I wanted to offer a place so people could clear some of that up and really share their story about what the Valley has been to them.”
Early voting begins April 22 to April 30. Election day is Saturday, May 4.