Highlights from the Sharyland trustee forum
The four candidates in the upcoming Sharyland ISD election assembled at Futuro RGV’s forum to discuss their priorities for the district and views on hot topics in Texas education.
The Place 1 race consists of Sergio Saenz and Meagan Sullivan — the former, a business owner and the latter, an educator. While Saenz made safety and security the focus of his platform, Sullivan has consistently advocated for better internal and external communication from the district to foster trust in the community.
For Place 2, engineer and former trustee Julio Cerda takes on criminal investigator and incumbent Alejandro Rodriguez. The two went head-to-head in the 2020 election when voters elected Rodriguez over Cerda after six years on the board. Both hope that their reputations will get them the win.
Although the pairs are in separate races and running separate campaigns, they each had the same opportunity to answer the same 15 questions from the moderators.
When it comes to the heavily discussed safety topic, the four candidates had different approaches.
While Cerda said the solution is more armed police officers in the district, Saenz believes prevention should be the priority. He suggested analyzing student behavioral issues to identify signs of bullying and prevent individuals from wanting to cause harm. To him, safety is the most important issue in the district right now.
“If they’re not safe then everything else is unimportant,” the Place 1 candidate said. “If they don’t feel safe…then they’re not going to want to come to school and they’re not going to learn.”
Conversely, Sullivan said she feels Sharyland ISD already has remarkable security given her first-hand experience as a recent former SISD educator of 15 years. Rodriguez echoed the same sentiment, highlighting the $2.6 million that administration has already put into safety and security measures at Sharyland. Those measures include fencing at the elementary campuses, guard shacks at entrances and adding more security and armed police guards to schools.
“[Security is] certainly important and we’re doing all we can without a knee-jerk reaction,” Rodriguez said. “And there’s certain things we need to think about instead of just throwing money into [other] things.”
All four candidates stressed the importance of teacher retention — an issue the Texas legislature is also trying to remedy.
In Place 1, Saenz suggested creating focus groups to understand teachers’ needs so the district can know how to provide for them. Sullivan said Sharyland ISD needs to evaluate its pay equity and provide better health insurance. And in keeping with her platform, she believes it all comes down to trust and communication.
“Without the trust and the foundation for maintaining ongoing relationships and retaining our teachers, nothing else is going to get done,” she said.
Both sets of candidates viewed the issue with the same mentality — if you build it, they will come. If the district provides the resources for teachers, they will flock to Sharyland and stay longer.
The dividing issue among the candidates was a hypothetical bond for next year.
In 2020 and 2021, the Sharyland constituents shut down the district’s two attempts at passing a multi-million dollar bond. In the 2021 election, it lost by six votes. The bond would not have raised taxes, and the monies would have gone toward fixing long-standing facility issues at John H. Shary Elementary and Sharyland High School.
But even though the bond failed, the campus issues still exist. As a result, the district had to prioritize projects and postpone repairs because it does not have the money in the general fund to fix everything promptly.
But the question remains of whether Sharyland will try to go out for another bond in the future.
When the bonds came up on the ballots two and three years ago, Place 2 trustee Alejandro Rodriguez was the only SISD board member to oppose them. He said the district should work on clearing existing debt from past bonds before bringing a new bond into the picture.
Cerda disagreed. The Place 2 challenger also spoke in favor of the 2021 bond at a school board meeting where he underscored the importance of the trustees presenting a united front on the matter.
Cerda said the bond issue is very close to his heart because all three of his children have passed through Shary Elementary and SHS. And he urges constituents to look at the state of the facilities before taking a side if another bond issue arises.
“John H. Shary and the bandhall and the rest of SHS needs help and we need to do it together,” Cerda said. “We need to make sure that the north and south work together to make sure we pass the bond issue to help out our kids.”
The Place 1 candidates had their own take on the matter. Saenz said if administration brings forward another bond issue, he would advocate for exploring other funding options instead of outright promoting adoption. But he agreed the buildings needed upgrades.
Sullivan, the opposing candidate, said she could not speak on finances for next year. But she flatly stated that the 2021 bond should have passed. Again, she attributed the failure to Sharyland ISD’s lack of communication with the community.
“People didn’t vote for it because they questioned whether they could trust the administration with the funds to be used the way it was being said, that’s what everyone was saying. They were having trouble seeing what the need was,” she explained. “So we need to build the trust, have the bond, improve the buildings.”
Julio Cerda has only brought problems the the boards and positions he’s served on. Sharyland doesnt need a dark shadow over it like Agua SUDs does.