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PSJA board race getting heated

I don’t like boring school board races where everybody gets along and has a Kumbaya moment. Booooring. Let the opposing sides shake things up a little and see what falls out. At least that’s my idea of what constitutes a good school board race.

The hot races this year, the year of THE virus, include La Joya ISD, Hidalgo ISD, Edinburg CISD, and last but not least, The Advance News’s old stomping grounds, PSJA ISD.

Over the years, at one time or another, each has been host to explosive elections, which sometimes resemble professional wrestling matches or bare-knuckle boxing matches. Pretty much, though, the old fist fights and profanity died down with the advent of smart phones and the video camera they all carry. Get captured on video tossing the F-word at someone, taking a punch at an opponent, even if it is a politiquero who just called your mama a bad name, and see how that affects the votes you would have received from the as-yet undecided.

The tearing down and destruction of campaign signs still occurs, but that’s done at night with no one around, save the sign destructor. You’ve seen one political sign destroyed, you’ve seen them all. Unless, of course, someone manages to draw horns on the face of one of the candidates, likening him or her to the Devil. I’ve seen some good artistry in my day. It gives meaning to the phrase: Don’t get into politics unless you have some thick skin. It’s also probably not a good idea to get into politics if you still owe taxes, or you have a criminal record. Even without a conviction, multiple arrests for either domestic violence or DWI don’t look good when your opponent publicizes them. Trouble, too, in today’s world of Social Media (the real fake news), any anonymous person can make up fake stuff about any candidate, and some will take it at face value and believe it: “I didn’t know he had a kid with his secretary, but I always figured the kid was his. Looks just like him.” Pretty soon, the chismé (gossip) becomes fact instead of fiction.

The PSJA Race

PSJA ISD, for starters, is turning into an interesting political battle. Two slates and their supporters going at it. Throw in a pandemic and interrupted classes – questions, questions, questions -- and the story just gets more complicated, making it possible to write more news stories of interest this election.

On one side of the ballot sits the slate called “PSJA Stronger Together Campaign 2020.” The slate includes three incumbents – the Zambrano brothers from San Juan, Jorge and Jesse (seats 4 and 5 respectively); incumbent Trustee Jesse Vela from Alamo (Seat 6); and Cynthia Gutierrez (Seat 7), also from San Juan, running for a seat traditionally held by an Alamo resident. Gutierrez ran for a spot on the San Juan city commission three years ago, but lost. Still, she’s obviously no stranger to politics.

In opposition, stands the other slate, “Our PSJA Family Matters,” which is comprised of Heather Garza and Ruben Guajardo (San Juan’s traditional seats 4 and 5 respectively), and Victor Perez and Celso Salinas (Alamo’s traditional seats 6 and 7 respectively). So far, after talking to numerous people from both sides of the political divide, the biggest topics of conversation involve questions such as:

• How much more, if any, is PSJA ISD paying top administrators now compared to the days prior to the new superintendent, Dr. Jose Arredondo’s, arriving on campus last fall? Are district assets being better utilized better now than before under new leadership?

• When the district hired a handful of top administrators (Chiefs) earlier this year, they came from outside the district, beating out some longtime PSJA employees who had applied for the same job. In fact, one man who was hired by the district to vet applicants ended up getting the same job for which he was conducting interviews. Will that affect this election in any way, or will some school personnel, say, “So what if they’re not from here, these new ‘Chiefs’ are doing a good job.”

• Are Alamo voters going to really care that one of the school board seats traditionally held by an Alamo resident may be occupied by a San Juan resident if Cynthia Gutierrez beats Celso Salinas for Place 7 this election? If you count the ones who still feel that the seat should be occupied by an Alamo resident, will that be of sufficient number to affect this election?

• To what degree will PSJA’s handling of distance learning – does every student yet have a digital device? – affect the election?

• The PSJA Strong Together slate (Zambrano brothers, Jesse Vela, and Cynthia Gutierrez) is hosting a raffle for PSJA ISD school district employees. If the employee likes them on Facebook, shares the post, or tags 10 friends in the comments section of the slate’s FB post, they can participate in a drawing that will span four weeks, and if they’re lucky, they’ll receive a few free meals (botanas). Will employees appreciate the gesture or look at it as a way to win favor?

• The PSJA ISD teachers union branch (American Federation of Teachers) sent a letter to district administrators and board members last week, asking how so many school campuses could be closed due to COVID-19 infections, which require “deep cleans,” without notifying staff that someone on campus had become infected? Between June and Sept. 15 th , there were, according to the letter, 157 self-reported cases of COVID-19 from district employees. The employees worked in multiple departments. “Are you okay with us walking into dangerous working conditions? Are you okay risking staff and student lives?” reads the letter. According to the union’s leadership board, PSJA ISD isn’t ready for students to return to class because the district lacks the necessities to keep them, teachers, and campus staff safe. Granted, I haven’t called the superintendent for his response, or the board, but the fact that the union leadership is saying that the district is endangering staff can’t be good for those they hold responsible. The union letter claims that concerns voiced by teachers are being swept “under the rug.” The district’s majority leadership would obviously disagree and could probably produce some sort of evidence to suggest that nothing is being swept under the rug, but the letter obviously adds to the volatility of this election and its contention.

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