BISD candidates state qualifications; Running for Positions 5 and 6

The 14 candidates running for the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees are doing so for a variety of reasons but all express a desire to improve the quality of education BISD’s nearly 43,000 students receive. Many also express a desire to bring the salaries that BISD employees earn up to market value.

For this story, the candidates answered four questions from The Brownsville Herald: What made them decide to run, why voters should choose them, if elected what one thing would they like to accomplish, and whether they and their children attended BISD schools.

The races for Positions 5 and 6 are covered in today’s story.

Voters who live within BISD boundaries will be given a ballot that includes the BISD election when voting in the Nov. 3 general election. Five seats on the board will be decided. Early voting begins Tuesday.

Position 6

Minerva M. Pena said she is seeking re-election “to continue to help and serve the community and our students. Ensuring we do the very best we can to provide our students with an excellent education and the employees with the best possible salary.”

She said she has “worked serving children the majority of my adult life; serving as a den mother for a Cub Scout troop, Little League/Pony League coach, booster club member for band, chess and baseball team. Having raised six children who have all attended and graduated from BISD has taught me the importance of supporting and promoting BISD as an outstanding school district,” and make her best choice for the position, she said.

“I would like to see all our employees’ pay to be adjusted to market value,” she stated.

Regarding school attendance, she wrote, “my entire family, including myself, are products of BISD, that includes my parents, siblings, husband, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. My family is and always will be BISD proud.”

Marisa F. Leal said she decided to run because the students and employees of BISD “have been ignored long enough.” She added, “It is time for a new vision and new leadership at BISD. The fear of retaliation should not be a factor in voicing one’s opinions or suggestions.”

Leal said she is a strong, successful, independent business woman and has been for 20 years who “knows what customer service is and how to listen. I was a paraprofessional at BISD for 15 years, so I know the plights of the paraprofessionals in our district.”

Leal said she hopes to accomplish more than just one thing, saying “the safety of our students” is her top priority but that “this ‘new’ confusing compensation plan needs to be revisited and simplified. Our students deserve first class facilities and I will see to it that we have those first class facilities for our students and staff while I am on the board.”

Leal is a 1985 Porter High School graduate, attended Victoria Heights Elementary and Cummings Junior High. “I am the mother of a BISD student and the wife of a great BISD teacher. My family is BISD. My priority is my family, my BISD family.”

Joe A. Rodriguez , a former BISD administrator, stated, “As an experienced leader in the community, I will help to positively address the two primary issues facing the district at this time – 1) the safety and well-being of the students and all BISD personnel due to the pandemic and 2) the loss of students to charter schools. BISD must provide a safe environment in which to receive a world-class education to include a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular options for the Brownsville students.”

Rodriguez also stated that “as a former trustee of BISD and South Texas ISD, I have a proven record of accountability, responsibility and extensive knowledge about the district and the community. Additionally, I offer two masters degrees in education, 17 years as a business owner, and 37 years as an educator and administrator that I will dedicate to this district that I love and continue to want to serve.”

He said he would “set a goal of providing a comprehensive first-class education to the deserving students of Brownsville so that they may thrive in today’s competitive society.”

Rodriguez, a lifelong Rio Grande Valley resident, attended schools in Edinburg. Of his four children, two are graduates of Hanna High School and two graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy.

Position 5

Erasmo Castro , a former board member, stated that he is running “because the current board and administration… have hurt not only our staff members and students but our community as a whole. When elected I will on day one end the grasp vendors and special interests have on the district.” He went on to say that he would demand audits of financials and campaign finance reform.

Castro was critical of the newspaper’s past coverage of his 2019 DWI arrest, saying the Herald “placed great attention to slapping my Class B Misdemeanor on the front page.”

In January 2020, Castro resigned his BISD seat following his DWI arrest.

In his resignation letter, Castro wrote, “I am opting to deal with [a] personal situation which has unfortunately become a distraction to the amazing things happening at BISD. I have had to take a step back from serving my spiritual family because of my well publicized personal situation. It’s my hope to restore the balance that is everything to me.”

In October 2019, the Board of Trustees censured Castro and expressed its disapproval “concerning recent occurrences, some on social media, which have demeaned the board as a whole.”

On the DWI charge, Castro was handed a six month sentence in February, suspended for a period of 12 months while he completes community supervision.

Castro stated that if elected he hopes to “bring back the board to serve the people and not the other way around. During these past seven months we have seen disregard for safety, health, livelihood and life of our staff and students. We must return the focus on the individual and not on the all mighty dollar.” He went on to call for an end to what he claims is retaliation, for building a performing arts center, and to revisit the district’s employee compensation plan.

Castro, a product of BISD, stated, “I attended Webb, Cromack and Rosa Del Castillo Elementary, Cummings Jr High and Porter High School. I have a vested interest in BISD not only because I am a product of the same but because a great number of my community members depend on BISD for education and livelihood.” He went on to criticize his opponent.

Daniella Lopez Valdez stated she decided to run because “I believe that our students, educators and staff deserve the best leaders who will serve with honesty, integrity and be role model citizens for our community. I want to bring back respect to the BISD board, offer a fresh perspective, and give the students, teachers and staff a voice.”

She said voters should choose her because of “my experience of overseeing a $1.1 billion dollar budget (twice the size of BISD’s budget) at JCPenney Corporate, managing teams of individuals of different levels over the past nine years, and my passion for giving back to my community through Leadership Brownsville, Blue Turtle Project and Connect BTX make me the best candidate for the role. I will uphold the importance of the position and dedicate my time to serving the students, educators and staff of BISD.

Lopez Valdez said the one thing she would like to accomplish would be “to raise the salaries of our educators and wages of our classified workers to competitive rates and prevent them from falling behind in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Regarding school attendance, she stated, “my parents sent me to Catholic school. I believe that all students are entitled to a free quality education, and I understand the impact education has on the future of our community.”