Stewart Elementary Teacher Mrs. Montez gives a reading lesson to student Jeimy Rojas in the schools hallway. Photo by Scott Ball.
Stewart Elementary Teacher Mrs. Montez gives a reading lesson to Jeimy Rojas in the school's hallway. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

It’s finally over. The most divisive, vexing, and interminable presidential election cycle of my lifetime has officially concluded. And, for the sake of my sanity, not a moment too soon.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the last week attempting in vain to synthesize what’s transpired over the last six months and figure out what it means for the future of our country. After vacillating between various stages of grief, I ultimately arrived at feeling surprisingly and confidently hopeful one week later. Resoundingly hopeful, in fact. My hopefulness is premised on the promise of our community, far removed from the swamp of Washington, D.C. and I desperately desire my friends and neighbors to adopt that same hope.

Early on Election Day, I confided in a friend my fears and anxieties about the local impact of the national election. You see, I serve as a trustee for SAISD, and the school district had two potentially transformational initiatives on the same ballot where Hillary Clinton was squaring off against Donald Trump.

From the district’s perspective, for the sake of its 52,500 students, this election was the most important in a generation. Through a new bond program and Tax Ratification Election (TRE), SAISD had a chance to fundamentally transform the lives of kids. And for the first time in recent memory, the district paired a dynamic superintendent with a cohesive board who together have earned an unprecedented amount of goodwill and trust from the community. But despite this harmonious confluence of conditions, I was terrified that the uncertainties of presidential politics would submarine SAISD’s ballot initiatives.

To allay my anxieties, my friend pointed me to a conversation between Arthur Brooks (a Republican) and Gail Collins (a Democrat) published in the New York Times, entitled It’s Better When All Politics are Local. I highly recommend you read it, too, but my takeaway, in three words: find hope locally.

If my social media feed is any measure, average Americans like you and me spent an immense amount of time over the last year talking, posting, and fretting about the presidential election. It’s true that the executive powers of the president can have a real impact on the lives of many – immigration, access to health care, and control of the nuclear codes are but a few examples.

Now that the election is over, even if you’re disappointed in the result, imagine the possibilities if our energies and advocacy were redirected and refocused on effecting change locally. The federal government, after all, is a leviathan orbiting safely out of yelling range from the masses, impenetrable and nearly impossible to change in any substantive way. Local institutions, on the other hand, are much more nimble in addressing community concerns and have a much greater impact on our daily lives.

District 2 Board of Trustee candidates promise to commit to a Tax Ratification Election.
District 2 Board of Trustee candidates promise to commit to a Tax Ratification Election. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Ultimately, our quality of life is determined by those around us, by the people in our schools, nonprofits, faith organizations, and communities. Groups comprised of the people who you pass on the highway while driving to work and wave to while walking your dog. A school board. Your City Council. The River Authority. Your neighborhood association. First responders. These are institutions that directly impact your daily life and that of your family, neighbors, and friends. These organizations repair roads and build sidewalks, they educate future generations, preserve our local ecosystem, treat addiction, provide health care, and keep us safe. And it’s these local institutions that are largely immune to the whims of Washington or the impulses of the president.

My hope lies in the great potential of our incredible community and local institutions, our ingenuity and resolve, our vision and determination to improve outcomes for those living closest to us. We are a community that displays, time and time again, our willingness to invest our time and our money locally. We can (and do!) solve problems without waiting on the government to solve them for us.

The SAISD bond and TRE are excellent examples of this. Our community – recognizing that no one else is going to step up to provide local students (93% of whom are economically disadvantaged) the resources they need to succeed – voted overwhelmingly in favor of the district’s ballot initiatives. More than 70% of voters approved the $450 million bond package that will rehabilitate 13 dilapidated schools and a TRE that leverages $15.6 million of local property tax revenue with $16.5 million in matching State funds to be invested largely in academic programming designed to close the achievement gap. Voters sent a clear message on Election Night: San Antonio is willing to invest in its future and take care of its own.

I am proud to be a member of this community, humbled by the voters’ mandate, and dedicated to transparency and accountability in managing the community’s investment. More than anything, though, I’m hopeful.

As the election fades and the holidays approach, let’s refocus. Let’s take a reprieve from national politics, recommit to our local community, and channel our energy into local pursuits. Then, I pray, frustration will dissipate and hope will spring anew.

Steve Lecholop

Steve Lecholop represents District 1 on the San Antonio ISD school board, which is comprised of downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. He is a lawyer and a Teach for America alumnus. He grew up in...