An effort by the San Antonio Independent School District’s teachers union to gain traction on the school board has resulted in one veteran incumbent being unseated Saturday by a union-backed candidate, while most incumbents in other districts held onto their seats.
The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel backed a slate of candidates to unseat three incumbents and replace a departing trustee on the seven-member board, representing a growing rift between the teachers union and the district’s administration in how schools should be operated. Alliance candidates ran on a platform that called for bringing more stakeholder voices to the decision-making table, building up neighborhood schools, and improving working conditions for staff.
In District 1, challenger Sarah Sorensen unseated incumbent Steve Lecholop with almost 55% of the vote, or 3,010 votes. Lecholop, an attorney who had served as a trustee for eight years, garnered 45% of the vote, or 2,478 votes.
Sorensen said she is “very excited” about the opportunity to serve on the school board. She believes the District 1 community got behind The Schools Our Students Deserve platform because it was “new and inspiring.” She spent Saturday talking to voters at the polls before gathering with the other Alliance candidates once vote centers closed at 7 p.m.
“People are energized and hopeful for change,” Sorensen said.
Lecholop declined to comment Saturday.
District 3 Trustee Debra Guerrero did not seek reelection. Former City Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna beat Alliance-backed candidate Judit Vega with 55% of the vote, or 1,803 votes. Vega received about 45% of the vote, or 1,470 votes.
Ozuna thanked Guerrero for her work on the school board and for her endorsement in the District 3 race. She said Guerrero has set an example for public servants in San Antonio by serving on the City Council and SAISD board, and Ozuna hopes to follow that standard. She said her primary focus on the board will be bringing more students back to school in person and dealing with the repercussions of the pandemic, while maintaining the highest levels of safety in schools.
“I’m just so grateful they’re allowing me to step into public service again,” Ozuna said of voters. “I’m grateful for the confidence in me to continue to make progress in the district on all the different ways we can change and innovate to prepare kids for 21st century jobs.”
District 4 incumbent Arthur Valdez, a retired aircraft engineer, held onto his seat against Alliance-backed candidate and Burbank High School teacher Luke Amphlett with 55% of the vote, or 1,750 votes. Amphlett, who was endorsed by Vermont senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, trailed behind with 45% of the vote, or 1,431 votes.
Valdez said voters know his track record on the board and have seen the district make progress under Superintendent Pedro Martinez. He said it’s important for SAISD to continue on that path and that new board members will soon understand the challenges of maintaining that momentum on the school board.
“It’s entirely different being on the board than looking at it from the outside,” Valdez said from Deco Pizzeria on Saturday night. Loud cheers could be heard in the background. “It’s all about our schools, our kids.”
In District 7, former San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza received 1,072 more votes than Alliance-backed candidate Yasmín Parra Codina, hanging onto his seat for another term. Garza, who was first elected to the board in 2009, garnered about 60% of the vote, or 3,122 votes, with Parra Codina behind with almost 40%.
Garza said now that the election is over, it’s time to focus on getting more students back in schools and helping them fill in learning gaps created by the pandemic, a tall task for the entire school district. He welcomed the two new board members and said Sorensen’s perspective as a parent will be a “critical” perspective to complement the other board members. Garza also complimented Parra Codina on running a “class act campaign.” He said they agreed to work together on issues that are important to them both, such as increasing levels of community engagement in District 7.
“We may not always agree, but we can agree on issues that are important to the district and the community,” he said.
In Northside ISD, the city’s largest, three of seven seats are up for election. District 5 trustee Katie Reed, first elected to the board in 1990, is not seeking another term. Four candidates have filed to fill her seat.
Retired NISD principal Corinne Saldaña received the most votes in the District 5 race with 32.9% of the vote, or 2,115 votes. Her closest contender was Irma Iris Duran de Rodriguez, senior housing policy coordinator for the City of San Antonio, who garnered 30.6% of the vote, or 1,968 votes.
In District 6, board president Carol Harle, first elected in 2013, held onto her seat with 76.5% of the vote. Her opponent Thomas Leger, a college administrator, garnered 23.5% of the vote.
Board Vice President Karen B. Freeman, the District 7 trustee who has served since 2005, also kept her seat with about 52% of the vote. Banker Kevin Escobar trailed behind Freeman with 36.3% of the vote.
Alamo Heights ISD
In Alamo Heights ISD, Place 5 candidate Clay Page, a general contractor, beat out his challenger with 64.3% of the vote, or 3,892 votes. Elissa Springer trailed behind with about 34% of the vote, or 2,163 votes. Springer is the CEO of Forté, a nonprofit that aims to steer women into business.
For Place 7, volunteer and substitute teacher Carey Watson Hildebrand won the seat with 57.5% of the vote, or 3,493 votes, while engineer Travis Wiltshire garnered 42.5% of the vote, or 2,578 votes.
In Harlandale ISD, incumbents also won in the contested District 2 and 4 seats. District 2 incumbent Christine Carrillo garnered 73.2% of the vote, ahead of Orlando Salazar, an automotive insurance agent. In District 4, incumbent Norma Cavazos was leading with almost 74% of the vote, or 554 votes. Her contender, David Abundis, had 26.2% of the vote, or 197 votes.
Abundis resigned in 2019 while the Texas Education Agency was investigating the district, and the remaining board members appointed Cavazos to the seat. In February 2020, the TEA placed Harlandale ISD under the authority of a conservator who can override board decisions, finding after an investigation that trustees failed to monitor the district’s finances and violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Although three names appeared on the ballot for District 3, only one candidate was eligible for the seat, Louie G. Luna. The Harlandale teacher received the most votes, 169 or 38% of all votes. Incumbent Esequiel “Zeke” Mendoza, who died in February, was still listed on the ballot and received 120 votes. Another District 3 candidate, Lillian Zapata, was deemed ineligible to run because her voter registration had lapsed. She got 153 votes.
In Judson ISD’s District 4, Jose Macias Jr. won the seat with 58% or 652 votes. Evette Livingston trailed behind with 42% or 472 votes.
For the unexpired District 7 at-large seat, Rafael Diaz Martinez Jr., who was recently appointed to fill the vacant seat, held onto the seat against opponent Emilio Silvas with 63.4% or 2,941 votes.
Florinda “Flo” Bernal and James Sullivan Jr., both incumbents, and Daniel Carrillo received the most votes out of the seven-member pack of Southwest ISD candidates vying for three at-large seats on the school board. Bernal got 567 votes and Sullivan received 529. Newcomer Carrillo won 484 votes.