South San Antonio ISD District 6 Board Trustee Luis Rodriguez.
South San Antonio ISD District 6 Board Trustee Luis Rodriguez. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

When Luis Rodriguez takes his oath as South San Antonio Independent School District’s newest trustee, he will bring two things to the board: financial acumen and a positive attitude.

These traits are important for a district like South San, which faces an approximate $7 million budget shortfall for the 2018-19 school year, and still has room for improvement after the Texas Education Agency removed its state-appointed supervisor in January.

Rodriguez has spent most of his life working in finance, beginning just two days after his graduation from Trinity University when he started a job at a bank, and ending with his last job before retirement as a university budget analyst at Texas A&M University – San Antonio.

He said his experience managing money allows him to understand what goes into the making of a large budget, something that can take hundreds of hours before the final vote to approve. With the district projecting a shortfall, Rodriguez thinks this skill set will be particularly advantageous.

“I can’t wait to get my hands on that budget,” he said, noting that looking at the budget is what he is most excited and anxious about in his new role.

Board President Angelina Osteguin said the board anticipates that Rodriguez’s “vast experience in educational finance” will benefit the district.

“Now that the final vacancy is filled, we plan to move forward as a united board to meet the needs of the district and the students whom we serve, with the first priority being the development of next year’s school budget,” she said.

It was a move of chance that brought Rodriguez to live in his current home, which placed him within South San’s District 6.

Prior to Rodriguez and his three other peers’ applications, no one who lived within the district’s boundaries had applied. One person had submitted an application for the District 6 vacancy, but didn’t reside within the boundaries and was nixed from consideration. City Councilman Rey Saldaña, whose District 4 is home to South San ISD, lamented the limiting effects single-member districts’ geographic boundaries can have on a candidate pool.

Four-and-a-half years ago, Rodriguez wanted to move from an apartment to a house, but struggled to find a property he liked. One day, his real estate agent called him to visit a home on the city’s Southside between Armstrong and Five Palms elementary schools that was just listed on the market. Within minutes of walking inside, Rodriguez said he knew “this was the place.”

This move qualified him for the position he was appointed to last Wednesday. Even though Rodriguez is not a lifelong South San ISD resident, he brings an understanding of the challenges facing the district’s students, having grown up in Edgewood ISD, a district with similar student characteristics.

Stella Camacho, Rodriguez’s sister, serves on Edgewood ISD’s board of managers. She said her brother will bring a “passion for education and an attitude of living life to its fullest” to the school board.

“Our family is so excited and proud of his decision to represent his neighborhood school district,” she said.

Both Edgewood and South San ISDs serve student bodies that are more than 90 percent economically disadvantaged and 97 percent Hispanic. Both have been the subject of state oversight in recent years, although South San ISD recently became an independent operator when the TEA, having confidence in the district’s leadership, pulled its state conservator.

Growing up in a district whose students face a number of challenges, Rodriguez said his parents made all the difference by fostering in him a strong work ethic. His father worked two jobs, often leaving the house at 6 a.m. and not returning until 11 p.m. so his mother could stay home and raise Rodriguez and his four siblings.

Rodriguez put this work ethic to use in high school, serving in ROTC, National Junior Honor Society, and a number of other clubs.

When applying for colleges, Rodriguez knew he didn’t want to place a financial burden on his family.

“If I didn’t get [a] four-year scholarship, I could not have gone to Trinity,” he said, positing that he likely would have ended up at San Antonio College otherwise.

With this perspective in mind, Rodriguez said he knows college isn’t for everyone, but wants to help students who do have aspirations for higher education.

In 2015, Rodriguez retired from his job as a university budget analyst and became a certified life coach. He used time freed up by retirement to author guides that help people “find happiness.” One such guide, “College Prep 101,” gives students in high school advice on how to be successful in their pursuit of a college education.

Rodriguez said his No. 1 piece of advice contained in the text is building a strong relationship with school counselors. That person would know “what it takes” to get students to college, he said.

His other books cover gratitude, healthy lifestyle choices, and everyday stressors. Rodriguez said it is important to enjoy the process, not just the final result. This belief might prove to be especially pertinent in South San ISD, where there is still much to be done before achieving the district’s goals.

“It is all about the process,” he said. “People focus too much on the end goals and don’t realize there is worth in getting there.”

He is applying this theory to his nascent term in office, not yet deciding whether he will run for the seat in the November election. In his seven months in office, Rodriguez said he wants to “just help people” and see if he represents his district well.

“I don’t like politicians very much,” Rodriguez said, noting that an election means campaigning. “I guess that would make me like a politician.”

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.