Councilman Rey Saldaña, who is serving his last term as San Antonio’s District 4 representative, will start working with education advocacy nonprofit Raise Your Hand Texas next year, said Kate Rogers, president of The Holdsworth Center.

Saldaña announced at a fundraiser Thursday evening that he would not seek the mayor’s position in May and that he wanted to take a couple of years off from politics.

“I am a mechanic for municipal government,” he told the crowd. “I have not run my last race.”

In attendance alongside Saldaña’s staff members and friends Thursday were Mike Flores, chancellor of Alamo Colleges and Gina Ortiz Jones, former Democratic candidate for the Congressional District 23 seat.

Saldaña said he can think of no better field than education to take a broad look at things.

“Education makes my heart beat,” Saldaña told the Rivard Report. “It’s in my DNA. What better place [to work] than an organization that fights for kids like [I was], who understands that the one guarantee for success is public education.”

Councilman Rey Saldaña speaks to supporters during a fundraiser at Botika.
Councilman Rey Saldaña speaks to supporters during a fundraiser at Botika. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

He said he will serve out the rest of his term on Council and begin working part-time for Raise Your Hand Texas in January. He said he made that part of the agreement with the nonprofit because he wanted to finish the job.

Saldaña said money raised at the fundraiser will essentially serve as a savings account for when he returns to run for mayor.

Raise Your Hand Texas and The Holdsworth Center, both supported by H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt, are based in Austin, but Saldaña will remain in San Antonio working under an enhanced community engagement initiative.

Libby Cohen, director of advocacy and outreach for Raise Your Hand Texas, said Saldaña “has earned respect in the San Antonio region and throughout the state for his dogged personal and professional pursuit of a high-quality public education for all children.”

“Raise Your Hand Texas is thrilled Rey chose to join us, following his time on City Council, to help build capacity for our outreach efforts across the state,” Cohen said. “He is a tireless and accomplished community engagement strategist and tactician who credits his San Antonio public education – from pre-k to South San Antonio High School – with preparing him for college and his career. Rey’s story, passion, and talents will help bring much needed regional support from families, community leaders, and business executives to advance public education issues at the state level.”

While at South San, Saldaña received a Gates Millennium full academic scholarship to attend Stanford University, where he also played catcher on the school’s varsity baseball team. He returned to San Antonio after graduating with a bachelor’s degrees in political science and communication and a master’s degree in policy, organization, and leadership studies. Saldaña has taught as an adjunct professor at Trinity University and Palo Alto College, was chief engagement officer for KIPP San Antonio, and as special projects manager in the Vice President’s Office for Community Service at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He also served as a board member for Communities in Schools of San Antonio.

“For too many children, my story is the exception, not the rule,” Saldaña told the Rivard Report, referring to his rise from humble beginnings as a child in a low-income family.

At 32, Saldaña is the youngest – but most senior – member of the current City Council. He was first elected in 2011 and has trounced challenges to the seat ever since. Council members and the mayor can serve a maximum of eight years.

Founded in 2006, Raise Your Hand Texas advocates at the state level for public education policies “that invest in our students, encourage innovation and autonomy, and improve college and workforce readiness,” according to its website.

The new advocacy arm in San Antonio, Rogers said, will work to “engage the San Antonio community in some of the big issues facing our public schools.”

Saldaña told the Rivard Report he’ll be working in community engagement to get all parents – from those active in PTAs to those disconnected – to understand “they have a voice at the ballot box, at the legislative offices, at the local town halls.”

The Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation invests in leadership development and coaching programs for principals, campus, and district teams.

“The need to provide a high-quality education for all children” is a priority for the nonprofit and one that Saldaña shares, Rogers said.

Like The Holdsworth Center, which provides educational leadership training, Raise Your Hand Texas benefits from “the generosity of Charles Butt, so both organizations have been well-resourced and they’re not skimping on finding quality people.”

After the fundraiser, Saldaña added via text: “With eight years on the Council, it didn’t matter if I was speaking to a CEO, leader of a nonprofit, chief of police, or neighborhood leaders, so many of our problems kept coming back to one thing – education. I’m thrilled to join the fight with an organization who understands public education in Texas is the only way we live up to the promise of the American dream, and stem so many of the problems we have been so accustomed to dealing with on the back end.”

Scott Ball contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Communities in Schools of San Antonio and H-E-B and its Chairman Charles Butt are Rivard Report business members. For a full list of supporters, click here.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org