Few applicants have stepped forward to fill two vacant seats on the South San Antonio Independent School District board, a district spokeswoman said, and the application period is set to close on Jan. 17.

The board anticipated getting about 100 applications when the application period opened Dec. 21, said Jocelyn Durand, South San ISD’s spokeswoman. “We have received probably less than a handful,” she told the Rivard Report, adding that the district wants candidates focused on students’ well-being.

Almost two years after the district experienced what Durand called some “choppy waters” resulting in the appointment of a state conservator, South San’s board has stabilized but now has two vacancies: District 3 Trustee Linda Longoria resigned Oct. 31, less than one year into her four-year term; and District 6 Trustee Helen Madla-Prather resigned on Dec. 6.

Longoria gave no reason for her resignation, while Madla-Prather cited an impending move out of the South San district to Del Rio, Durand said.

City Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said applicants for the board of trustees should be independent thinkers with a “good set of values.” He hopes the vacancy attracts candidates who are “disassociated with the old infighting and conflicts of interest” that the board has experienced in the past.

Saldaña and Durand attributed the dearth of candidates in part to the limiting geography of the districts with vacancies. The District 4 councilman noted that several constituents on his city Facebook page were interested, but lived outside of the boundaries.

“We are hoping to find a candidate that is wanting to move forward in a really positive direction with an emphasis on the students’ best interests,” Durand said.

A South San High School graduate himself, Saldaña said candidates “don’t have to be an expert in education” and can come from a variety of backgrounds or experiences with the district.

South San ISD’s board operates within a single-member district structure, with each trustee representing a confined geographic area. Districts 3 and 6 represent the southern and western most parts of the district, respectively.

The South San Antonio ISD Redistricting Plan by district.
The South San Antonio ISD Redistricting Plan by district. Credit: Courtesy / South San Antonio ISD

Once applications are submitted, board members will review the candidate’s qualifications and select who will advance to interviews scheduled for Feb. 2. The interviews will involve a roundtable discussion with current board members in a closed meeting.

Durand said the board will release the candidates’ names before their interviews.

On Feb. 7, the board plans to announce the people who will fill the vacancies. These interim members will serve until November 2018, when the school district holds an election to fill the positions for the remainder of the terms.

The District 3 trustee position will then be up for election in 2020, and the District 6 seat will be open again for a November 2022 election. Trustees serve four-year terms.

Following the appointment of the two new trustees, South San ISD plans to follow Texas Association of School Boards’ guidelines to get its newest board members current on operating procedures.

In February 2016, the Texas Education Agency appointed a state conservator to oversee the district after it failed to comply with a TEA action plan.Education Commissioner Mike Morath appointed Judy Castleberry as conservator to oversee the financial management and governance of the district, which serves about 9,000 students.

Durand said she didn’t think the conservator would have a say in whom the board appointed to fill the vacancies.

“She really only steps in when the board isn’t acting in the best interest of the students,” Durand said.

Another vacancy could arise if longtime trustee Connie Prado wins a Texas House seat next fall. Running as an independent, Prado announced in November that she would challenge State Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) in House District 117. If Prado wins the seat, she would have to resign her position on the board.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.