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MCISD trustees discuss their toughest decisions

20120127-Mission-CISD-Board-Appreciation_dy-033MISSION — Texas schools have had to adjust their budgets in preparation for limited funding from the state and federal governments and along the way, school board trustees have had to make some of the most difficult decisions from maintaining school programs to whether a district can offer its staff a pay raise.

For trustees in the Mission Consolidated Independent School District (MCISD), making tough decisions includes taking from their professional lives to make choices for the school district and its students.

 

But what’s been their toughest decision?

For some, the hiring of a new superintendent was one of the hottest topics in town.

“That was very controversial,” said President James Olivarez who has served on the board since 2003.

Vice President Moises Iglesias recalled it being one of the first things members of the community would ask: Who were they going to hire?

“You make those decisions based on the information you have,” said Iglesias who joined the board in 2007.

With so many people involved, Iglesias and Olivarez each said people were keen on hiring someone local.

“I’m one that wants the best,” said Trustee Raymond Longoria. “I’m a good judge of character.”

While debating upcoming issues before the board, Iglesias said it’s up to each board member to weigh the benefits each action could have for students and staff.

“We have to basically iron out the whole thing and figure out the best route,” he said. “Regardless it will affect someone directly, often friends of ours, but we have to try to get all the information possible so if approached on the street you have to sell it to them also. You have to justify it to them.”

Justifying actions of the district lies on the backs of board members who in turn hold administrators accountable, said Trustee Dr. Sonia Treviño, who has been on the board since 2007. She’s pushed the district on topics like its curriculum, unequal pay raises and transparent hiring processes. It’s the board’s duty to be held accountable by taxpayers, she said.

“I continue to be the voice of our teachers whom are in the front lines with our kids,” Treviño said. “The concerns I’ve brought forth are controversial, but are at the heart of putting our children first.”

Other tough decisions included the recent tax ratification election that was approved by voters.

“It was tough because that’s a big gamble,” Olivarez said.

But ultimately, budget issues after the previous legislative session was the biggest headache.

“We just never expected it to be that big of a cut,” said Secretary Patty Bazaldua of state and federal funding to MCISD. “To try to not cut our teachers or any programs and any other extras we offer was so hard.”

Superintendent Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez said he’s been pleased with how the board approaches every subject matter before them and the use their professional skills to work together in solving problems.

“They study the situation very carefully,” he said. “They make the best decision possible under the circumstances.”

The best board member is one that has ties to the community and uses their best judgment in decision making for the district. They’ve been entrusted by the community to make sound decisions for the students and staff at MCISD, he explained.

Under the board’s direction, Gonzalez commended the district’s ability to maintain its staffing levels and even to be considering offering staff a pay raise in the next budget cycle.

“That has been a blessing for our district,” he said of predicted budget savings.

MCISD and districts across the state honored board trustees this month in honor of School Board Recognition Month, thanking thousands of board members for their efforts in making tough policy calls in education for their districts.

On Wednesday, MCISD students thanked their board at a reception where the City of Mission also presented a proclamation thanking board members for their service.

To make tough decisions, trustees often take from their professional lives to help guide the district.

Trustee Patty O’Caña-Olivarez is an attorney and certified mediator that explained she utilizes law school lessons to make choices for MCISD.

“We are taught to do analytical thinking and look at both sides,” she said. “We have to look at the pros and cons, because there’s always two sides to every story.”

For O’Caña-Olivarez, who has been a trustee since 2008, issues like selecting health insurance premiums could have been confusing without Olivarez’s experience as a pharmacist.

“I would’ve never known some of this had James not brought it up,” she said. “It’s a tremendous asset. We all bring something to the table.”

Likewise, Iglesias, a contractor, uses his day-to-day skills to keep a close eye on the district’s construction efforts.

“My contribution to the board is on the construction side, probably the biggest as far as money goes,” he said. “That’s what makes us so great. I may not know a lot about something that another board member does and we help each other understand issues.”

Trustee Oscar Martinez, who was formally a coach and educator for 10 years, said his experience in the classroom helps him ask the right questions of administrators when it comes to the education of MCISD students.

“The most important thing is our kids,” Martinez said who will complete his ninth year on the board in May. “These decisions are decisions we have on a yearly basis, and I want myself to make sure it’s the right decision for the district, the students and the taxpayer.”

Bazaldua, who will complete her fourth year on the board this year, said her biggest concern as a trustee is student achievement. As a small business owner, she said she dedicates her ideals on how the district can help foster student development.

“And hopefully one day they’ll come back and serve our community,” she said. “That’s what we’re about. We come down and sit down and make decisions and we have one thing in mind: it’s our children. It’s not about anybody else.”

Longoria, a board member for nearly eight years, admitted the board does have its disagreements on different issues, but explained that their ability to work together despite any disparity makes them effective.

“We truly are a unique board compared to neighboring towns,” he said. “Everybody puts in a little bit of their knowledge and it works.”

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