MISSION — Sharyland ISD voters will see two new names and a familiar one on their ballot when early voting begins Monday.
Place 4 incumbent Jose “Pepe” Garcia will face challenger Charlotte Hocott to defend his seat, while newcomer Maritza Ramirez-Esqueda will run unopposed for Place 3.
Melissa Smith, the Place 3 incumbent, did not file to see reelection.
Whichever two candidates find themselves on the board in May will enter a district in metamorphosis. Sharyland is attempting to pass a $35 million bond project in May that would fund renovations and additions at both John H. Shary Elementary and Sharyland High School if passed.
Sharyland has also struggled with enrollment numbers that continue to decline this year. Although talks about becoming an open enrollment district earlier this year subsided, the question of what to do about enrollment likely won’t go away.
All of the candidates are in favor of the bond package, although each has a different skill set they say will make them a good trustee and a different list of priorities they hope to pursue on the board.
For Place 4 incumbent Jose “Pepe” Garcia, he believes 20 years of experience with La Joya ISD working as a teacher and administrator, and his current role as principal at Domingo Trevino Middle School, qualify him for the position of trustee.
“My experience in education as a campus administrator at all three different levels — that’s the voice that I bring to Sharyland ISD,” he said.
Ensuring board collaboration and backing up district personnel rank among Garcia’s top priorities.
“Continuing to work with the team of eight, and continuing to support administration and ourselves as board members to ensure the best interests of students are met,” he said.
A supporter of the upcoming bond, Garcia says the improvements it will support are necessary to give students the facilities they need to learn.
“I’m supporting the bond because right now is the time to ensure our schools are equitable. We have to make sure that buildings that are over 20 years (old), like John H. Shary Elementary, and close to 40 years for Sharyland High School, are up to par,” he said. “To ensure that good learning environments are provided for all students.”
Garcia says although there were talks about open enrollment on the board those discussions have petered out and that the current situation just doesn’t justify the move.
“We do have tuition based enrollment where if a student wants to transfer from another district then there’s a fee they have to pay. So at this point we really can’t justify that there’s a huge decrease in enrollment, because we still have students that weren’t able to enroll,” he said. “And obviously it’s because of the pandemic. So I think our main goal is that we account for every student that lives in our district, that’s our priority.”
Charlotte Hocott, a stay-at-home mom who runs a small home business, said her involvement in the community and the skillset she’s developed would make her an asset on the school board.
“I have been serving as a volunteer for over 12 years and I feel I’m accountable, reliable, I’m motivated, I’m fair. I listen — I listen to what people have to say and then we try to work it out,” she said.
If elected, Hocott says she would promote transparency and communication in the district, along with a message of unity.
“There is such a division right now between a lot of people, labeling one side as south and one side as north, and I don’t believe in that. I think we are one community and we need to work as one community,” she said. “You know, there’s one side that feels that they don’t get as much as the other side, so I want to make sure that everything is even.”
Hocott is also a bond supporter, which she says will pay for improvements that are long overdue.
“My three daughters attended John H. Shary, and so I knew what condition it was in when my girls attended,” she said. “The classrooms were very crowded, so that was hard. The air conditioner didn’t work a lot of times. But our community just keeps growing and I know the zone has been enlarged for John H. Shary Elementary, so they need an extra wing just to help fit all those students in.”
An opponent of open enrollment, Hocott said teachers already have enough on their plate without adding more students to the district.
“We did not want our daughters in another district. We wanted our daughters in the Sharyland district. And yes, we do pay high taxes, but that’s what we’re willing to do,” she said. “Our teachers have so many students now, and they’re overloaded with work and trying to work from home and trying to work from school, online and in-class. They are so overwhelmed right now, and a lot of the teachers are against this open enrollment also.”
A chief operations officer, Ramirez-Esqueda says her desire to serve and professional experience in the community give her the right skillset to take over Place 3.
“I think my mix of being a parent, being a businesswoman and having worked with children for the last decade through my nonprofit; it gives me a good mix of experience to do well and make decisions that not only affect the business side of the district but also affect the children,” she said.
Ramirez-Esqueda says her first priority as a freshman trustee would be to learn about the district and about the board’s role in it.
“I’ve served on multiple committees, but I know we’re not privy to lots of information,” she said. “So initially, it’s just to really absorb what’s going on in the district, to be able to be able to put myself in a position to make decisions and prioritize what the needs are and assess the needs.”
A passionate supporter of the upcoming bond package Ramirez-Esqueda says she feels the bond is necessary to address inequality in facilities between the district’s high schools and that there’s no better time to do that than now.
“The financial climate is like none other,” she said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever be in the same position that we’re in right now, in a position where we can actually borrow that money to make the improvements that we need at all-time low interest rates. And in a unique position with the tax compression that forecasts that we won’t have a tax increase for the next 30 years.”
Ramirez-Esqueda said she was hesitant to voice firmly one way or another where she would stand on open enrollment without having the information on hand that a trustee would, although she said she was hopeful Sharyland could address its enrollment dip through other avenues.
“If in the future that’s what the district is going to require, then obviously take all the information in and make the best decision for the district,” she said. “I think all the districts are suffering from dropping enrollment. One of the things is, as a parent, is competing facilities. These new, big, bright, shining schools that are going up all around us, and then we’ve got older schools, failing infrastructure. So I think mixing it with passing the bond and upgrading our facilities to compete with these schools is super important.”