McALLEN — South Texas College trustee candidates talked about priorities and campaign issues that included transfer agreements for students, employee pay and dual credit programs in a debate Wednesday.
There are contested races for two of the seats on the board, Place 3 and 4. The election is May 7.
Place 3 incumbent Paul Rene Rodriguez is attempting to defend his seat from challengers Lorena Saucedo Singh and Priscilliano Trevino.
Only Rodriguez and Trevino took part in Wednesday’s debate, which was not short on barbs and pointed remarks.
Asked about why he wants Rodriguez’s seat, Trevino said his opponent isn’t representing rural Hidalgo County adequately.
“The current appointed representative hasn’t been to our rural community since he was appointed…” Trevino said. “We need someone that’s more connected to our communities. We need someone that’s accessible.”
Rodriguez, for his part, plugged his experience as being a motivation for running, noting that being a collegiate trustee is different from being a local school board trustee — a position Trevino once held at the Valley View district.
“It is a different operation from a school district. So there are lots of programs in particular that the school has, and we do it successfully because we have a lot of partnerships,” he said.
Small communities were a focus of the talk. Referencing recently announced early college high school partnerships between McAllen ISD and Edinburg CISD and UTRGV, Trevino said small districts “can’t afford to pump in $10-$20 million for a MOU with a college or a university.”
“But we can convert abandoned buildings within those cities and have satellite STC campuses in those communities like we used to have,” he said, rattling off a list of small Rio Grande Valley cities he thought needed more attention from STC.
Rodriguez dismissed that claim, saying the majority of the towns Trevino listed already have early college high schools or dual credit programs.
“Interestingly enough, UTRGV was a little late to the party. We’ve been doing this since 2000 and we now have 21 school districts that we provide dual credit programs. We have 33 early college high schools,” he said.
Asked about unsteady enrollment during the pandemic, Rodriguez said despite dips in some programs, the question for STC leadership isn’t so much whether students will come back so much as what sort of education they’re coming back to.
“We’re actually very optimistic that things will be coming back,” he said. “The question’s going to be, probably, “In what fashion?” We know we have a lot of programs that require people to be in-person — it’s hard to learn a welding skill or learn how to touch a human body remotely.”
Trevino, meanwhile, said joining the National Junior College Athletic Association would bolster enrollment.
“That’s very important. We need to participate in that,” he said.
A question from the crowd on candidate’s strategies to work with faculty turned into an opportunity for Trevino to question whether the college was being financially fair to its employees.
“Staff is extremely important, and how much they get paid,” he said. “Also, we forget about the high school professors that are at the high school level teaching our kids. I don’t think they got a bonus; I’ve heard from a lot of them that they didn’t get a bonus.”
Rodriguez plugged trustees’ accessibility in regard to faculty — he even offered his cellphone number — but said that most of that strategy would lie with the college’s executive.
“And I think in the final analysis a lot of it’s going to depend on our CEO. He is the leader, he’s the person that is most accessible,” he said.
Meanwhile, longtime trustee Gary Gurwitz is not seeking reelection for his Place 4 seat, leaving an opening that three hopefuls have pounced on, among them candidates with experience on the campaign trail.
Those candidates include Dalinda B. Alcantar, Michael A. Fallek and Veronica “Ronnie” Lyzette Ontivereos.
All of the candidates are business people in varied capacities. Alcantar is also the CEO of the McAllen Boys & Girls Club, Fallek is an attorney and Ontiveros is a real estate agent.
Alcantar said she would focus on retaining quality staff if elected, along with expanding certificate programs at the college.
“We talk about industry related certifications that STC provides,” she said. “Looking at that short-term certification so that we can have kind of an immediate boost in creativity and innovation in the region.”
Fallek said expanding programing and student access would be his priority and listed a number of ways he’d work toward that goal, including fiscal responsibility and offering competitive wages to employees.
“The limiting factor is the number of qualified teachers that we have. We need to engage a wage study to make sure that STC is properly paying its staff and its professors. We need to expand the role of each of those programs, and the only way that we do that is by increasing the number of professors able to teach,” he said.
Ontiveros, meanwhile, said she would push apprenticeship programs if elected.
“Many apprenticeship programs can be enacted through the Texas Workforce Commission and employers that have high demand jobs that we see shortages on — for instance, hospitals have shortages of nursing — and we know that STC is one of the number one resources for nurses,” she said.
Asked about where the college has room for improvement, Ontiveros responded ensuring coursework transfers should be addressed.
“I feel like every student should have the capability of doing so because they invest in time, they invest in money, and sometimes they sacrifice many resources,” she said. “Hidalgo County’s one of the poorest counties in the nation, so we need to have our resources maximized.”
Alcantar, meanwhile, said she felt the college has a robust transfer agreement portal, although she said the college may be able to communicate that information more. She also said she’d like to see an exploration into other equivalencies.
“For instance, if you’re in the military and you’re a medic, I would actually really like to see how we could align those curriculums to offer credits at STC,” Alcantar said.
Fallek said the college not only needed to be looking up the pipeline at universities; it needed to be looking downstream, toward dual credit program expansion in high schools.
“Because that is the method by which so many students can first access higher ed and save so much money and really get into the possibility of achieving either a full baccalaureate degree or a vocational or other two year certificate that is going to produce an actual job around the corner for them,” he said.