McAllen school board trustee candidates talk priorities in forum

McAllen ISD School Board Trustee Place 5 candidates Rojelio Aleman II and Aaron Daniel Rivera met in their first forum of the campaign season Wednesday, hosted by the McAllen Rotary Club.

Aleman, a veteran, and Rivera, an attorney, are running for Danny Vela’s undefended seat on the board.

Both candidates are political newcomers.

Rivera said, if elected, he would prioritize morale and relationship building — particularly with the larger McAllen community — at the district.

“Having a positive environment, a positive culture,” he said. “Respecting everybody, respecting our teachers, respecting the staff, respecting everybody involved in our community as well. Getting the community involved is another topic that I think is important.”

Aleman, in contrast, said he’d focus on infrastructure, particularly facility infrastructure, and safety.

“Our children, our teachers and our support staff need to feel safe. Just recently, there’s been a lot of school shootings, a lot of children taking guns and bullets. Our teachers and our students are in trouble because they’re not feeling safe,” he said.

Money — like finances and pay — received the most attention in the forum.

The current slate of trustees on the board struggled to approve a compensation plan for employees last year due to budget concerns. At the time, they predicted the same concerns coming up this budget cycle, and differed on ways to cut spending or increase revenue that would address that problem.

Aleman and Rivera both called dealing with finances a central role for trustees. Both said they’d support more pay for teachers and neither seemed keen on supporting cutting programs at the district as a way to address budget problems.

A question from the audience about how much money the district has to run itself and how much of that money goes to teachers stumped both candidates, though they said they’d figure out the answer.

Neither seemed to have a silver bullet for financial concerns at the district, though both had done their homework and had a couple of house bill numbers memorized about legislation that may impact finances related to education.

McAllen school board candidates Rojelio Aleman II, left, and Aaron Daniel Rivera, right, are shown during a forum at the Salvation Army Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Rivera mentioned grants and a creative approach regarding funding, saying he’d focus on relationship building in addressing those problems.

“If there’s a way that we can do it with our budget, then we’ll find it and we’ll make it happen. We want to create a positive culture for everyone involved,” he said.

Both Rivera and Aleman noted they’d been paying attention to ongoing budget talks on the board and called transparency related to finances important.

“I want to know the answers, that way when you ask me, I can give you a good straightforward answer, because that’s what you deserve: a trustee that will give you the answers,” Aleman said to a questioner in the crowd.

Both also said they’d be proactive about visiting with legislators in Austin, particularly about finances and pay for current and former educators.

The candidates responded to a number of other questions on specific issues. Both seemed open minded about considering a yearlong school calendar.

Rivera said he’d address book banning — so far not a significant issue on the board — by considering the opinion of the community while Aleman said he’d address it by first reading the book.

Responding to a question on financial transparency, Aleman volunteered that he supports the district’s 2021 investment in Quinta Mazatlan.

Both men said mental health should be a priority. Aleman, who says he suffers from PTSD from his military service, said teacher training would be his first step to address mental health.

A forum for McAllen ISD school board candidates Aaron Daniel Rivera and Rojelio Aleman II was hosted by the McAllen Rotary Club at the Salvation Army Wednesday on March 15, 2023, in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

“Because they’re the first line with our students,” he said.

Rivera, who says he has a psychology background, proposed a more complex approach.

“We need to be able to provide support and resources that help everyone involved thrive. That can be investing in mental health services, providing social/emotional learning. Just teaching everybody — our staff, our students — how to deal with some of their mental health problems,” he said.

Wednesday’s forum was the first in several being held by local groups for board candidates. Rotarians are planning to hold an additional forum in early April for other candidates.

Other forums include:

>> March 27: A forum on March 27 at 6 p.m. hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Republican Women at 4900 N. 23rd St;

>> March 28: A Futuro RGV forum on March 28 at the South Texas College Student Union Ballroom at 3201 Pecan Blvd;

>> April 11: A JPCC forum at Nikki Rowe on April 11.


McAllen ISD board candidates slated for forums