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SAN BENITO — After three years of deep division within San Benito’s school board, the district is seating a new board of trustees, whose members are pledging to work together to boost students’ academic success.
In the bitter May 6 election, voters in this politically charged city dominated by two long-standing rival factions shifted the board’s balance of power, flipping the panel’s majority.
In a key race, Alex Reyna, a former district police officer, defeated Ramiro Moreno, who had served as the board’s president, leading its majority since first winning office in 2020.
Meanwhile, board members Orlando Lopez and Rudy Corona, who made up the past board’s minority along with trustee Ariel Cruz, fended off challenges to win re-election.
Last week, Lopez, Corona and Reyna along with Frutoso Gomez took their oaths of office, vowing to work together to unify the board.
During a meeting, board members appointed the new board’s officers, unanimously naming Lopez president after Cruz nominated him.
Meanwhile, board members unanimously appointed Cruz vice president after Corona nominated her.
In turn, Cruz nominated Corona to serve as the board’s secretary before his unanimous appointment.
LOPEZ RETURNS TO PRESIDENT’S POST
For Lopez, the appointment marks his return the president’s post, which he held from late 2019 until the November 2020 election swept in a new majority.
In one of the election’s tightest races, Lopez, a vascular specialist with a medical company, won 1,474 votes to defeat Julian Rios, the manager of Chuy’s Custom Sports who serves as the city’s Economic Development Corporation’s president, who drew 1,400 votes.
During the new school board’s installment May 16, Lopez pledged to work with the panel to help drive students’ academic achievement.
“There’s a great group of people up here, and I’m super excited to be elected by the community once again,” Lopez, who clinched a third term, told the audience. “It’s been a tough journey, but together we can accomplish a lot of things with great things in mind and having a positive attitude. It’s a long, long, long haul and you try to do what’s best for everyone. We have a lot of talent here. But at the end of the day, I can’t be more excited to be representing this board with this group of great people here. I look forward once again to focusing on what’s best for our district and moving our district forward and I will guarantee you that that’s what I’m going to fight for every single day — what’s best for our kids and our staff and SBCISD.”
Lopez, who first won election in 2017, said he wants to continue to work to better the district in which his son Diego is a student.
“Once again, my main focus or my main vision since I started this whole process years ago — I’m a stakeholder. My son now is in seventh grade and I have a vested interest in this school district,” he told the audience. “It takes a lot for people to run for office. It’s a journey. This journey’s been a long journey.”
‘HERE FOR COMMUNITY’
In the election, Corona, an AT&T fiber technician, won his second term, pulling 1,535 votes to defeat Jack Garcia, a former district official and former city mayor working for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, who picked up 1,338 votes.
“I’d like to thank our Lord for this opportunity,” Corona told the audience. “We’re here for you as a community, and we’re going to continue being your voice.”
In the election, Reyna won 1,460 votes, to defeat Moreno, a principal with the Rio Hondo school district, who drew 1,383 votes.
During the campaign, Reyna billed himself as an “independent voice.”
“I’m here to do the right thing,” he told the audience as he sat next to Superintendent Theresa Servellon during the meeting. “I know my people have been asking me, ‘Your sign said an independent voice,’ and trust me, I am an independent voice. And I’m here for each one of you employees, teachers, students, staff — whatever you guys need. I’m excited — this is my first time. I’m a little bit nervous, but I’ve got a special seat next to Ms. Servellon.”
CALLING FOR TEAMWORK
The election marked the first for Gomez, the Cameron County Appraisal District’s former longtime chief appraiser whom the past school board appointed last December to fulfill Janie Lopez’s term after she resigned after winning the new state House of Representatives District 37 seat.
Winning his seat by the election’s biggest margin, Gomez drew 1,625 votes to defeat Michael Vargas, the assistant public affairs director for the city of Pharr whom a group of residents removed as the school board’s president in 2019, who fell short with 1,227 votes.
“I started this adventure in December. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run but a lot of people came forward and asked me to run,” he said. “I do want to say I plan to work 100 percent with this board to make sure we get the best things done for our students. The students are our future. I’ve always said that. But the only way we can make this succeed is the people sitting up here in the front need to work as a team. That’s the only way, and I plan to work with everyone, listen. But I still will vote my way because that’s why the people voted for me — I’m their voice, as I stated. That’s the only way to go — we have to be united and not divided. That’s always been my statement and I will work closely with everyone here.”
TRUSTEES’ SUPPORT SYSTEM
As the board’s new vice president, Cruz, a pharmacist who first won election in 2021, said her mother Nelda, who works as a teacher with the district, helps give her support to serve on the school board.
“I’d like to thank my family — the families of all of us here. It’s a lot — the phone calls, the meetings, the events,” she said. “To have the support that we have at home to be able to do this, it’s amazing. I’m a child of an educator, and a lot of us up here have family members in education, so we’ve always served to be that support system for these educators. And we continue to be that support system for all of the staff of San Benito and all of the students, and I look forward to working as a team with each and every one of the people up here. And we’re going to do what needs to be done for our students and our staff.”
Find the complete, unofficial election results of races across the Rio Grande Valley here.