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Candidate says he wants to help children

By BY JEFFREY MILLAR
May 25, 2012 at 12:25 a.m.


Ruben is a 37-year-old businessman, born and raised in Brownsville. I first met Ruben about 7 years ago. Ruben mentioned to me that he was interested in running for the Brownsville School Board. I'm a political consultant and my consulting mode kicked in. I started asking questions.

The first question I asked was why the school board? Without hesitation, he said that he wanted to help children. It was a good answer, but I needed more. He told me, in a very clear and concise manner, that for our children to compete in a global society, they must receive an education second to none. He said that school is where children from all walks of life find hope, opportunity and the knowledge and desire to shoot for the stars - and that on the journey they discover the American dream is real.

Ruben explained to me that the Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) is a $500 million per year business and went on to explain the board's function. He was resolute about creating the right learning environment for children.

I learned that there are very different needs for various students. I learned there are "at risk" students; special needs children and some students who learn in very different ways. He told me it was all about the creating the right environment for education.

Ruben became a client and a friend and was elected as a trustee to BISD. As his BISD term progressed, he disclosed to me how a major vendor was taking advantage of the district, and that he and other members of the board were going to expose the vendor.

Ruben and the majority of the board exposed their findings and filed a lawsuit. As a consultant, I know what it takes to take on a major corporation. A corporation will protect its image and the contract at all cost. I knew that Ruben would face a machine and probably be defeated in his bid for re-election. My thought was, if the corporation changes the majority on the board then the lawsuit would be dismissed. My intuition was right on both accounts.

Several months after leaving the BISD, Ruben was elected to the Region One Service Center Board of Directors, serving 37 school board districts, a position he still holds today. The trustees of these 37 independent school board districts elect a representative to serve as the district's voice on the Service Center Board. Ruben's victory was sound - he won with more than 70 percent of the vote.

We continued our conversations about education. He told me time and time again that the State Board of Education (SBOE), with its Republican majority, was controlling education from Austin down. He couldn't understand why the SBOE didn't take into account the real needs in the classroom and listen to the teachers. He was beside himself when the State Board of Education rewrote sections of the Texas textbooks. I failed to mention that Ruben also served on 18 national, state and local educational boards and committees, in addition to the Region One Service Board.

I wanted to know what he would do if he were a member of the SBOE. I remember his first response very clearly. He told me that he would promote an education culture derived from an open and continuous dialogue with teachers and administrators: a standard allowing certified educators and administrators to make independent, flexible decisions adaptable to the needs of their students. He didn't say it exactly like that, but that's the gist of it. He kept going on about how important flexibility was in the classroom - that teachers know their students better than Austin does.

He also questioned the need for high-stakes testing under Texas Essential knowledge and skills. He would passionately tell me that testing should be a part of the academic process, not a one-test-fits-all. His constant reminder that the State of Texas ranks 43rd in the nation in graduations drove home his point.

For more than a year, I listened to Ruben's tirade about diminishing education and the negative impact the $5.4 billion cut in education would have on the future of our children. He kept telling me that 10 years from now, we would see the negative results.

So, today Ruben Cortez, Jr. is a Democratic candidate running for State Board of Education. He certainly has the knowledge and skills to do the job. But more than that, he believes that the future of our state and country is directly related to education.

Now you have an insight into the real Ruben Cortez, Jr. (On a side note, I want you to know that I've never before expressed my personal thoughts about any of my candidates. I wrote this on my own accord, then sought Ruben's permission to have it published.)

Jeffrey Millar is a notable political consultant with a record of 34 wins out of 37 races. Email jeffrey@tequilagroup.com.

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