State Board of Education candidate visits Victoria

April 17, 2012 at 4 p.m.
Updated April 16, 2012 at 11:17 p.m.

For the first time in 30 years, the Crossroads will have a new representative on the State Board of Education.

Several community members turned out Tuesday night to meet one of the five people who could fill that position: Ruben Cortez Jr.

Cortez, a Democratic candidate from Brownsville, is spending a couple days in the northern parts of the 17-county District 2 he seeks to represent.

Of upmost importance to him, he said, is hearing the needs of educators across the Gulf Coast and ensuring their voices make their way back into policy-making.

"Governing from the boardroom to the classroom isn't working, so we need to flip this around and start governing from the classroom to the boardroom," he said. "We need to start actively asking our teachers and our teacher groups for advice on these matters and taking them into account with respect to the decision process."

Besides listening to the "front lines" of education, Cortez said he's also committed to expanding the use of technology in classrooms and protecting the board's authority over the Permanent School Fund, which is disbursed to schools with interest from public land transactions.

But as a father of three public school students and the husband of a principal, Cortez said his motivation is simple.

"I want to make sure that not only my children, but every child has the best opportunity for success," he said. "This is what we're charged to do as parents."

Cortez, a former Brownsville school board member and current Region 1 Education Service Center board member, is vying for the Democratic Party nomination against two opponents. Celeste Zepeda Sanchez, is assistant superintendent for curriculum with the San Benito school district, and Larry E. Garza served on the school board in Kingsville and with the Texas Association of School Boards.

Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat from Corpus Christi, announced she would not seek re-election after serving on the board since 1982.

Victoria School Board President Tami Keeling, who was at Tuesday's mixer at The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar, reiterated the importance of this year's SBOE election, which has all 15 board positions up for grabs due to redistricting.

"Although the State Board of Education is very powerful, most people don't know who their State Board of Education representative is and what impact they have on the classrooms," she said.

The SBOE is the governing body that oversees the public school system in Texas, determining things like academic standards, curriculum and textbooks, while overseeing the Permanent School Fund.

During its tenure, the incoming board will approve, for example, which textbooks will be adopted for science and social studies - two areas that proved controversial in 2009 and 2010, with critics crying political ideology was creeping into education.

Cortez's campaign slogan runs contrary to that maneuvering: "Keeping politics out of the classroom."

Primary voting is May 29, with early voting beginning May 14.



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