EDITOR'S NOTE: This is another installment in an ongoing Texas Watchdog series looking at the candidates for the Houston school board.
As one of five candidates eight years ago, Ramiro Fonseca funded his own campaign for the Houston school board.
“I still got 20 percent of the vote, without any endorsements,” said Fonseca, 54, in an interview on Friday.
Head of Houston Community College’s Minority Male Initiative, Fonseca is in a decidedly better position heading into his Nov. 8 Election Day showdown with District III incumbent, Manuel Rodriguez Jr.
Houston heavy-hitters such as Mayor Annise Parker, state Rep. Carol Alvarado, the Harris County AFL-CIO and the Harris County Tejano Democrats have endorsed Fonseca this time around.
“It feels really good,” Fonseca said of the endorsements. “It tells me they believe in what I represent, and that they’ve seen what I’ve done in the community.”
But Rodriguez is an eight-year veteran of the Houston Independent School District board. He served as the body’s president in 2007 and points to a list of accomplishments to show voters how he’s improved District III.
“I stand on my record of everything we’ve done,” said Rodriguez, 60, during a Friday interview.
He owns a small business that offers services including notary work, personal and small-business taxes, and resume- and letter-writing for Latinos. He also is an Air Force veteran.
“Parents will have to decide who will be the best man,” Rodriguez said.
Election Day is Nov. 8. Early voting begins Oct. 24.
Rodriguez is particularly proud of:
- Passing the $805 million bond referendum during his tenure as president in 2007. That bond enabled the district to build 24 new schools in Houston, Rodriguez said.
- Receiving the East End Chamber of Commerce “Education Impact” award in 2008.
- Being one of the founding members of Houstonians for Public Education, which Rodriguez says was the first grassroots organization to work with HISD on a District level.
- Helping create HISD’s Grad Labs program last year, which enables high-school students who have failed two or three courses to make up that work and still graduate on time. About 800 students were able to obtain diplomas last year due to the program, Rodriguez said.
- All District III schools have been designated as academically acceptable. “That says a lot,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said Fonseca’s endorsements “are from people who have not been on (school) board and do not know and have not had any experience trying to get things accomplished in the district.”
He said that many of those who endorsed Fonseca did so due to “certain political pressures.”
“They may feel that their special interests may be rewarded,” Rodriguez said. He declined to elaborate, saying that he doesn’t know how Fonseca would vote, “or who’s pushing his buttons.”
If reelected, Rodriguez would like HISD to collaborate with Houston Community College to enhance skilled-trade education in high school, he said.
On good-governance standards for board members, Rodriguez said, “We have to be ethical doing business because we are using public money. But at the same time, we have to allow opportunities for small, minority, women-owned and similar businesses to compete for jobs. To keep them away is not fair.”
The school board unanimously approved, 9-0, the first reading of a new business-ethics policy at its Thursday meeting. They also hired an independent auditor to review HISD procurement practices.
Individual board members should know their relationships to businesses when they cast their votes, Rodriguez said. “You shouldn’t be surprised that you have connections here and there.”
Rodriguez earned an associate’s degree from Solano Community College in California and studied organizational behavior management and marketing at the University of Houston. He is a native of Houston and has lived in District III for 35 years. He and his wife, and their four children, all graduated from HISD schools.
Among the most troubling issues Fonseca sees at his HCC job is “the low number of students arriving on college campuses not ready to go to college,” he said. “I don’t feel they’re prepared for college or prepared to enter the workforce.”
That’s one thing he’d like to improve if he’s elected, Fonseca said.
Another practice he’d like to institute as District III trustee is “holding frequent town-hall meetings to solicit parent and family concerns,” Fonseca said. “That way I can understand their issues and be the voice for the families in our district.”
Fonseca said board members need to look at current ethics policies “and identify loopholes.”
Texas Watchdog reported last month on HISD ethics-policy loopholes that allow at least the appearance of impropriety.
“As board members, we definitely want transparency throughout,” Fonseca said.
District funding is his most pressing concern, Fonseca said.
“We have to do much more with less,” he said, adding that restricts good programs from expanding. He advocates working with state legislators in Austin to improve the situation.
“Education should be a top priority,” Fonseca said. “We should be investing in the education of our children.”
Fonseca’s civic activities include:
- Serving as president of the Houston Hispanic Forum, a nonprofit organization that promotes education.
- Acting as a board member of Legacy Community Health Services.
- Serving as a member of Mayor Annise Parker’s Hispanic Advisory Board.
Fonseca graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio in 2002, with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in organizational leadership and sociology from Our Lady of the Lake.
Fonseca graduated from public schools in Corpus Christi and has lived in Houston for 36 years.
Contact Mike Cronin at email@example.com or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.
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