Some might guess they do it for the money. That seems doubtful since the time they spend reading their board packets and the hours they spend in meetings are all volunteer.
While serving a community as an elected official has its perks like invitations to city and school district events and special recognition at many of them, attending means even more time away from work, family and fishing or reading the latest New York Times best seller.
So why do people run for school board? McAllen ISD board member Javier Farias, recently re-elected, said he originally ran because it was the next step after volunteering at the schools his three children attended.
Newly elected board member, McAllen podiatrist Dr. Joe Caporusso, had a similar reason after serving on a number of local, national and international boards.
“I want to help out and try to make the district better. I was going to wait until I got off our national and international podiatric boards, but I wanted to do this while my own kids are in school.” Those kids are Caporusso’s three sons, Joseph, Luis and Carmine.
Sam Saldivar, Jr., the other newly elected board member, was born in Harlingen and raised in Chicago, Weslaco and Edinburg. He left the Valley after earning his bachelor’s in government at UTPA. Saldivar returned for a short time to work at Litton Office Products and then to help his dad, Sam Saldivar, Sr., in his State Farm office after Hurricane Allen. While helping his dad, Saldivar learned of an opening at State Farm in San Antonio. The next thing he knew, he was moving there. Saldivar stayed in San Antonio until 1992 when his management skills were needed in the Rio Grande Valley. Sam, his wife Judith and their young daughter, Sara, headed home. Later, Sam and Judith welcomed a son, Sam Saldivar III, to the family.
“We had the choice of living in Edinburg, Sharyland or McAllen,” Saldivar said. “We chose McAllen. We originally thought we would be in the Valley for about two years, but we stayed because our families are here and we felt we could make a difference.” Saldivar, who is a Boy Scout leader and a Scout committee chairperson, also served on McAllen’s Community Development Block Grant Board, rising to the position of chairman. He still felt he could do more for the youth of McAllen. Running for school board would allow him to do so.
Re-election meant a third term for Farias, who served two previous three-year terms. Last year, the district decided to move to four-year board terms. Farias has three children, college graduate Valerie, Victoria, who attends St. Edward’s, and Javy, who attends UTPA. Farias is self-employed, working in marketing.
Farias said he quickly realized, “You’re only one vote.” He also learned that school board members have three responsibilities: 1) to hire/fire a superintendent; 2) to make policy; and 3) budget. In McAllen ISD, that budget is just under $200 million.
Another eye-opener for Farias involved governance, which is a guiding principle for school board members. Governance means the board has to the power to establish policies that guide school district officials, but they are not allowed to interfere in the day-to-day management of the school district.
“The administrators are the professionals,” Farias said. “Board members can get into trouble when they try to micro-manage a school district.”
Farias feels a sense of accomplishment since the districts nearly $100 million bond passed, resulting in the completion of new schools already educating students. But he realizes there is much more to do. The board has already taken measures that will return the fund balance to roughly $18 million, the recommended level. He also hopes to see the district take a more aggressive approach regarding absences and truancy. Finally, Farias supports the district’s pursuit of various programs that address the needs of all students, such as International Baccalaureate (IB), McAllen Career Transitions Initiative (McTI), Options and Advanced Placement programs.
Caporusso, born and raised in Queens, New York, graduated from Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine (formerly Pennsylvania College of Podiatric Medicine). Caporusso moved to San Antonio to learn as much as he could from his mentor, Dr. Lawrence Harkless, who is referred to as “the father of diabetic foot care.” But in 1993, he and his wife, Elizabeth, decided to move to the Rio Grande Valley to be closer to her parents, who live in Reynosa. Caporusso still remembers the day they moved here.
“July 15, 1993,” he said. “When we arrived, I could not find office space. I had extensive training in diabetic feet and knew I would do well here.” For the first year, they lived with Elizabeth’s parents. Eventually, they settled in McAllen, and Caporusso is affiliated with Complete Family Foot Care on Lindberg.
Caporusso hopes that by serving on the school board, he can help ensure that McAllen ISD students reach the highest possible academic level.
“Whether they choose to go to college or to work,” he said, “we need to make sure they are responsible.”
Caporusso feels certain that if students are challenged academically and are expected to accept responsibility for their education, they will want to be in McAllen schools. “We need our students to know that when they come to school, it’s not going to be a waste of their time. We also need to remember that if you’re standing still, you’re actually moving backwards.”
Borrowing a line from McAllen’s new superintendent, Dr. James Ponce, Caporusso said he would like to see the district evaluate all programs currently being used in the district, asking, “Why are we doing this?” The district must be certain each program adds value to the students’ education.
The month of May proved to be a demanding initiation into serving on the school board, the calendar packed with graduations and other recognitions. The number of scholarships McAllen ISD students received impressed Caporusso. “We are obviously doing a lot of things right,” he said.
Working for State Farm for the past 26 years, 24 of those in management, Saldivar has had the opportunity to help the company develop a number of initiatives and innovations. In fact, Saldivar currently works in what he refers to as a “virtual” environment, the majority of his work conducted on the computer, via text messaging and through the use of other technological equipment.
Saldivar plans to put his experience to work for the school district by providing Ponce with a business perspective. This will benefit the students, as well.
“We must give our students the skill sets to be self-supporting,” he said. “We need to provide a workforce that meets the needs of companies in McAllen and those planning to locate here. We also need to align our district with the expectations of our students, their parents and taxpayers.”
Saldivar firmly believes in collaboration and hopes to influence the board to move in a direction that involves all stakeholders.
“This will make us the employer and the school district of choice,” he said.
Saldivar envisions collaboration at the community level, as well. “I hope the community makes an effort to engage in conversation with the board and our superintendent, sharing their thoughts and, most importantly, solutions they believe will move the district forward,” he said. “I plan to be an integral part of this process.”
Despite the hours spent preparing for and attending meetings, Farias, Caporusso and Saldivar feel honored to be serving as board members. It’s not the pay. It’s the opportunity to impact the lives of children in our community.