Texas AFT members in Brownsville ISD celebrated a big victory following the November. 3 election: Their entire slate of endorsed school board candidates won their races. As contentious and dramatic as this election was, it was an important one for Brownsville Educators Stand Together (BEST AFT), an organizing committee of members on their way to forming a local union.
The rigorous selection process of choosing who to endorse centered the most important issues to Brownsville members.
“In our election forums, we posed tough questions on topics that concern our union members: better pay, safety, uniformity, administrative support,” said Alma Cervantes-Aleman, a member of the BEST AFT School Board Election Committee. “For us to endorse these candidates, we needed to find out if they were ready to make a commitment to fight for safety guidelines and protocols on campuses; uniformity and transparency in administrative directives; improving classified and certified pay; excessive teacher paperwork and after-hours training; special education student and teacher backing; and job security. They answered the call of advocacy and everyone listened.”
All together, four BEST AFT-endorsed candidates were elected to the Board of Trustees: Denise Renee Garza, Jessica G. Gonzalez, Daniella Lopez Valdez, and Eddie Garcia.
“We’ve never had such a diverse group as this one where everyone in our educational community feels represented and advocated for,” Cervantes-Aleman said. “Now, more than ever, we need leaders who will place student and staff safety first before making any decisions that affect our educational well-being.”
The Work of Organizing
Lazaro Cardenas, another member of the BEST AFT election committee, reiterated the gravity of this victory.
“We as a union feel that this group of new board members will align with our mission to help us better serve our students,” Cardenas said. “I just think BEST AFT Brownsville leaders did a phenomenal job organizing the election, interviewing the candidates in the debate, and ultimately putting to a vote and choosing the best candidates. I was very happy to know that all the hard work we put in paid off with favorable election results. I think all the credit in the world needs to be given to our members for helping us choose these candidates.”
Patrick Hammes, a retired BEST AFT member and volunteer organizer, noted the importance of these specific candidate wins, especially in terms of fighting back against the District of Innovation (DOI) program.
“Every board member who supported the District of Innovation in 2017 and 2018 either lost their re-election bid or chose to not run again,” Hammes said. “There aren’t any DOI supporters on the board at this time.”
The District of Innovation model was enacted in 2015 with an addition to the Texas Education Code that allowed school districts to opt out of accountability to certain standards regarding class size, contracts, student discipline, and other specifics defined in the Education Code.
Our members in BEST AFT, who are strongly opposed to the DOI designation, are pleased to have established a board with no DOI supporters.
Building Power Together
With a new board of educator-friendly representatives, Texas AFT hopes to see the perspectives and issues raised by public school employees in relation to safety, pay, and job security elevated and addressed accordingly.
Without a doubt, the credit for this win goes to the hard work of our members in Brownsville.
Jose Serrato, another member of the election committee, said this election “has been a historic experience.”
“As a leader in an organization that brings together educators, it is fantastic to know that our endorsements aligned with the community’s vision of educational leadership,” Serrato said. “We look forward to working alongside our school board in providing the best education to our students, establishing a positive relationship with our community, and fostering an environment of positive professional growth for our members.”
The efforts of our Brownsville members are proof of the power in organizing. Working and standing together leads to a better environment for educators, something particularly important as we work to keep our communities safe and ease the burdens on our school employees.
BEST AFT is part of Texas AFT’s Associate Membership Program. As an organizing committee, our Brownsville members are building the structures and power necessary to support a local union long term. If you’re interested in building power in your district, learn more about our collective fight and join our union today.