by Félix Pérez
When parents, educators, school administrators and businesses set aside their differences and work together for the benefit of students, good things happen. That’s the message residents of Laredo, Texas, took away from the overwhelming vote in favor of three bond measures to reduce class size, upgrade classroom technology and improve school security.
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“At first, it was not easy” persuading people to support the measures, said school bus driver Silvia Madrid. “Everyone said, ‘I don’t want to pay more taxes.’ But when you mentioned that it’s going to be better for your children and for your grandchildren and for our community, they understood,” added Madrid, a seven-year school employee.
Laredo voters of every kind stood behind their students in convincing fashion on election day, November 5. Laredo Independent School District Proposition 1 and 2 each passed 73 percent to 26 percent. The sole bond measure for United Independent School District was approved 66 percent to 34 percent. The measures together will generate $534 million that will go directly to helping neighborhood public schools.
“Voter turnout was incredibly high,” said Ernest Davila, a field organizer with the Texas State Teachers Association who worked closely with the Laredo teachers’ union. “What the results showed is that when teachers, administrators and the community got behind this and everyone understood it was about the students, the momentum kept growing.” The level of community engagement and support was so high that even the local chamber of commerce, ordinarily no fan of bond proposals, voted to support the measures.
Enrollment at UISD , currently at 42,000,has grown by more than 10,000 students since 2003, with an additional 4,000 students anticipated in the next five years. The smaller LISD, with 25,000 students, is also struggling with fast growing student numbers and outdated technology and facilities. UISD attempted to keep pace with the surge by placing more than 8,000 students in portable classrooms. Some schools had even resorted to moving lunch to 10 a.m. simply to find enough space at the lunch tables for students.
“Students will now have smaller class sizes, which is directly linked to student performance,” said Ed Martin, TSTA’s director of public affairs. “And they will have access to new technology, providing better opportunities for their futures. In the end, everyone [in the community] agreed that’s what it’s all about — the students.”
State Representative Richard Raymond agreed that voters were motivated by what’s best for students. “If we don’t have more facilities and technology, students will have an inadequate learning environment,” he said.
The linchpin to passing the measures, said Raymond, was the involvement of teachers and school staff. “Teachers and everybody in the school system are respected and viewed as very credible messengers. Once they became engaged, the word spread.”
For Madrid, it was her first political involvement of any kind. “My [middle school-aged] son went out with me to meetings to pass out fliers and when I spoke with other school workers. I took a lot of personal time to educate my friends, my mom and my family, but my son said he didn’t mind. ‘You’re doing it for me, mom,’ he said.”
Madrid, Davila, Martin and Raymond agreed that the energy from educators, parents and the community will gain strength as the districts make plans for new buildings, renovations and technology. “Once you show somebody they can become empowered, they want to do it more than once,” said Representative Raymond.