Residents of northeast El Paso have a second opportunity to vote for their representative for the District 5 seat on the El Paso Independent School District Board of Directors.
Candidates Cordia “Vanessa” Betts and Israel Irrobali will face off in the second round on June 5 to replace Chuck Taylor, who has not run for a third term. Irrobali was just shy of winning the seat in the May 1 election after garnering nearly 48% of the vote against 17% of Betts – a difference of 442 votes.
Early voting begins Monday and continues until June 1.
The winner will be one of three new members who are reshaping the demographics and experience of the seven-member board of directors that oversees the oldest and largest district in El Paso County. The district represents the Andress High School feeding model; each term at the school board lasts four years.
Betts, 63, was one of five record black candidates who ran for seats in District 4 or 5 in northeast El Paso. If elected, she would be the only black director on the EPISD board.
While directors “should look like the people they represent,” voters should elect the person they believe is most qualified for the job, Betts said.
“I don’t want to be on the board because I’m African American, but if you see something in me that will benefit the board – and I feel like I can – then of course I would love to be included in that,” she said.
Betts touted her experience in the New Mexico public school system, where she spent 10 years running a computer lab at an elementary school. She is also an author of children’s books and describes herself as an advocate for children’s literacy.
She would be the third female trustee. The EPISD school board has only one woman among its seven members since May 2019.
If elected, Irrobali, 30, would be the youngest administrator and one of the few with government experience. Irrobali, who identifies as Hispanic, works in the City of El Paso’s Department of Economic and International Development and is the city’s legislative liaison. He previously worked at the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office in the governor’s office.
“I am well aware of how government organizations work,” Irrobali said. “I have a great relationship between the county, city and other organizations in El Paso simply because of the by-product of my job and the opportunities I have had.”
Partisan politics and special interests
Ross Moore, the president of the El Paso chapter of the American Federation of Teachers – the largest union of EPISD employees – attacked Irrobali’s work under former El Paso Mayor Dee Margo and Governor Greg Abbott, both Republicans. School board elections are non-partisan.
“I haven’t told Dee Margo about my race,” Irrobali said in response to what he calls “the AFT rumor that Dee Margo recruited me to be one of his minions.”
Irrobali said his passion for the Northeast, where he grew up and decided to return after attending college in New York City and then living in Austin, influenced his decision to run for office.
A alumnus of Andress, he is also a parent of EPISD – his son is a seventh grader at Charles Middle School. If elected, he will be one of four trustees whose children attend district schools.
Irrobali, who briefly worked on Abbott’s campaign for governor in 2014, said he voted in the Republican and Democratic primaries. Betts has been endorsed by various local Democratic groups.
“I think when we go down this path of partisan affiliation, I think we are doing our community a disservice,” Irrobali said. “There are many issues in American society, in El Paso society, in Northeast society that transcend politics.”
While Betts has the backing of the teachers’ union, Irrobali is backed by a local nonprofit group that supports charter schools.
Betts received a total of $ 2,000 from the El Paso AFT chapter, as well as $ 2,946 in in-kind donations from the Texas chapter, according to campaign fundraising reports. Irrobali reported $ 7,816 in in-kind donations from the Kids First Political Action Committee, which is linked to the Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development, or CREEED.
CREEED has funded the expansion of charter schools in El Paso to increase the number of high performing schools that prepare students for college. Financial support does not depend on a candidate’s support for charter schools, the Kids First treasurer previously told El Paso Matters.
Irrobali said he does not support charter schools and wants to improve the quality of education offered by EPISD so that families do not leave the district.
“While as a board member, I will categorically fight charter schools that come into my district and come to the EPISD area, I also will not give the impression to my residents. parents and teachers that they are doing something wrong or attacking them because they joined schools because we are not doing a good enough job at EPISD, ”he said.
Both candidates said campaign contributions would not influence their decisions.
“The people who will influence me are the people of my District 5,” Irrobali said. “This is what I stand for.”
Betts also stressed its independence.
“Every donation I took, I tell them, I’m not a puppet,” she said. “I will have no conditions. I will be accessible. I will consider all the things people have told me.
Tasks before consulting
Whoever is elected will face two essential tasks: hiring a permanent superintendent and working on the potential fallout of internal audits pending district contracts.
Irrobali said he became a certified contract manager through his work in the governor’s office and had experience with state and city audits.
“What I find frustrating for many residents of El Paso is that it’s okay to have an audit, it’s not a normal thing that every time an audit takes place, we have an audit. new finding, ”he said.
It requires a long-term solution that brings “integrity back to the district,” he said.
Betts highlighted his experience reviewing safe-place placements as a board member of a New Mexico nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence.
It will be imperative for administrators to thoroughly research and vet superintendent candidates before making a hiring decision, she said.
Irrobali favors the hiring of a person willing to sign a contract with a moral or ethical clause. “With an institution like EPISD seeing such irregularity and questionable behavior and decision-making, I think this is something we should demand,” he said.
How to find out more
Advance voting goes from May 24-June 1.
The Betts and Irrobali candidate questionnaires can be found in our Voters Guide.