The construction of Union Draft House across Eastwood High School is at the forefront of the District 4 race in the Ysleta Independent School District – as well as teacher pay raises and the controversial Senate Bill 8.

The race is one of three in YISD on the May 6 ballot, where candidates are vying to join the seven-member board tasked with hiring and firing a superintendent, setting district policies and goals, and approving the district’s budget and tax rate.

Candidates in District 4, which comprises the Eastwood High School area of nearly 7,000 students, include incumbent Miguel “Mike” Rosales, 79, and Michael “Mike” Stephen Dwyer, 67.  

The two candidates have differing views on Union Draft House, a locally owned restaurant and taphouse chain, under construction across Eastwood at Montwood and McRae streets: Rosales opposes it; while Dwyer says it’s out of the school district’s hands.

At issue is whether YISD officials inadvertently notified the city that it didn’t oppose the construction of the business – which is well within required distance of 300 feet from the school’s property line – without taking the issue to the school board or the community.

YISD officials received notice the business had applied for a permit to sell alcohol with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Feb. 16. The following day, the district sent owner John Geske a standard “no opposition” response and notified the school board of its standard response since the draft house labeled itself as a restaurant on the application. 

But on March 3, the district learned that the El Paso City Council treated its “no opposition” letter as an approval and waived a public hearing. YISD withdrew its non-opposition letter, saying it did not intend to give approval, especially if it would “obviate the need” for a public hearing, according to a fact sheet on the matter from the district.

The fact sheet states the business would be 1,000 feet from the school.

El Paso city Reps. Henry Rivera and Cassandra Hernandez held a community meeting at the school on March 23, during which the city informed YISD that the matter now rests with the City Council. The council will take up the issue at a future meeting.

A State Farm insurance agent and a co-founder of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Rosales said that while he is pro-business, he opposes the opening of the taphouse. He said with so many alcoholic beverages on tap, it could be a liability to the area.

Dwyer, a former educator and basketball coach at Bel Air High School, said that the decision is now up to the city.

“It is my understanding that the community members that voiced their opinion were split evenly in regard to this matter,” Dwyer said. “At this point, the El Paso City Council and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission will determine the outcome.”

The TABC as of Tuesday did not list an active license for that Union Draft House location. The area is being developed as a retail space after the City Council last year rezoned it. The draft house is under construction where Mount Hope Lutheran Church once stood. Since the district rescinded its “non-opposition” they have yet to hear back from City Council.

Senate Bill 8

Another hot topic in the district race is Texas Senate Bill 8. 

If passed, the bill would restrict classroom instruction or school activities about sexual orientation or gender identity for students. The bill also allows parents to opt out of public education and use taxpayer money for a private education.

Both candidates said they support students on gender issues but maintain they want to provide a safe learning environment for all students. They both said trustees do not have much power over this matter.

Teacher, employee salaries

Where the two candidates differ is regarding the matter of teacher and employee pay raises.

Rosales said he supports teacher and employee pay raises, but voted against the 5% district teacher pay raise in June 2022.

“We’ve been giving the teachers a pay raise every year,” Rosales said. “So, I felt at that time, because of all the economic uncertainties of the pandemic, I felt that we couldn’t extend ourselves.”

Rosales was the sole dissenting vote. The pay raises, he said, cost the district a $10.6 million deficit and required dipping further into the district’s reserves.

Dwyer said that in his 31 years of teaching in the Ysleta ISD, he received several pay raises that ranged from 2% to 3%.

“Pay raises vary from year to year depending on the overall budget of the district. In order to tackle problems such as teacher turnover and shortages, it is crucial that we focus on increasing teachers salaries,” he said.

Dwyer added that pay raises are just one way to retain and attract top-notch educators, including competitive compensation packages.

“The state of Texas has a $32 billion surplus currently. I know there is a strong movement to increase teacher’s salaries by $15,000,” he said. “Overall, prioritizing the financial well-being of teachers is not only important for supporting the individuals who play a critical role in educating our children, but also for maintaining a strong and stable education system that benefits students and the community as a whole.”

Maintaining ‘A’ Top-Notch Education

Ysleta ISD was the only A-rated district in the city and one of three in the county in the 2021-22 academic year, according to the Texas Education Association. 

“I want to make sure that at least for the next four years, because this will be my last run, I want to make sure that this is maintained,” said Rosales, who is seeking a third term. He said he wants to continue to run so that he can continue the work he began as a trustee in 2015, including the passage of the $430 million bond in 2015 and the $425 million bond in 2019.

One area Rosales wants to provide more resources and support toward is special education.

If elected, Dwyer’s goals for the district focus primarily on retaining teachers and students.

“I want to maintain the standard of excellence that Eastwood High School and the feeder pattern schools have enjoyed to create the title El Paso’s Finest,” Dwyer said. “By providing teachers with support, resources, and competitive salaries and benefits, schools can improve teacher retention and promote student success.

Another area Dwyer wants to focus on, if elected, is discipline in the classroom, which he says has become more challenging since the pandemic.

“I would suggest that during professional training before the students arrive at school the teachers be given the option of training on classroom discipline procedures,” Dwyer said. “Involving parents and guardians can play an important role in promoting respect for teachers by modeling respectful behavior at home and reinforcing the importance of respectful behavior in school.”

Neither of the candidates reported any campaign contributions on their latest campaign finance report.

Alex Hinojosa is an El Paso freelance journalist and a mass communications instructor at El Paso Community College.