Seven candidates are running for two at-large seats on the Socorro Independent School District board of trustees. 

SISD – which spans parts of Far East El Paso, all of Socorro and portions of Horizon City – hit an all-time high enrollment this year, surpassing 48,000 students. The seven candidates vying for the two seats to represent the entire district are: 

  • Jose Alonzo Jr.
  • David Ayala
  • Joshua Carter Guerra
  • Marivel Macias
  • David Morales (incumbent)
  • Michael Najera (incumbent)
  • Miguel Antonio Rico

Residents in District 1, which encompasses the Montwood area, can also vote in that district’s race. Only 3.6% of registered voters cast a ballot in the SISD’s last election in 2021. The district has been rocked by turbulence since then, facing staff departures, school challenges following pandemic closures and some board members’ documented abuse of power. 

The school board voted to end a superintendent’s nearly decade-long tenure and also approved the firing of the police chief. In 2022, Socorro fell back to a “B” rating, two years after earning its first “A” rating, in school performance from the Texas Education Agency. Recently, employees have criticized the new health insurance plan, which the trustees unanimously approved last year.

In the fall of 2021, the Texas Rangers began investigating current SISD trustee Ricardo Castellano for using his office to oust a principal who disciplined his wife, who taught at a middle school. Most of the 2023 board candidates were critical of the trustee’s alleged abuse of power. Trustees oversee the superintendent and can review the superintendent’s hiring and firing decisions, but do not have the authority themselves to directly hire and fire staff.

Early voting starts Monday and ends on May 2. Election Day is May 6. Here’s where the Socorro at-large candidates stand on issues from school safety to regaining the community’s trust with the board:

Morales (incumbent)

Morales, 64, has more than 30 years of experience working in education, spanning three school districts across El Paso, according to his profile on the SISD website. He’s served as a middle school principal, a high school football and baseball coach, and currently works as a self-employed financial planner. He assumed office in 2019.

Morales did not respond to multiple interview requests. 

David Morales

Kids First of El Paso PAC, whose major funders Woody Hunt and Richard Castro have made philanthropic contributions to charter schools and traditional school districts, is supporting his campaign through consultant VMP Strategies owned by former El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez. 

Morales’ opponents in the board race described charter schools – privately run institutions that take public funding – as a threat to SISD.

An April 5 campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission shows that the Kids First PAC spent $12,746 to support four El Paso Independent School District and SISD candidates, including Morales. As an independent expenditure, it is not considered a direct contribution to Morales’ campaign. Morales has raised $3,470 in contributions, according to his campaign finance report.

Najera (incumbent)

Najera, 49, has more than 25 years of experience in health care finance and operations, currently working in upper management at Change Healthcare. Najera got involved with SISD in 2004 as a volunteer at his daughter’s school. He served as an at-large trustee from 2009 to 2019, when he lost reelection. He assumed office again in 2021 to replace trustee Paul Garcia, who stepped down. Najera’s three daughters graduated from SISD and he has two granddaughters who are attending the district. Both the Socorro American Federation of Teachers and Socorro Education Association have endorsed him. 

Michael Najera

On what he’s proud of in his tenure: Najera said he did not regret the way he voted on any decision. He said he tries to be supportive of all staff, not just teachers, but also teachers’ aides, cafeteria workers and bus drivers. Earlier in his tenure many cafeteria workers were contracted under a temp agency, which meant they did not have access to the same benefits as employees, Najera said. In the early 2010s the board pushed to change the ratio and bring more employees on board, he said. 

He did not comment on the new health plan, which he approved of, but directed El Paso Matters to board president Eduardo Mena.

The board also approved pay raises and retention bonuses for employees during the 2022-23 school year. The district’s minimum wage increased from $7.25 to $15. This is the type of decision that will improve teacher retention, Najera said.

On teacher retention: Najera said SISD needs to remain competitive with other districts in the El Paso area when it comes to salary, benefits and time off. Teachers are pressured by state mandated testing for the students, and while that’s not within the board’s control, the board can relay messages from teachers to state-level representatives, Najera said. 

He supports defined work days, advance notice for meetings outside those hours, and time off for mental health. “We all have lives outside of work and need to be able to maintain those commitments as well,” he said.

Employees should also not fear retaliation from the school board, he added, commenting on controversial remarks from board members that were captured in an audio recording.

On programs for parents: Improving students’ well-being at home will set students for success, Najera said. He supports coordinating with the food pantry so families can access groceries through campuses. He also supports connecting parents to adult learning programs in El Paso so they can gain skills for new employment opportunities. While serving on a scholarship foundation in the past, he learned that some students chose not to go to college because they need to financially support their parents, he explained.

Najera has raised $2,626, according to his campaign finance report. The biggest contribution was $2,500 from teachers union Socorro AFT.


Guerra, 37, works in client care for the immigration and bankruptcy law firm Lincoln-Goldfinch. He formerly worked as district director for Texas state Rep. Mary González. Guerra coaches second- and third-grade soccer and track for SISD, where he’s also a volunteer sports program coordinator. Outside of SISD, he volunteers for Mi Hogar Albergue, an orphanage in Ciudad Juárez. Guerra previously ran for SISD’s District 1 seat in 2019, but lost to Mena.

Joshua Carter Guerra

On working with Texas legislators: Guerra said he wanted to return to political office after seeing the direction the Texas Legislature is heading on school vouchers. He and El Paso public school leaders denounced the proposed “school choice” bill that would provide parents funds to move their children out of public schools and into private schools.

Guerra said public school leadership needs to transform at the state level because state policy has stretched SISD teachers thin, which is affecting the learning experience of students. He said his experience working for González’s office taught him how to fight or support bills.

“Right now there are legislative attacks on everybody – schools, trans kids, LGBTQ rights,” Guerra said. “I feel I can educate our teachers on registering to vote and empower them to be active in the legislative session.”

One of Guerra’s ideas is to build a volunteer group of teachers, administration and community members to work with their state representatives all year. The community tends to advocate when legislative sessions start, but by working on issues year long, El Paso’s lawmakers can go into session already with the policies that schools want, he explained.

On priorities for teachers and students: Guerra said he supports defined work hours, no more excessive after-school meetings, more planning time for teachers during the week, and two days off for mental health per semester for employees.

Guerra supports expanding programs that prepare students for paths outside of college, such as tracks to technical schools and trades. He also supports adding programs that could help improve students’ mental health, such as volunteer sports, art and music classes and yoga. Bullying is also a concern parents have voiced, he said.

On school board controversy: Guerra declined to comment on Socorro trustee Castellano’s efforts to remove a principal his wife didn’t like. The Castellanos have posted frequently on social media their support for Guerra’s campaign.

Guerra acknowledged fear of retaliation is not a good environment for the district, and outside of overseeing the superintendent, setting budget and setting policy, it is not a trustee’s role to influence the hiring and firing of employees. With the board divided between two sides, he wants to find middle ground on issues all board members can back, such as employee pay raises and mental health days.

Guerra has raised $345, according to his campaign finance report.


Ayala, 40, has spent 15 years working for local school districts and currently works as the director of operations for Fabens Independent School District. In the past he worked as a coordinator for construction and facilities at SISD. Both his daughters and wife are graduates of SISD.

On the budget: Ayala said trustees are advocates on the legislative level, and it’s their job to find and apply for state and federal grants, as well as other funding avenues. He also wants to see equitable distribution of resources among the district’s schools and offices. If administrators have comfortable chairs, students should not be sitting at desks that are falling apart, he argued. Budget should prioritize curriculum and instruction, especially in special education where there’s a teacher shortage but growing student population, he said.

On book banning and curriculum restrictions: Ayala said that while each parent has the right to choose what their children are allowed to study or read, he disagrees with imposing that preference on the entire district. Ayala described himself as a Christian who will share his faith and scripture to people who are open to it, but does not believe it’s right to impose his faith on others – that’s what private schools are for, he said. 

On how the board can support student success: Ayala said he supports reviewing school safety policy. With the increase in school shootings, students who don’t feel safe will not be able to focus on succeeding in school. Ayala always wants the district to prepare students for life choices outside of college. Not every student wants to go to a four-year university, but there are careers in health technology, plumbing, welding, electrical trades – jobs that are needed in El Paso, he said.

Right now the school board has a trust issue, with some members more focused on their personal agendas and bickering than focusing on students, Ayala said. Instead the board should express more compassion toward each other, and draw from each trustee’s different background experiences to meet common goals. 

Ayala has raised $100, according to his campaign finance report.


Rico works for private security company Rock Solid Protection and is an adjunct instructor at the University of Texas at El Paso in the department of criminal justice. He left as a sergeant from the El Paso Sheriff’s Office after more than two decades. At the Sheriff’s Office, he was in charge of SWAT, special operations, patrol and school resource officers. Rico serves as a parent volunteer at SISD, walking children from the car to school in the mornings. His wife teaches at Benito Martinez Elementary School, where their son is a student. 

Miguel Antonio Rico

In 2004 Rico was charged with a misdemeanor assault. He completed a diversion program and the case was dismissed.

On school safety: Rico said he wants to use his background to identify security problems at schools – without making schools look like prisons. As a SWAT supervisor, he learned loud alarm systems scare children and cause them to associate the learning environment with a traumatic experience.

There’s technology – such as camera systems that identify when someone exposes a weapon – but these solutions are expensive and he’s conscious of keeping costs down to prioritize other expenses, such as improving staff salaries, he said. One solution might be to hire and expand hours for crossing guards, who could patrol campuses. They could have radios to communicate quickly to the front office and school security officer, he suggested. There needs to be more research to find affordable, but effective solutions, he said.

On building trust with the board: Rico said that with the flexibility of his jobs, including his online courses at UTEP, he has the time to visit campuses, whether that means having breakfast with the janitor at his son’s school to lunch with the secretary to chatting with parents while they wait for their children. Personal contact with the community outside of board meetings helps him hear about what’s going on in real time, he said. SISD has many campuses, so this requires time. Kids can also give good feedback, which is forgotten sometimes, he added.

The board and superintendent should be transparent with the community about the outcomes of investigations and staff firings, while also protecting whistleblowers, he said.

On lowering classroom sizes: Along with school safety, improving salaries, health insurance and retirement benefits to fill staff vacancies – especially in special education – is a top priority, Rico said. Teachers are under pressure to get their students to score certain points on the STAAR test, as mandated by the state, but standardized tests do not take into account students whose learning is affected by their family’s financial struggles and whether they have a happy home life, he described. Teachers need time to give students individualized support, but that means a smaller student to teacher ratio. All of this goes back to attracting more teachers, he said.

Rico hasn’t raised any money for his campaign, according to his finance report.


Alonzo, 60, works at Green Bay Packaging, a company that makes corrugated boxes. He’s also held several different positions at Socorro over eight to 10 years, from warehouse to purchasing to security. Most recently he worked as a substitute teacher and aid for in-school suspensions. All of his children attended SISD. His wife works at Jane A. Hambric School and his son is a special education aid at the same school

On why he’s running: Alonzo said he decided to run for office because he was disheartened to hear board members badmouthing administrators. He’s also alarmed by the high turnover of longtime employees for the district, such as administrator and fellow board candidate Marivel Macias, who’s now at El Paso Independent School District. These activities have a negative influence on morale, he said. Alonzo added that the board’s role is to set policy, not micromanage teachers and administrators, he said.

On school equality: Based on his observations at different campuses, Alonzo said one of his priorities is making sure all schools get the same resources and closing the gap between new schools and old schools in equipment. A school without a small auxiliary gym sees physical education classes spill into the cafeteria, or hallways if lunch is going on, he pointed out as an example. 

The district can save money in other areas to fund this effort. Artificial turf, though it has a high upfront cost of installing, could save the district money in the long run because it doesn’t require watering and needs less maintenance than grass, he said. Socorro could make agreements with other large districts, such as purchasing paper at the same time to get a lower cost.

On restricting books and curriculum: Alonzo said he does not think books should be banned for dealing with LGBTQ issues and racism. He fears banning books is a slippery slope to restricting what teachers are allowed to teach. Schools should provide an inclusive environment that makes students feel accepted, otherwise they may turn to drugs for coping or suicide, he said. Trustees can have meetings with parents if they are concerned about reading materials and allow librarians to do research on those books. The issue can then come down to a vote by the school board. 

It’s unclear whether Alonzo has received any political contributions because he failed to submit a campaign finance report.


Macias, 50, is a longtime educator who serves as the first equity officer for EPISD. She left Socorro for El Paso in 2022 after more than 20 years at SISD. At SISD, Macias worked her way up from high school science teacher to assistant superintendent for administrative services. Her husband is a special education teacher at Socorro High School. Her children graduated from SISD and she has several family members who attend the district. The teachers’ union Socorro AFT endorsed her.

Marivel Macias

Macias said she wants the experiences of all sides – teacher, administrator and trustee – to best support the superintendent’s responsibility of running one of the largest school districts in the area. 

On school safety: Macias said keeping students safe is the number one priority. The police department at Socorro should be equipped with the tools to address threats on social media. Officers who do home welfare checks could also come with a social worker and have training in de-escalation so the goal is support, not criminalization. The district can also establish protocol with external groups, such as El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, on who is taking the lead in emergencies such as an active shooter situation.

Other areas to look into include whether the district should invest in more cameras, door bell systems or card swiping systems. The board could also approve funding for bus drivers and school monitors, often the first and last people to see students at school, to have training and resources to respond to altercations and risky events. That training would include how to handle situations with special needs students, such as an epileptic episode, Macias said.

On managing the budget: Texas allocates funding by average daily attendance, which should be a “huge resource” for Socorro because the district is growing, Macias said. The district can evaluate whether it’s using every service it’s paying for, and if not, whether that money can be reallocated. Trustees and teachers’ unions can also advocate for funding and grants on a legislative level. The board should explore all avenues to avoid raising taxes, she said.

On teacher retention: Macias said burn out is a major concern at SISD and there’s both monetary and non-monetary ways to support teachers. Collaborative town hall meetings should include all stakeholders – teachers, administrators and trustees – to codesign solutions, she said. 

Among her suggestions is that the board can approve compensation for teachers working after hours. The board could approve more than one school calendar to offer more flexibility, such as a four-day week on certain campuses, if that’s what teachers recommend. The board can also look into improving the health care plan, parental leave for both parents, stipends for purchasing school supplies, and stipends for performing extra duties, such as in fine arts and athletics, she added.

Creating a pipeline from El Paso Community College and UTEP to SISD could also help fill in vacancies, Macias said. The district could also facilitate training for students, who might be interested in becoming electricians or bus drivers, and star by letting them work in the district, she added.

Macias has raised $2,500, all of which came from teachers union Socorro AFT, according to her campaign finance report.

April 25: This story was updated to clarify the role of the Kids First of El Paso political action committee.

Disclosure: Richard Castro and the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation have been financial supporters of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism.

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Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

Priscilla Totiyapungprasert is a health reporter at El Paso Matters and Report for America corp member. She previously covered food and environment at The Arizona Republic. You can follow her on social...