Two of the three incumbent Socorro Independent School Districts on Saturday’s ballot lost re-election bids Saturday, while one incumbent was returned to office.

Former Socorro Independent School District administrator Marivel Macias and incumbent Michael Najera won the two at-large seats on the school board. In District 1, where three candidates were vying for the seat, retired school counselor Alice Gardea led with 37% of the vote against incumbent Eduardo Mena and former trustee Tony Ayub. 

In the at-large SISD race, where seven candidates are competing for two seats, Macias won 29% of the vote counted., with incumbents Najera and David Morales winning 23% and 18%, respectively. Four other candidates trailed.

Macias is a former science teacher and was the assistant superintendent for administrative services at SISD. She left in 2022 after more than 20 years in the district to serve as the first equity officer for El Paso Independent School District.

“I was born ready. Socorro ISD is home,” Macias said. “I’ve been gone from the district for a year, so I want to listen and learn. … My biggest task is working collectively with the board members to decide what comes first.”

Najera works in health care finance and operations. He served as an SISD at-large trustee from 2009 to 2019, and assumed office again in 2021 replacing a trustee who stepped down.

“I ran in 2009 because I have a passion for education and I was disappointed when I lost in 2019, but everything happens for a reason,” Najera said. “I got the opportunity to join the board again … and I think the results show that I have the support.”

Gardea said she has 28 years of experience working in SISD as a teacher and a counselor. She wants to prioritize the staffing shortage in special education, among other goals.

“I’m just so humbled the community has faith in me and proven to me that they’re ready for a change. I am so ready to serve them,” Gardea said. “We are ready to work together as a team, ready to take our district back and head it into the right direction.”

The Socorro school board race is nonpartisan and decided by plurality voting, which means the candidate with the most votes wins, regardless of whether that person receives more than 50% of the vote. Trustees are not paid to serve.

Led by Superintendent Nate Carman, SISD spans parts of Far East El Paso, all of Socorro and portions of Horizon City. The district hit an all-time high enrollment this year, surpassing 48,000 students. The seven-member board meets publicly at least once a month to recognize district achievements, set policy and approve changes, such as employee health insurance and construction projects. 

The Socorro school board has been mired in recent controversy. An audio recording captured trustees Ricardo Castellano and Pablo Barrera, who are not up for reelection this year, describing SISD employees and trustees with crude language. The recording reflected Castellano’s attempt to oust the principal at his wife’s school – an abuse of power that prompted a Texas Rangers investigation.

Trustees are in charge of setting policies, adopting the budget and tax rate, and overseeing the superintendent for the district. While the board has the power to hire and fire the superintendent, they do not have the authority to hire and fire lower-level employees. 

SISD candidates in the 2023 election shared a variety of goals they would prioritize, such as expanding mental health services for staff and students, ensuring campus safety and filling in teacher vacancies.

The three incumbents – Najera, Mena and Morales – reported the most donations in the last campaign finance reports. 

Najera reported more than $7,300, including $2,500 each from the El Paso Association of Contractors and MI Trammell in Granbury, Texas, and $1,000 from the Texas Association of Realtors PAC. Mena and Morales both had donations totalling $4,500 in the reporting period. Mena had a donation of $2,500 from the El Paso Association of Contractors and $1,000 each from Jessica D. Bateman and Sarah Johnson, both in Arizona. Morales received $2,500 from the El Paso Association of General Contractors and $1,000 each from Sarah Johnson and Kyle M. Bateman, both of Arizona.

The El Paso Association of Realtors also donated $1,000 each to Gardea and Guerra.

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...