After weeks of what sources say was unsuccessful backroom maneuvering to derail Trustee Patti Radle’s bid to become the next school board president of San Antonio’s biggest inner city public school district, departing President Ed Garza presided over her election by a 6-1 vote at a special meeting convened Friday.
Trustee Olga Hernandez (D6) mounted a dramatic, last-minute protest of Radle’s candidacy just as Garza prepared to preside over a vote of affirmation on Radle, the sole nominee to succeed him as he steps down as president after four years and resumes his role as District 7 trustee for the remaining two years of his term. Trustee Debra Guerrero (D3) withdrew her nomination of affirmation and instead nominated Radle for election by an open vote. Six trustees voted in favor of Radle, and Hernandez cast the sole dissenting vote.
Before the vote, Hernandez said she could not vote for Radle because the District 5 trustee does not recite the Pledge of Allegiance or the Texas Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each board meeting. She held up what she said was a letter from the Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams affirming the state’s Education Code Sec. 25.082 that calls for all public schools to have a student recite daily the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas Pledge of Allegiance and also calls for one minute of silence afterwards to allow students to silently pray or meditate if they so choose.
The SAISD school board starts each of its meeting by reciting the two pledges. Ironically, Garza called Friday’s meeting to order without beginning with the two pledges, and even Hernandez didn’t protest the omission.
Although no one doubts the sincerity of Hernandez’s philosophical objection to Radle, it’s also true that in the preceding weeks she and her backers mounted an unsuccessful effort to win Hernandez the board presidency, and when that failed, they launched an effort to rally support for another non-Anglo candidate, Trustee Arthur Valdez (D4), to be elected to the position.
Hispanic leaders in the community were asked to call board trustees and lobby them to vote against Radle. That effort also failed, and as Garza and Valdez entered Friday’s meeting together, it appeared an alternate resolution had been reached beforehand. Valdez was elected Vice President, and Guerrero was elected Secretary.
Despite efforts to present themselves as an undivided board, its seems clear that as newly hired Superintendent Pedro Martinez starts on Monday, June 1, the district’s elected leadership remains a house divided politically. The meeting also included the trustees going into executive session to consider a proposal by retiring Superintendent Sylvester Perez on his final day of employment to either extend his employment by one full month or give him a consulting contract equal to one month’s pay in return for him being available to Martinez to discuss transition issues. Instead, the trustees emerged to formally accept Perez’s original resignation date of May 31 and extend a consulting agreement to him for one month to not exceed $11,791.66, or half a month’s pay.
Before the vote on new officers, Hernandez made a long and passionate personal statement of her patriotism and her family’s sacrifice in service to the nation. Radle countered with her own long and passionate statement explaining her Christian beliefs and her spiritual commitment to a life of pacifism and non-violence. Both statements are lengthy. Readers can read them in their entirety below, as well as remarks made by Garza afterwards in his final act as president.
Trustee Olga Hernandez:
Can we have a discussion? I wanted to say something before the vote is taken for chair. This is something very personal to me. It is an honor for me to serve on this board. I believe that the reason that we are here is for the children. We are here to watch over them and to serve as role models. My father was a WWII decorated hero. He landed on Omaha Beach on June 7 and was wounded on August 25, 1944 and he spent his life blind from one year from injuries in the war. My father had five brothers who all served on different branches of the service. One of them, Hector Molina, gave the ultimate price, his life in Normandy.
I have a letter here. It is from the Commissioner of Education Michael Williams that wrote as a reminder of statutory requirements for procedure at the beginning of every school day. He quotes section 25.082 of the Texas Education Code that stipulates the board of trustees of every school district shall require students once during each school day at each school in the school district to recite, one, the pledge of allegiance to the United States flag, and, two, the pledge of allegiance to the Texas state flag. My father clicked his heels and stood at attention with a salute or with his hand on his heart every time he heard the sound of taps, the national anthem, or the pledge of allegiance. Mrs. Radle refuses to salute our flag, and it is my right to say that I cannot support a person who does not salute the flag who does not honor or veterans and San Antonio is a military city that honors its veterans. How can we choose a leader of SAISD who will not salute our flag when it is required of 53,000 students to start their day in this manner? I worry that at some point Mrs. Radle might want to discontinue the ROTC program since she discourages anything that has to do with the military. I would be dishonoring my father and all of the veterans who live in this district and who live in this city who have fought for this country if I vote for Mrs. Radle to be chair. No one likes war, but I will always support these men and women who serve this country to keep this country a land of the free and for that reason I am voting no for Mrs. Radle. This is not in any way a split board. When it comes to our children and when it comes to our superintendent we vote together and we stay together, this is just my personal feeling of how I feel about our veterans and the pledge of the allegiance to the flag.
Trustee Patti Radle
I want to express my respect and appreciation for Mrs. Hernandez expressing herself where she really feels so strongly from her heart. I know that this has been a passionate issue with her, and I did try to explain to her my position. I do also have to point out though that my spiritual decision regarding the pledge of allegiance is not an expression of disrespect of anyone. While people in your family served, my father served, my two brothers served, one of the people I’ve been the closest to in my life is my father. This is not a matter of disrespect. But I think that my freedom to stand in the position that I stand in regarding the pledge of allegiance is what those people who went to war understood they were upholding. And I think that we cannot disregard what they want to do and then not allow for the freedom for which they fought.
It is a personal issue and I am very happy to share that, but I don’t like to soapbox about religious positions, but for people who care to understand, my background is Christian, Catholic, and out of the teachings that I’ve had, whether it’s been through Christ or Gandhi or Martin Luther King. It’s a commitment to non-violence and my perception having grown up in a military family, it was a struggle for me when I was challenged with issues of non-violence and the idea of a God whose love who has no borders, whose peace has no borders, and I made a conclusion that I am a pacifist, and I know that the rest of the world apparently is not. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot be strong about my own spiritual position, and it doesn’t mean that it brings any disrespect. I want my love and my wishes for peace to cross all borders. I want my patriotism to be to the word of God and that holds no borders. There is not patriotism as such within the kingdom of God. And every time I stand, and many times it takes courage to stand there quietly, it’s an affirmation of my own love for everyone and the hope that my love crosses all borders.
It’s why I’m intentionally concerned about issues related to immigration. It’s why I’m intentionally concerned with issues related to world peace. And I stand very respectful of the position of Mrs. Hernandez, and I know your position comes out of love for your father and your husband and others, and I respect that and I love you, and I’ll continue to respect that, and I appreciate your bravery and your courage in expressing your own personal position. I just want you to respect my position as well and understand that it is no disrespect to anyone else. It is love for your father, it is love for you husband, and it is love for anyone else in this room. It is not a popular way to express yourself but I feel like there needs to be that voice somewhere. There needs to be some of us who say, you know, that this world is all of ours, and if we stop saying that, where is the vision for that?
I also want to say that since I’ve been on this board, and for four years not saying the pledge of allegiance, there has only been one person who has asked me why I don’t. It didn’t get in my way serving on the City Council for four years. I want to point out that I stood. I stood respectfully because I do respect the commitment that people have. Mine is on some level the same commitment, but it is different. But that has never gotten in the way of my serving others. And it is because of my commitment that I have a passion for serving others.
President Ed Garza:
First of all, I want to commend both Mrs. Hernandez and Mrs. Radle and for the 10 individuals who are here, and the media who I hope convey this, that I think this is a dynamic moment for our school board, to be able to communicate such deep opinions in a respectful way. Although we may disagree on matters related to policy, matters related to religion, matters related to governance, or patriotism, or the way we demonstrate, or communicate that – the mission that our district communicates, that’s posted here in this board room – is that we are united toward accomplishing.
And I believe that the diversity of this board and the diversity of an urban school district brings the opinions and perspectives of the men and women you see up here because of the path that they traveled and everybody’s path is different. And I think that the comments that were made here today were done in a way that were respectful of one another and that’s how this board – this district – will elevate to the next level, is appreciating our differences, understanding our differences of opinion, but focusing on our common goals and our common vision, which is to make sure that every child graduates and becomes a contributing member of our community regardless of their opinion, regardless of their preferences that they are contributing. I think everyone on this board is serving here for the right reason, and I am excited to be a part of this team because of the differences and because I hope after even tonight that we can become even more honest with one another and understand our motivation and our passion, our commitment, and carry this forward through policy and vision and leadership in our district.
After the executive session, the trustees returned to announce the consulting arrangement with Perez and to rearrange the board seating arrangements. Garza moved to the end of the table and Radle lifted the gavel and declared the meeting recessed.
“It’s the most I’ve ever spoken publicly about my beliefs and my position, I really wasn’t expecting to have to do that,” Radle said later. “The U.S. Constitution guarantees my rights, period. I don’t want this to become a distraction to our real work, which is doing what we aspire to do for our students or the good work we will be doing with Pedro Martinez as he starts as superintendent.”
*Featured/top image: Newly appointed SAISD Board President, Patti Radle leaves the board room. Photo by Scott Ball.