Scott Ball / Rivard Report
In 2008, Edward Mungia was a high school student who already aspired to work in the public sector. Participating in block walks and phone banks for Julián Castro's successful bid for San Antonio mayor sparked a passion for civic engagement.
This passion only grew as he went on to work on former Houston Mayor Bill White’s campaign for governor and secured an internship in then-State Rep. Joaquin Castro’s statehouse office.
A decade later, Mungia has a public office of his own after being appointed to the South San Antonio Independent School District’s board of trustees. Mungia, who works for Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), replaces former trustee Linda Longoria, who resigned Oct. 31. Two others applicants – former trustee Denice Jimenez and local businessman Alex Dovalinia – also interviewed for the open trustee position at a Jan. 25 board meeting.
Board President Angelina Osteguin said the board selected Mungia because he gave thoughtful responses to interview questions and demonstrated a strong interest in improving the board's operational transparency.
"Those qualities, along with his experience serving the public as an employee in Councilman Rey Saldaña's office, we thought all made him the best candidate," Osteguin said.
Mungia graduated in 2015 from Loyola University in New Orleans with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He returned to San Antonio, eager to serve in some type of civic role, but not entirely sure how. He attended the Castro brothers' birthday party at Sunset Station, hoping to make connections that could lead to future job prospects.
“I figured if I went to a Castro birthday party, I might meet someone, and sure enough I did meet someone there. They introduced me for the first time to Councilman Saldaña that night,” Mungia said.
The introduction led to an internship position and an eventual full-time role in Saldaña’s District 4 office as the constituent services and district project manager, a position Mungia still holds.
Mungia and his boss share a number of similarities: Both take interest in bettering the Southside of San Antonio, and both have ascended to public office at just 24 years of age.
Saldaña also has been heavily involved in efforts to improve education outcomes in South San ISD. In 2016, the South San High School graduate helped start the education advocacy group South San Kids First.
The organization gathered parents, teachers, administrators, business leaders, and elected officials from the area to brainstorm about how to improve outcomes for the district's 9,849 students. Two of the newest trustees on the South San board, Louis Ybarra and Elda Flores, were elected with the support of South San Kids First.
When the board vacancies were announced, Saldaña advocated for a candidate who was "disassociated with the old infighting and conflict of interest" that the board had experienced in the past. Saldaña said experience with education was less important than having a "good set of values."
Mungia was reluctant to consider the position at first; however, the more he spoke with South San residents, the more encouraged he felt to apply for the post.
“I know what people were going to say – that I was a puppet [or] that the Councilman had pushed me there, but then the more I started talking to folks, they said they need someone like you,” Mungia said. “Someone who is honest, who wants to help people, and I am young so that is something different right now.”
The San Antonio native joins the South San board at a time of optimism within the district, where nine out of 10 students are economically disadvantaged. In 2016, the Texas Education Agency appointed a state supervisor to oversee board management and financial governance. On Jan. 17, in a display of confidence in the board of trustees, the TEA announced it would be removing the conservator from South San and restoring full oversight to the board.
Despite the district's recent progress, Mungia said it will be important for the board to operate with caution.
“If the TEA gets involved again, it is not going to be nice …. I think we need to continue the progress we have made under the [conservator] and almost pretend they are still watching us,” Mungia said.
Mungia has taken a number of steps to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest that might arise from his dual role in the area. He has purchased a second cell phone he will use only for school district business and created a schedule that breaks down when he will work on District 4 matters and when he will devote time to South San ISD affairs. He also has consulted with City and school district attorneys about any other potential conflicts that may arise.
Any City matters that overlap with his school district responsibilities will be handled by another District 4 staffer, Mungia said.
Osteguin said she does not think that any conflicts of interest will arise, and that the board thinks of Mungia's position in Saldaña's office as an "asset to the district."
"Every board member brings experiences from their own lives as parents, as business owners, as previous educators, to make informed decisions. Who better to help make decisions that are best for our students than someone who has insight into the broader issues facing the district?" Osteguin said.
Mungia anticipates having to consult further with school district attorneys when trustee elections near to make sure he is in compliance with campaign laws. For now, Mungia plans to enter the November school board election and run for his seat. And he has his sights set on future public service.
“I hope to still be serving, to be a public servant, but that could be in various capacities,” he said. “Hopefully in the public sector – I think that’s where the really good work is done.”
In the meantime, Mungia wants to focus on learning about the school district and building trust with the community. He said that in the past, parents have seized opportunities to leave South San when they didn’t have faith in the board or district officials.
“As you have seen, when the opportunity came, parents got their kids out and went to IDEA school," he said, referring to a chain of charter schools with two campuses within South San ISD boundaries. "And IDEA could not have gone [near South San] if kids were entirely happy.
"Now we have these different opportunities for parents, and we just have to show them that this is the best choice. It doesn’t matter if you have been there for 30 years on the board or myself, just barely a week. We just got to put that aside and work together.”