Education

Fort Worth elects new school board president. Can he take politics out of business?

dianesmith@star-telegram.com

Trustee Jacinto “Cinto” Ramos Jr. is the newly elected school board president, signaling a recent change as the board hopes to bridge recent divides and put more focus on students.

Ramos was one of the trustees nominated for officer positions by Trustee Norman Robbins during the meeting Tuesday. The slate includes Tobi Jackson as first vice president, Anael Luebanos as second vice president and newly elected trustee Quinton “Q.” Phillips as secretary.

The slate was approved with a unanimous vote of 8-0. Trustee T.A. Sims was not present for the vote.

Trustees said they are ready to turn the page on recent disagreements and splits that have cast more attention on politics than students.

Ramos said he wants to work with the board to outline goals and expectations and focus on training that will make them a stronger school board.

“I’m looking for forward to getting to teamwork,” Ramos said, explaining that there will be a lot of focus on training called Lone Star Governance that was first presented to the Fort Worth school district by the state and is aimed at improving student outcomes.

Ramos, who has served as president in the past, said the board wants to work in sync to focus on improving third-grade reading, middle school math and making sure students are college and career ready when they graduate.

“We are going to get back to business,” Ramos said. “I’m excited about this slate. I think that even demonstrates that there is a merging of groups with three new trustees — three new perspectives. That presents a lot of opportunity for us.”

Jackson, who was recently re-elected to the board, handed the gavel to Ramos after the vote. She had served two terms as president.

“Norm Robbins made a very magnanimous gesture as a senior trustee offering the slate,” Jackson said. “I do believe this signifies a new day for Fort Worth ISD.”

Broad politics

Choosing officers after the school board election is one of the first actions by the newly formed Fort Worth school board. They vote on president and other officers — a process that has not been without controversy in the past.

Tuesday’s vote follows several recent exchanges, situations and votes in which board relations ended up frayed, including last year’s officers election.

Last year’s election drew attention after efforts to elect a minority representative were voted down. There were formal motions to elect former trustee Christene Moss and Ramos, but the board instead voted those efforts down.

Last June, during a separate vote on the budget, the officers election was the center of attention again. This time, former trustee Ann Sutherland said she had agreed to support certain people for officer posts in exchange for votes against the proposed budget.

That exchange along with others with the censure of Trustee Ashley Paz frayed relationships on the school board. During the spring, candidates for school board said the board needed to build more unity and civility.

Another issue that candidates discussed was the idea that trustees should stay in their own lane and not micromanage duties that belong to the superintendent. Lone Star Governance is seen by board members as a way to accomplish that goal.

This training is reported to the state. Several other Texas districts, including Houston, South San Antonio and Donna are taking part in this type of training.

Paz said this training is important for the board.

“... As trustees our job is to govern,” Paz told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in a text message before the meeting. “The training clarifies the role of the board and provides a framework for us to focus that governance on student outcomes. Are kids learning in FWISD? That is the thing that all trustees should be focused on. That is how we get politics out of the boardroom.”

After the meeting, Paz said the new slate signaled a willingness by board members to get back on track.

“I think Cinto is the person to take us there,” Paz said. “He has been very intentional about including everyone and that’s something that we need our board to get back too.”

The vote for officers was calmer, Paz said, attributing it to new energy on the board.

School board officers

District policy states that at the first regular meeting following the May election, the board will elect a president, first vice president, second vice president and secretary from among school board members.

Officers are elected by majority vote of members present and voting.

Board officers serve for one year or until a successor is elected, according to district policy.

The president presides over all board meetings when present. Other duties include appointing chairpersons to committees, calling special meetings and signing all legal documents, warrants, vouchers and reports.

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Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.
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