Incumbents in any political office are generally assumed to be bullet-proof, especially in down-ballot races, but this year’s Houston ISD board elections upended that maxim with the ouster of one incumbent and two others being forced into Saturday’s runoffs.
Current board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones won the District II spot in a contest with challenger Larry Williams. Skillern-Jones, the mother of five children and a longtime school volunteer, was first elected to the board in 2011.
Pastor Williams founded the Covenant Baptist Church and has been active in local politics for several years. Billing himself as the Christian candidate, Williams got about 26 percent of the vote in the first go-round, but Skillern-Jones (45.99 percent, and who also attests to her faith in God in her official bio) couldn’t avoid the runoff since she did not break the 50 percent mark.
Longtime board member and a past president of the HISD school board Manuel Rodriguez Jr. won his District IV seat against former HISD teacher Jose Leal. Leal campaigned on the idea that HISD needs to change and make its education standards more rigorous.
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In his 2011 campaign, Rodriguez took in his share of criticism after he put out a last-minute flyer in which he said his then challenger, Ramiro Fonseca, "spent years advocating for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender rights … not kids." Rodriguez won that campaign but barely – by only 24 votes. This time around, Fonseca came in third to the two men, with Rodriguez (endorsed by the Houston Chronicle; who cares about homophobia?) getting about 46 percent of the votes and Leal about 30 percent.
In the November 3 election, former board member Diana Davila (2003-2010) defeated incumbent Juliet Stipeche, who first came to the board in 2010, filling Davila’s unexpired term after Davila, a former teacher, resigned. Stipeche was then elected to the position in 2010 and served a term as board president. The attorney and Rice University graduate was often critical of Superintendent Terry Grier’s administration, calling for more accountability and documentation, particularly in the areas of finance and community outreach.
Davila’s abrupt resignation came after she tried to appoint her own husband, Abel Davila, the former chairman of the Houston Community College board, to the HISD bond oversight committee that oversaw construction programs – a proposal that the district called a conflict of interest.
Former Houston City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, an attorney who heads up her own law office, defeated three other candidates in November to take the seat vacated by veteran board member Paula Harris, who chose not to run for re-election.