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News : Board games 

A private Christian school headmaster wins a contentious NEISD board election

After 10 years on the North East Independent School Board and a stint as Bexar County chairman of the Democratic Party, Gabe Quintanilla probably thought he’d seen it all in politics. At least until April of this year, when billboards touting the attributes of his chief District 3 school-board opponent, Susan Galindo, suddenly appeared in the district.

River City Christian School salutes the election of its headmaster to an NEISD board seat.

To Quintanilla, the notion of billboard advertising for a school-board election, which barely attracts 400 voters, was slightly surreal. “I’ve spoken to many people and that’s never been seen in San Antonio,” he says.

The billboards were the most visible, but hardly the only, example of the District 3 race’s unusual nature. Contentious to the point of viciousness, it found Galindo challenging Quintanilla — who has suffered through spinal operations so serious he was once administered last rites — over his absenteeism at board meetings, and Quintanilla charging that Galindo — who is headmaster of the River City Christian School — is secretly pro-voucher and opposed to any future bond elections for the school district. Quintanilla further argued that Galindo did not promptly report her campaign expenditures for the billboards, as required by the district. Despite his protestations, the politically inexperienced Galindo, in a considerable upset, won the May 13 election by four votes (138 to 134).

The campaign’s vitriol had nothing to do with personal animosity. The two candidates had not met before the campaign, and according to Quintanilla, his first exchange with Galindo came a few months ago when she sent him a mild, polite email inquiring whether he planned to seek reelection and asking for tips because she was considering running for an NEISD school-board seat. He informed her that he planned to run for another term, and thanked her for informing him of her interest. Things only became heated as the campaign progressed and the issue of school financing reared its head.

Quintanilla has long battled what he considers a disparity in financing between the northern part of NEISD and the southern section that he represents, and he openly fretted over what Galindo’s public calls for increased “financial responsibility” would mean to the district.

“Northeast is a very unique school district,” Quintanilla says. “In the northern side of the school district, you have very affluent homes. And we built schools out there that are like palaces. I have no qualms about that. My concern, when I got on the board 10 years ago, is that we can’t have a two-tiered educational system.”

Quintanilla has insisted that with every NEISD bond election, the district should set aside a portion of the bond package to renovate older schools in District 3. “`Galindo` came right out and said she’s opposed to any bond elections under any circumstances,” he says. “Whether it’s for new schools or the refurbished old schools, she has taken a very Draconian across-the-board opposition to any bond election. I think that’s irresponsible.”

Galindo did not respond to interview requests from the Current, but Garrett Peel, a San Antonio surgeon who independently paid for Galindo’s four campaign billboards, says District 3’s new trustee maintains an open mind about bond elections. “I think what she said is that all avenues should be exhausted before there is another bond election in District 3,” Peel says. “But she’s not opposed to it as a last resort.”

Peel, a political veteran who previously worked for the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole and George W. Bush, says he came to know Galindo “as a person first, as the headmaster of my son’s school. I’ve seen the way she’s addressed the needs of students with special needs and I think she’ll bring the same focus to public education.”

“Whether it’s for new schools or the refurbished old schools, she has taken a very Draconian across-the-board opposition to any bond election.”

- Gabe Quintanilla

River City Christian School is a private institution tailored to students with special learning or emotional difficulties. During the campaign, Galindo emphasized her nine years of experience running the school and stressed her determination to assist special-needs students in the district. From Quintanilla’s perspective, however, Galindo’s position as a headmaster at a private school in the district presents a conflict of interest. If private education is in economic competition with public education, where would Galindo’s loyalty reside? With the private school she operates, or the public-school district she represents as an NEISD trustee?

“In the debate that we had at Robert E. Lee High School, all the candidates were asked our views on vouchers,” Quintanilla says. “Miss Galindo was the sole candidate who refused to give her views on vouchers. This is a public-school district, and you have a fiduciary responsibility once you become a board member. A fiduciary is one who owes their highest loyalty to that which they’re the agent for. She owes her highest loyalty to her constituents, not to an ideology, a dogma, or anything else.”

The tensions between Galindo and Quintanilla surfaced in competing pre-election editorials that ran in the San Antonio Lightning (the Lightning, making little effort to hide its political preference for Galindo, referred to Quintanilla as a “missing school-board member,” and tagged his lengthy submission with the headline “Gabe Goes Ape”). Galindo criticized Quintanilla for an attendance record that included 20 missed meetings out of the board’s last 32. “Missing more than 60 percent of attendance is a failing grade and should not be tolerated,” she wrote. Quintanilla responded that “the sweet little lady speaks kindly, but has a pretty un-sweet, unkind right-wing agenda.” He also contended that Galindo home-schooled her own children (she says her three sons attended NEISD schools), and noted that her school’s pastor, William Nuñez, was also seeking an NEISD seat (Nuñez lost to District 2 incumbent Edd White).

Quintanilla’s recent claim that Galindo’s billboards were never accounted for by her campaign is not accurate. Galindo did initially fail to report the $2,000 spent by Peel for the billboards and was forced to submit a Correction Affidavit to the school district on May 15 (two days after the election), acknowledging that she “misread the information regarding Direct Campaign Expenditures by other individuals” and did not realize that she needed to report Peel’s billboard purchases.

But if Quintanilla’s allegations about the billboards are unfair, he views Galindo’s criticisms of his attendance record as the campaign’s ultimate low blow.

“I had two major back surgeries, I was in a rehabilitation hospital and was confined to a wheelchair for several weeks,” he says. “At the 11th hour she brought it up without letting people know that I was hospitalized with major back surgery. One of them was a full, three-level, spinal fusion. I had one operation where I was in the hospital for 12 days and even received last rites. I don’t think it was a legitimate issue, but she chose to exploit it and she won.”

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