EDCOUCH, RGV – The communities of Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa and Monte Alto are planning a big party to celebrate the passage of legislation to cement South Texas College’s presence in the Delta area.
House Bill 382, authored by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, requires the STC leadership to create a plan to expand courses leading to associate degrees in Edcouch or Elsa by the Fall of 2019.
“For the Delta area this bill is big, really big, so we want to celebrate in style. We are aiming for July 25, a Saturday. We are going to have a parade, music, marching school bands, speeches, food, beverages, everything. We are even going to invite Governor Abbott and Secretary of State Carlos Cascos,” said Eddy Gonzalez, mayor pro-tem of Edcouch.
Gonzalez said the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation would be invited and in particular Canales, state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya, and state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Brownsville, because these three worked so hard to get HB 382 passed.
“We would also like the South Texas College board of trustees and President Reed to attend. Now the legislation is law I am hoping the attitude of the board and the president will change and be more positive. Up until now, I do not think you can say that. We are opening the door, holding up our hands and saying, come on, let’s unite, it’s a new day, let’s try it, let us get it going, let us do it for the kids,” Gonzalez said.
HB 382 was one of the most controversial bills authored by a Valley lawmaker this session. The STC board of trustees and STC President Shirley Reed did not like it because they felt it set a bad precedent – the Legislature telling a higher education institution where to place its resources.
“It revolutionizes the way school districts and community colleges are now governed. They are free and autonomous except to the extent they are controlled by the higher education committee,” said STC trustee Gary Gurwitz. “The decision as to where, when, and to what extent to build campuses, extension or high schools, should belong to the local trustees – if the Legislature takes that away, it will put the entire public school and community college system in jeopardy. It is an unnecessary intrusion of the legislature into the local governance matters.”
STC leaders also argued that as STC has a campus in Weslaco, Delta area students do not have that far to travel. In a written letter to a Senate panel in May, Gurwitz wrote: “The issue is not whether Edcouch or Elsa needs an ‘extension facility’ – they do not. They are approximately ten miles north of Weslaco, connected by a U.S. highway, with free bus transportation to our Weslaco campus and to all of our other campuses in Hidalgo County.”
Gurwitz said that from the beginning, STC’s master plan designated Weslaco as the most convenient and efficient location for a campus to serve eastern Hidalgo County, including Edcouch/Elsa, Mercedes, Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, and Donna. “We have invested approximately $35 million in the campus and are in the process of spending an additional $34 million, as per our master plan. We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on our recent master plan which proposes enhancing our present campuses and not expanding construction to other localities,” Gurwitz wrote.
Canales told the McAllen Monitor that he would trade all his other pieces of legislation for HB 382 because it is so big. Canales said he was relieved Gov. Abbott did not veto HB 382, as had been rumored. The bill became law without Abbott’s signature. Canales said he believes the legislation was not vetoed because of widespread support from elected officials across the Valley.
“It (HB 382) sends a very clear message that South Texas College has a responsibility to spread its resources throughout Hidalgo County, just as other major community college systems in Texas, such as Austin Community College, which has 11 campuses in a geographic region much smaller than Hidalgo County,” Canales said.
Asked if he feared Abbott would veto Canales’ bill, Edcouch Mayor Pro Tem Gonzalez said:
“I was concerned for a while, particularly when McAllen wrote that editorial. Once I read it, it was obvious the fix was in and they had only heard one side of the story. If they had listened to the other side the comments they were making would have been more balanced. For example, calling the Mercado Delta ‘defunct.’ Hey, the building itself has not taken off but the building is beautiful, the land around it is beautiful. You could make a hell of a campus out of it. How can you call it defunct?”
Gonzalez was referring to the McAllen Monitor, which ran an editorial urging Abbott to veto HB 382.
“When he vetoes it the newspaper looks good. It looks as though he is listening to them. They could say, ‘We are pleased he listened to us.’ I was a bit worried when I read the editorial but, on the other hand, I knew we had a lot of people calling and writing on our behalf,” Gonzalez said.
Among those who voiced support for Canales’ bill, Gonzalez said, were Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia, new Pharr Mayor Ambrosio ‘Amos’ Hernandez and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance CEO Israel Rocha.
“I know there was an enormous amount of people calling on the Governor not to veto it. If it were not for that, Terry’s bill would have been vetoed. It was on the veto stack. They had it on the veto stack. They pulled it,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez singled out Secretary of State Cascos for special praise. “He helped out a lot by talking to the Governor. He made a commitment to his good friend, Joel Quintanilla. Joel called him and told him how important this was for the Delta area. The Secretary of State said, ‘I cannot promise but I will definitely give a good word for you guys’.”
Quintanilla is a former mayor of Mercedes and county commissioner for eastern Hidalgo County. Gonzalez worked for him when he was a commissioner.
Asked what the mood of the community is now that HB 382 is on the statute, Gonzalez said: “They cannot believe it. They could not believe they could push it through. Of course, had it not been for Terry Canales, Oscar Longoria, Senator Lucio, and all the people that came out to help us, it would not have happened. We know it was enormous.”
Asked how he felt when Canales’ bill became law, Gonzalez said: “I jumped about ten feet high. I did not realize, with my weight, I could jump that high but I found myself doing it. For cities like McAllen, Brownsville, Edinburg, maybe it is not that big of a deal because of the level they are at. But when you look at an area like the Delta, it is big, it is really big. Think about it – people are always saying, the Delta is not growing but if we do not have support, how do you expect us to grow? The community understands it. We are elated.”