The El Campo ISD board of trustees voted 4 to 3 to form a committee to look into renaming Northside Elementary for the late U.S. Army Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez, a Medal of Honor recipient, at the July regular meeting.
Trustee Greg Anderson asked that forming a renaming committee return to the meeting agenda.
“I wanted to bring this back because I didn’t feel right about how we left it just hanging out there with people thinking we did a disservice by not giving a motion,” Anderson said.
“I think we owe it to this community to at least form this committee,” Trustee Ed Erwin said.
Trustee Rich DuBroc agreed with Erwin and Anderson.
“We have the opportunity to show honor and respect for somebody,” DuBroc said. “Master Sgt. Benavidez has been a hero of mine for a long time. I knew him, his kids are my age, and I had the opportunity to be around him. I have respect for all veterans and the services they’ve given. I feel this is worthy of forming a committee to see what our options are.”
DuBroc was also not opposed to taking the renaming to the public for a vote. The district’s attorney is researching election law to see if putting the renaming on the ballot is a possibility. Trustees hope to have an answer by the August meeting.
Trustees Anthony Dorotik and Dennis Rawlings mentioned that the board’s local policy would also have to be changed and voted upon to consider letting the public vote on renaming the elementary school. Dorotik also mentioned that putting it to a public vote takes authority out of the board’s hands with the board having to accept the public’s decision, but that a committee provides enough community involvement.
“This idea came from the public and it seems to be an item that gets the public involved. That school belongs to the community ... I would like to see the public get a chance to weigh in,” Board President James Russell said.
The policy states that the committee would bring back three names for the board to decide upon — voting for a change, or leaving the name as is. The names would have to be submitted to the committee along with a petition signed by 15 percent of the district’s registered voters.
“What I want to be able to say to the community is that we’re either forming a committee or we’re not,” Anderson said.
Local veterans and one El Campo city councilwoman shared their opinion about the renaming in the public comments portion. Neither party was for naming the elementary after the Medal of Honor recipient. Veterans who spoke suggested the name represent all veterans from El Campo, or like DuBroc suggested putting the naming to a vote during the next school board election.
First to speak was City Councilwoman Gloria Harris who felt if the school were to be renamed it should be for former black El Campo educator E.A. Greer, the namesake of El Campo’s black high school that closed in the 1970s during integration.
“I have a big problem renaming Northside school. Not this board, but the board during integration took something away from us. Now you want to name somebody to Northside school. We as a black community would like to have our E.A. Greer school back.”
After integration, the school was named West Side then El Campo Middle School, she said.
“Mr. E.A. Greer raised a lot of us. He educated us. We want our name back to have some kind of identification in the El Campo community,” Harris said.
Veteran Leonard Sternadel became emotional when he spoke about putting the renaming to a public vote.
“No one has more respect for the Medal of Honor than I. This evening I am speaking on behalf of veterans who couldn’t be here because they died in some foreign country, and in many cases they are still there,” he said.
“Why not have one line (on the ballot) that says you are for or against changing the name of Northside to Benavidez Elementary. The results of this question would give you clear direction. Let the taxpayers vote. I understand the petition required 15 percent of the voters’ signatures. What about the other 85 percent?”