Larry Perez, Waco Independent School District’s longest-serving Latino board member, announced his resignation Wednesday, two days after board president Pat Atkins announced he would resign.

Both Perez and Atkins have served on the board since 2002. Perez cited health concerns as his reason for resigning, while Atkins said he was resigning due to moving outside the district’s boundaries.

“Some of you have known for some time that I have been having health issues,” Perez wrote in an email to trustees. “It has gotten to the point that I have trouble doing the job that I was trusted to do for our school children. For this, I regret that I must resign immediately due to my health.”

Perez’s current term representing District 3 would have expired in May 2020. His resignation means the board will have to fill two vacancies as it also searches for a new superintendent.

The board will consider the resignation letters of Perez and Atkins at its Thursday meeting and discuss how to fill the vacancies. The board meets at 6 p.m. at the Waco ISD conference center, 115 S. Fifth St.

State law and board policy allow the remaining board members to either fill the vacancies by appointment until the next trustee election in May 2020 or call for a special election in November 2019.

Thursday’s board meeting will be Perez’s last.

“I’m honored that voters in South Waco trusted me to represent them for nearly two decades,” Perez said in a news release Wednesday. “When I was first elected, some families in our community told me that the district didn’t listen to them. As a school board member, I set out to change that. With every decision, I asked what it would mean for kids in South Waco. I made sure that our voices were heard.”

Perez used this approach when the board considered the projects to be included in the 2008 bond program, according to a Waco ISD news release. The district’s original facilities plan prioritized numerous projects over the construction of a new University High School, but Perez told his fellow trustees at the time that the people he represents would not support a bond election without the new high school.

After Perez’s comments, the proposed bond package was reworked to include the construction of a new University High School, the news release states. Voters approved the $172.5 million bond issue in May 2008, and the new campus opened in 2011.

“When I walk through the halls at University High School today, I see more than a building,” Perez said. “By 2008, the old University High campus was in terrible shape. Kids take note of those things. It had gotten to the point that the condition it was in made it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn. The new campus tells students that we value them and are invested in their success.”

Difficult decisions

During Perez’s tenure, the board also faced decisions about how to close a $3.4 million budget gap after state legislators cut $5 billion in public education funding in 2011. Ultimately, the district closed nine campuses but avoided large staffing cuts or eliminating programs, according to the press release.

“That was difficult,” Perez said. “We knew what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to shortchange students by laying off teachers or getting rid of programs. In the end, many of our campuses were underutilized, and the best solution was to close about a quarter of our schools. It wasn’t ideal, but at least if kids were going to have to move campuses, they wouldn’t be missing out on opportunities.”

Interim Superintendent Hazel Rowe said Perez has been a strong voice for all students and their families, not just the students in South Waco.

“Over the past 17 years, he has volunteered his time, investing countless hours in our schools and in our community,” she said. “A generation of students have already benefited from Larry’s leadership, and generations to come will have better schools and more opportunities thanks to his vision for Waco ISD’s future.”

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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