Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
San Antonio may rank second in the nation in millennial population growth, but it is also 90th in the nation in educated millennials, according to a recent report. To me, that is a telling reminder that our city lacks a functionally educated and trained workforce for its present-day needs.
In my experience as a business professional and CEO of a local nonprofit organization, I found it difficult to fill entry-level clerical positions with local high school graduates who were functionally literate and able to complete relatively simple tasks such as writing a memo.
This recalled the fact that there are 17 independent school districts in the San Antonio area, each with its own board of trustees, administrators, and program development staff – an incredible waste of the limited funds available to each district to educate our city’s youth.
With some media reports estimating the cost of separate boards and administrations around $35 million, it seems that large sum of money could more appropriately be devoted to educating our young people so they can one day make meaningful contributions to our city and its working climate.
Consolidating school districts was proposed some years ago but largely defeated by a combination of districts with large tax bases not wanting to share their funds or educational philosophies with lesser-funded districts, and the lesser-funded districts being afraid of losing autonomy to the larger, more sophisticated portions of the city – a triumph for shortsightedness and parochial narrowness on all sides.
The Texas Legislature’s “Robin Hood” plan – the funds that go back to the State when a district collects a surplus of taxes due to high property values – doesn’t help either, as the State is not required to reinvest that “recapture” in public education.
A well-planned consolidation of our 17 school districts would not mean taking away our neighborhood schools or support for their sports teams and bands. On the contrary, there might be more money available to support extracurricular activities that can enrich students’ experiences.
We are all in this together, whether we live in areas where the tax base is more developed, or in parts of the metropolitan area where the tax base is less plentiful. The young people in our public schools are the future of our city, so the question remains: Do we want to continue wasting the penurious amount of revenue available for education on multiple administrations, or will we, as a city, take the courageous step of consolidating and spending our assets on the youth who will become our workforce in future years?
In recent years, many programs that were once the pride of public education have been cut due to decreased state funding. In more affluent districts, parent and citizen groups have created organizations and foundations to supplement the bare-bones curricula of the schools in their parts of town. In less affluent areas, many parent and citizen groups simply do not have the means to do so.
What would it be like if San Antonio could use those millions spent on redundant administrations and boards for the education and training of its youth? What might be the effect on STAAR testing and our students’ general academic performance? What might those funds do to increase graduation rates and students moving into higher education and preparation for the more demanding tasks our growing economy requires? And what might this different use of education funding do to reduce poverty in our city and county?
There have been several consolidations of boards and administrations in other metropolitan areas of the United States. One such model is in Portland, Oregon, where a central school board and central administration staff make decisions on curricula and allocation of capital assets such as school buildings and amenities, and principals selected by the central administration manage individual schools’ day-to-day operations.
Candidates for the school board could be elected either at large or by balloting in areas of the metroplex. It seems to work in Portland, a city similar to San Antonio in many ways.
San Antonio has seen its fair share of school board scandals involving misuse of education funds. A central administration of education systems in this area would be more open to scrutiny and audit than our present system of multiple boards doing business in multiple ways.
Our children and youth are our hope for the future; rather than fighting over funds and then wasting them on duplicitous administrative expense, we must devote available funding to their coming of age in a more enlightened and productive way.
That makes sense to this taxpayer, at least.