Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The Alamo Colleges District's $450 million bond issue made a strong showing Saturday with 66.83% voting in favor, even with the accreditation sanctions handed down this January.
"We see this as a huge message from our broader community," Board Chair Yvonne Katz said. "They are highly supportive of Alamo Colleges."
That support, Katz said, extended to facilities and facility improvements to support the growing needs of the student population. "All of this boils down to us providing the very, very best programming, facilities, and faculty for our students," Katz said.
Projects on the proposed Capital Improvement Plan range from badly needed repairs at San Antonio College and St. Philip's College to property acquisition on the city's far North side.
In January, the district's accrediting agency, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) outlined concerns about the autonomy of three colleges – St. Philip's College, Northwest Vista College, and San Antonio College – within the district. An accreditation "warning" status was issued for all three colleges. The board has since made policy and branding changes to clarify the independence of the colleges. The sanction will stand until SACSCOC convenes for its yearly meeting in December.
The early results could indicate that the community trusts the leadership of Alamo Colleges to resolve their accreditation issues and pursue projects that serve the student body and the community.
Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie sees that confidence as earned.
"The work we've been doing over the last ten years has had a profound impact," Leslie said. Citing programs like the Westside Education and Training Center (WETC) and it's sister centers across the city, exemplify the community level impact the district seeks to have, Leslie said.
Leslie and Katz both made mention of the district's increasing graduation rate, and the anticipated steps toward increased baccalaureate success and alignment with growing job sectors.
To prevent a tax rate hike, the bond's implementation is divided into three phases of $150 million each. A Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee (CBAC) recommended focusing on existing buildings in need of remediation, especially at St. Philip's, the city's only historically black college. St. Philip's has several buildings that will have to be razed, while others are in need of significant mold remediation.
The CBAC recommendations moved money away from expansion efforts on the city’s Northside and reduced the extent of the expansion at Northeast Lakeview College.
The schedule calls for the first projects to begin at the end of 2017. They include $30 million each for facilities at Palo Alto and St. Philip’s colleges, $26 million for a parking garage and welcome center at Northwest Vista College, and $20 million for a parking garage and childcare center at San Antonio College.
Westside and Southside Regional Education and Training Centers would receive $23 million each. The land acquisition plan for Palo Alto and a new campus along 281 North would receive $11 million.
All but the land acquisition and the Southside center project reflect priorities of the CBAC. In order to include those projects, work on the Bowden Building at St. Philip's was moved to the final phase of the bond, set to begin in 2021.
Surplus funds would be allocated to restoring reduced square footage at Northeast Lakeview.
Improvements to the Alamo Colleges were based on a projected student population of 120,980 in the year 2030. Much of that growth is projected for campuses on the Northside of San Antonio.
District administration was confident that projected growth and a rise in reported student success rates would assure the community that Alamo Colleges was a worthy investment, despite the district's accreditation woes. The colleges appealed to have their status reconsidered in June, however they lost that appeal.
The district's board debated whether to put the bond on the ballot and whether the unsettled accreditation issues would jeopardize chances for the bond's passage. Trustee Jim Rindfuss, the dissenting vote in the 9-1 decision to levy a bond, felt that the issue would be a non-starter with taxpayers who want to see the accreditation issues resolved completely, something which would not happen before voting day.
“I would rather be successful,” Rindfuss said. “These bond issues cost a lot of money.”
Adding to the controversy over the bond, faculty voiced displeasure that the administration broke ground on a $45 million central administration building in the River North area while the colleges' futures were left to an uncertain bond election.