It was a late night for those who watched early leads wax and wane, but one in particular held fast. Voters within San Antonio ISD boundaries voted to ratify a 13-cent tax increase (TRE) for district funding and to approve a $450 million bond for facilities improvements.
Both measures passed with at least 70% of the vote, a landslide victory for the district.
“It was a strong message the community sent,” SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said.
Both measures, the TRE and the bond, are sorely needed according to district officials.
The TRE garnered 47,637 votes “for” (70.49%) and 19,944 “against” (29.51%). The bond passed with 49,645 votes “for” (71.66%) and 19,636 “against” (28.34%).
SAISD successfully passed a $515 million bond in 2010. The success of that bond left district officials confident that a second bond could pass.
“I give a lot of credit to the people who started back in 2010,” Martinez said. “I think that helped us a lot this year. Even though we did talk about our facilities, I didn’t have to do a lot of explaining.”
To complete the sorely needed deferred maintenance, repairs, renovations, and new construction on campuses that have not been updated in decades, SAISD has predicted that it will need at least one more bond in the future.
For some, the TRE was the more uncertain issue. SAISD attempted unsuccessfully to pass a TRE in 2007. The measure raises the district property tax rate to $1.17 per $100 of property value, the highest allowed by the State. The State will match the money generated by the tax burden for a total of $32 million in new money to augment SAISD’s maintenance and operating (M&O) budget.
“This gives us the opportunity to really be creative and think out of the box how to give families good options,” Martinez said.
Heightened trust in district leadership may have made a difference in the community’s willingness to invest. The ambitious agenda of Pedro Martinez has inspired private partnerships to funnel millions of dollars into district initiatives like the Advanced Learning Academy (ALA) and CAST Tech High School. A united and functional board of trustees has increased confidence that district will spend the money wisely.
“We’re so grateful for the voter confidence in the district and the investment in our kids,” SAISD Board President Patti Radle said. “They were saying ‘yes’ to all these initiatives and goals we are setting forth.”
Radle praised Martinez for his efforts to educate the public on those goals and initiatives, and for raising the funds necessary to realize them. In a series of town hall meetings, Martinez visited each high school three times to meet with community members.
In addition to the inspiring talk, there has also been some action.
“It would be one thing if all we had done is talk about the changes we want,” Radle said.
With the Advanced Learning Academy up and running and CAST Tech well on its way, the community is getting a preview of the kind of progress they voted to fund.
Martinez and Radle credited numerous partners who helped “get out the vote.”
“It really felt like a community effort,” Radle said.
The COPS/Metro Alliance and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) both campaigned for SAISD’s measures. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) mentioned it every time he had the opportunity in front of a microphone. The business community, who will be bearing the brunt of the tax increase, voiced its support for the TRE and the bond, just as it has given support to the CAST Tech and ALA initiatives individually.
Stumping for the measures, State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123) has repeatedly pointed out the social justice component of the ballot measures, giving low-income kids access to the same educational advantages as their more well-resourced peers.
Martinez attributes the community’s generosity to its understanding of this fundamental issue.
“I think people see the inequities,” Martinez said.
Those inequities will likely persist if districts wait on the State to step in. With the Supreme Court’s decision to leave education finance reform to the Legislature, few feel that adequate funding will be restored to public schools anytime soon.
“I think people are significantly understanding that the State is not giving us what we need and this is our only choice,” Radle said. “What are we going to do, abandon the kids?”
The answer to that question, according to Radle, Martinez, and the voters, is “no.”
“We are going to get them what they need,” Radle said.
Now that the initiatives have passed, of course, the district invites the community to continue its partnership.
“Whether you voted for or against the initiatives, or even if you didn’t vote at all, our best chance of success is by joining together for the benefit of kids,” board trustee Steve Lecholop said. “We value every community member, and we invite everyone to invest in the future of our city by participating in the education of SAISD students.”