Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Choosing to go against Superintendent Alexandro Flores’ recommendations, four South San Antonio Independent School District trustees voted Wednesday night to reject Councilman Rey Saldana’s proposal to transform a closed middle school into a community center and instead voted to move ahead with the reopening of that school and two other shuttered campuses by next fall.
Earlier in the evening, tears flowed freely and frequently as more than 20 students and parents spoke to the board, for the most part against the proposal to reopen the schools.
Students from South San High School spoke openly about their struggles with mental health, asking the seven trustees to make Kazen Middle School into a community center with resources to improve access to mental health care. A number of students recounted suicide attempts, dealing with anxiety, and a desire for better mental health resources on the South Side of town.
“I don’t have much support in my community and I still have to drive far outside [South San] to get the support [for mental health that] I need,” senior Melivia Mujica said. “My mental health and my wellbeing is just as important as my education. … We need more services, not more buildings.”
In a tearful speech, South San High School teacher Arabella Daniels implored the trustees to use available money for mental health services and listen to Saldaña’s proposal. Daniels noted that in one of her classes, there are five students who have attempted suicide.
“It is very hard as a teacher who cares about their students to see a child suffer in that way and feel like they might not have all the resources they would have if they lived on another side of town,” Daniels said.
Saldaña, whose District 4 includes South San ISD, told trustees he wanted to work with the school board to fix challenges students face on the South Side. He described students being on a “razor’s edge between success and failure” and needing all the resources they could get.
A four-trustee majority voted to accept the recommendations of the district’s budget committee, which recently voted to move forward with a timeline and plan from consultants in order to reopen Athens Elementary, Kazen, and West Campus High School, by next fall. The four-trustee majority included school board members Homer Flores, Shirley Ibarra Pena, Connie Prado, and Gilbert Rodriguez.
Members of South San district administration seemed unclear on what the vote actually meant. Board counsel told the Rivard Report the vote is “binding to the extent that it tells the superintendent to go ahead with serious planning.”
At the meeting, the superintendent spoke for the first time explicitly against the proposal on its current timeline, asking trustees to table the vote until more community feedback could be heard.
After the vote, trustee Elda Flores, who voted against the reopening proposal, called it an “injustice to students” who had just spoken so openly about their mental health challenges and the need for more money devoted to related resources.
Laurie Elliott, a Texas Education Agency official working with South San to help coach the board on governance procedures, described the evening as a “very eye-opening experience.” Without commenting directly on how she viewed the workings of South San’s board, she stated that the school boards who exhibit strong governance work collaboratively with superintendents to make decisions for the best interest of the students.
The budget committee is expected to meet again to hammer out further details needed to reopen the three campuses. A parent survey likely will be distributed to gauge interest in the reopened campuses.