South San Community Would Be Best Served by Reopening Closed Campuses

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The South San Antonio Independent School District administrative building.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The South San Antonio Independent School District administrative building was previously the district's West Campus High School.

It is imperative that the South San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees proceed with the reopening of Athens Elementary, Kazen Middle School, and West Campus High School.  The schools should not have been closed in the first place.

Besides doing the right thing by correcting an egregious act, there are long-term ramifications for our school district should we fail to reopen these schools.

We must restore the trust and confidence of the communities that were betrayed. If we do not, the likelihood of ever passing a future bond or tax ratification election (TRE) is slim and none. We have aging schools that need to be replaced with new construction. While we have been able to keep our financial footing, it will eventually not be sustainable.

Further, the school business is cyclical in nature. If we do not act now, we will lose an entire academic year. Our reticence will cause more students to leave our school district, a loss we cannot accept or afford.

Our proposal to reopen our schools is being developed with great care and examination. We have remained cognizant of our responsibility in keeping our school district financially solvent. Therefore, the reopening efforts have been formulated around the utilization of a smaller footprint at each of these campuses.

More importantly, I submit that we will be able to reopen our schools without having an adverse impact on our financial status. By utilizing unassigned special funds and excess fund balances in selected funds, our need to use the general fund balance will be limited.

In fact, we fully expect to retain the Texas Education Agency-recommended three-month operating expense in our general fund balance when all is said and done. The board of trustees has taken its financial responsibility very seriously. In order to ensure we are performing our due diligence, we have retained Texas school finance experts Moak Casey & Associates to verify we can undertake this endeavor without financial jeopardy.   

In the case of West Campus High School, there is a unique circumstance for reopening it. First, this community has not supported a bond or the recent TRE since the campus was closed in 2007.

The community was misled by being told that flood damage was the reason for not reopening the campus. The community has never forgotten the outrageous deception forced upon them.

However, a tremendous housing development is currently underway with most of the new housing units to be available for purchase by the end of 2019. Close to 1,000 new housing units are being developed. We have not seen this kind of new housing development in many years, and the promise of additional housing opportunities is very possible.

The community still harbors bitter, hard feelings over the closure of their high school in 2007. If we are not proactive by reopening West Campus High School, it will just be another punitive act inflicted upon this community. We should not be afraid of competition by our neighboring school districts or charter schools. However, we should offer a viable public school choice by reopening West Campus High School. It is time to make this community whole again.

The board of trustees is not opposed to partnering with other institutions of higher learning or similar public partnerships as long as our school district identity is not lost or forfeited. Similarly, we are not opposed to restructuring our schools into specialized campuses, but we must begin by reopening our campuses.

Recently, at a board of trustees meeting, we heard the cries of some of our high school students. Many of them are in need of crisis counseling, mental health counseling, and other related issues. I was deeply moved, as were my colleagues, by their resolve in addressing their needs to the board of trustees. It took guts.

The board of trustees is not tone-deaf, and I will be proposing a plan to provide them with the help they need so desperately. As long as the board finds a suitable site within our school district, we can provide these students with the mental health services they greatly need, and we can restore the campus the Kazen community lost. We can do both!

Finally, the board of trustees can only provide a pathway to the reopening of our schools. We hope that the superintendent and his staff will enthusiastically embrace our efforts and make it happen. We are aware that some of our board colleagues would prefer to wait 18 to 24 months before we take any action. I would submit that our communities cannot afford to wait, and our students deserve the best we can offer them, including reopening their schools.

7 thoughts on “South San Community Would Be Best Served by Reopening Closed Campuses

  1. This was a very disjointed article, bouncing from one idea to the next without finishing any and sometimes revisiting an idea several paragraphs later instead of directly after the paragraph it went best with. Many of the suggestions made didn’t provide much proof of why they should be done and how they could be done other than to say the community wants it. Other suggestions had nothing to do with the opening of schools but were thrown in the mix anyway as if they were reasons to reopen schools. And accusations about the reasons for school closures were made without providing proof or even providing what the supposed truth in the matter actually was. The article’s disjointedness is proof of why the South San school board shouldn’t be taken at their word and why they need to build a case.

    • Agreed. There was a lot of impassioned language and little substantive explanation. I don’t know anything about why these schools were closed in the first place, and the author may well be right that they should be reopened, but some background, context, and detailed explanation for reopening the schools would be more helpful than angry stream of consciousness.

  2. If anyone was witness to the board meeting referenced in the article, the board majority came across as heartless and not caring about anything but their own agenda. They don’t seem to care what the community wants or most importantly what the students want. After all, isn’t the boards responsibility to the students first and not what they promised the people who elected them?

  3. This is asinine and self-serving hogwash. The SSAISD board members that are supporting this plan are subscribing to a strategy of “if you build it, they will come” – that if they reopen these closed schools, suddenly SSAISD will become desirable and new families will move in, boosting enrollment and reversing the district’s fortunes.

    But this silly theory ignores one vital fact – families choosing a school district to move to don’t care HOW many schools you have. They care how good those schools are. And by any realistic measure, SSAISD does not measure up to the best school districts in San Antonio. SSAISD needs to focus its limited money and resources on improving the schools it has now, not on vanity projects by certain board members to reverse a decision they didn’t agree with. There is no reason, either demographically or financially, to reopen these schools, period.

    One also has to wonder if, in the usual fashion of many Bexar County school districts, these schools are being reopened for an entirely different financial reason. It will cost SSAISD a lot of money to reopen these schools, in the form of construction and repair contracts. It might be wise for the Rivard Report (and the community) to see if certain high-ranking palms in SSAISD are getting greased by this incomprehensible decision.

    I really think that TEA needs to take South San over again if this board can’t learn the simple lesson that it can’t just do whatever it wants.

  4. I would also argue that the reason that South San residents “haven’t supported a bond or the recent TRE since (West Campus) was closed in 2007” has far less to do with the school closure than it does with the incompetent, mediocre, and self-serving leadership coming from the SSAISD board. Who can blame the residents of South San for not wanting to hand more money over to these people?

  5. Are you opening the schools is what we the community want. What we are asking our board members to do do better our community. Not have over ratio students to teachers. More violence in the schools for it being schools crammed up together. Being one of the reasons for students bullying other students. Too much goes on behind closed doors. We are isolating our bilingual students not letting him be picking up the language associating with English-speaking students. If the previous superintendent and board members didn’t agree to getting rid of some of our good teacher’s and counselors. We then would probably meet our State Testing.

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