Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
South San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Alexandro Flores indicated Thursday that he will not support a push to reopen three recently shuttered campuses by next school year. Up until this point, he has declined to say whether he would recommend the proposal, which the board is poised to approve.
“My point all along has been that … we haven’t really done our due diligence and gone above and beyond to acquire the full stakeholder input and community feedback to really get an accurate pulse if this is what the community is looking for,” Flores told reporters after a five-hour budget committee meeting. “These timelines do not reflect that we will be taking that approach. From that standpoint, I would not necessarily be for the reopening of schools under these timelines and these guidelines.”
A four-trustee majority of the South San board first voted in January to reopen the schools, saying it was the wrong decision to close the campuses and that reopening them would draw students back to South San, which has faced declining enrollment in recent years.
Flores expressed concerns that reopening Athens Elementary, Kazen Middle School, and West Campus High School would take away needed resources from an already thinly stretched district. District staff projected in the budget committee meeting Thursday that South San stands to lose about 300 students next school year.
Without an influx of enrollment to support the reopened campuses, there won’t be much additional revenue to fund the move, Flores said.
“When you start expanding your operational cost without any additional revenues, by logic you start diluting the quality of the resources that you can allocate to the campuses you currently have open,” Flores said. “So my concern is what will be the long-term financial impact and operational impact on the overall quality of services you give.”
During the budget committee meeting, South San staff presented budget projections, enrollment figures, and other operational planning details to trustees. At times divisions arose, with trustees and district staff talking over one another and trustees questioning staff on how they arrived at certain numbers.
Flores indicated neither he nor his staff had been consulted in making the agenda for the meeting. South San staff received the agenda at 2 p.m. the day before spring break and had only three business days to prepare for the meeting, he said.
“Typically the way it is supposed to work [is trustees work] in cooperation with administration and the superintendent provides a majority of the input as to what agenda items we are going to be working on,” Flores told reporters. “When you have this approach, it speaks volumes to the quality of the collaboration that is occurring between the board and the superintendent at this point.”
Updated facilities assessments put the total cost to ready the three campuses at a little more than $1 million. Staff suggested the district spend an additional $3.8 million in recommended projects and $17.9 million in future projects related to the three schools. The future projects, which could be funded through a potential bond, include replacing sections of roof, remodeling buildings, and replacing HVAC units.
“This board is going to sometime have to do a [tax rate increase] or bond or combined,” board President Connie Prado said. “There is no doubt that we are going to need that.”
Prado argued that not opening Athens, Kazen, and West Campus would make it a lot harder to pass a tax rate increase or bond.
District officials also talked through staffing needs. The cost to hire needed personnel for all three schools, beyond those potentially transferred from existing campuses, was estimated at more than $3 million.
At the end of the meeting, a two-trustee majority of Prado and budget committee Chairman Gilbert Rodriguez approved a timeline crafted by consultants Moak, Casey & Associates to set the pace for future school reopening plans. The timeline calls for all work to be done on facilities by July 15 and furniture to be moved in by Aug. 1. Facilities assessment and prioritization are listed as the No. 1 priority in the Moak Casey plan.
The plan also calls for principals to be appointed by early April and a communications plan to be developed to rebrand the district by July 1. Teachers and auxiliary staff are to be appointed by May 1.
Trustee Mandy Martinez, the lone dissenting vote, expressed concern that the plan was moving too quickly.
“I still think this is too fast-tracked for our district,” Martinez said. “We keep saying we are not living in the past. … We should be doing more than just trying to open up by August.”
Prado and Rodriguez also voted against adopting a proposal by Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) to repurpose Kazen Middle School into a community center for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Trustees are expected to discuss the Moak Casey plan at the next board meeting, scheduled for next week. The full board has not taken a binding vote on the reopening of the schools. When it does, it is likely Superintendent Flores will recommend against the proposal.
If previous votes serve as an indicator, the four-trustee majority of Prado, Rodriguez, and trustees Homer Flores and Shirley Ibarra Pena will vote in favor of reopening the schools by August.
Superintendent Flores said no matter which way the vote lands, his job is to carry out the wishes of the board.
“I have a right to make a recommendation [and they can] choose not to follow the recommendation,” Flores said. “I also understand that board approval is board approval. So regardless of what my recommendation may be, I feel definitely we will follow through and carry on whatever it is that the board approves.”
In a statement on Facebook, the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce echoed Flores’ concerns.
“Given that recently the Texas Education Agency has sunset monitoring of South San ISD, our chamber wants to discuss the financial considerations of the South San ISD School Board regarding the expansion of expenses to facilities over the investment directly to student education,” the statement said. “We ask that the South San ISD School Board, review the current recommendations of the Superintendent to not deviate funds to facilities and to keep investing tax resources directly to student success.”