Scott Ball / Rivard Report
South San Antonio Independent School District’s board of trustees will consider reopening campuses that closed less than two years ago because of low enrollment, but it’s unclear whether the district’s enrollment would support the move.
At Wednesday night’s board meeting, trustees may approve a resolution that calls for the reopening of Athens Elementary, Kazen Middle School, and West Campus High School. Trustees voted to close Athens and Kazen in 2017 and West Campus in 2007.
On Thursday night, the board plans to discuss the proposal and may take action on Superintendent Alexandro Flores’ recommendation concerning the campuses’ reopening. Flores hasn’t publicly stated what he will recommend, although sources who have spoken with him said they believe he is carefully researching the proposal and its potential impact.
The draft resolution does not give a clear timeline, but asks for an “aggressive public relations campaign in Spring Semester 2019,” indicating the board could push for the reopenings as soon as next school year. The document also indicates the reopenings would happen on a smaller scale, with Athens and Kazen proposed to reopen on a smaller footprint and West Campus proposed to reopen as a phase-in school.
South San operates 13 schools including one high school, three middle schools, and nine elementary schools. Altogether, it enrolls about 9,100 students. In 2013-14, the district enrolled a little more than 10,000 students.
Four of the seven South San trustees have joined the board since the district voted to close Athens and Kazen in spring 2017, and Flores took over as superintendent in late 2018. Districtwide enrollment had decreased in each of the previous three school years, and the most recent projections estimate enrollment will decline by more than 200 students into the next school year in 2019-20.
The draft resolution states that these reopenings may “cause the return of students who have left the school district” and “establish goodwill in the community.”
South San’s board voted to close West Campus in 2007 after flooding damaged the facilities.
Trustee Connie Prado is the only current trustee who sat on both boards. She voted against both closures and now leads the board as president.
Former trustee and board president Angelina Osteguin, who lost her bid for re-election in November, told the Rivard Report she does not believe there has been a large enough influx of students enrolling with the district to reopen the schools.
“I think the board is new, and since they don’t really have a grasp of the budgetary confinements that the district is facing, just to take a vote to do something this quickly, I think it is unfounded,” Osteguin said.
Getting the schools ready to open would likely require additional funds during a tight budgeting period for the district. Last year, South San faced a budget shortfall of about $7 million. The district unsuccessfully attempted to pass a tax rate increase to cover the gap and provide additional revenue. Ultimately, the board approved a budget that left the district with a $3 million deficit.
The closure of schools was a major point of contention for residents opposed to the tax rate increase. When Kazen and Athens closed, then-Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said closing the schools would save the district a little more than $3 million. Opponents questioned why the district needed more money after shuttering schools.
Reopening the middle school would put a hitch in District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña’s proposal to repurpose Kazen as a community center for the city’s South Side. Saldaña presented his idea to trustees in December, asking them to let the City use some of the vacant space to relieve a crowded senior center in District 4 and devote the rest of the campus to nonprofits that could provide services to district residents and students.
Saldaña emphasized that converting the campus would not cost the district anything. He said that while the facility is “plug and play ready,” he expects any future needed funding could come from the anticipated 2022 municipal bond.
The City worked with Southwest ISD in a similar partnership for a new $21.2 million natatorium that will be used by both the district and general public.
“With assets like a gymnasium, cafeteria, classroom space, athletics fields and access off Highway 16, together we can breathe life back into this publicly-owned facility and envision a multi-generational destination for the South Side,” Saldaña wrote in a letter to the board in which he offered to have an engineering report created for the property.
He also asked the board to hold a town hall meeting in February to get input on what should be done with Kazen. A district spokeswoman told the Rivard Report there are no current plans to hold a town hall.