A newly appointed budget committee and an Austin education consulting firm will help South San Independent School District prepare three shuttered campuses for reopening in time for the 2019-2020 school year.
School board members met Wednesday night for more than three hours to review presentations about the costs associated with reopening Athens elementary, Kazen middle, and West Campus high schools.
The board voted in January to revive Athens and Kazen as regular schools using existing funds and send this year’s eighth-grade class at Shepard Middle School to a reopened West Campus, with the intent of adding a grade level until the Class of 2023 is realized.
The board has been divided over the timeline and process by which a majority of trustees wants to see the three schools reopened.
Board President Connie Prado, who supports reopening the campuses, said she’s hopeful the board and administrators will finalize budgets and an action plan in time to ready the schools for the next academic year.
But, Prado added, the board needs all the pertinent details: “This will not take just one meeting. I’m sure it’ll take several meetings,” she said.
The board approved the formation of a budget committee, which will be chaired by board Vice President Gilbert Rodriguez, and include Prado, trustee Mandy Martinez, and key district administrators as per Superintendent Alexandro Flores’ direction.
Rodriguez asked that the committee hold an initial meeting Feb. 19 and make that and subsequent sessions open to the public.
The board also directed district staff to begin working with Austin consulting firm Moak, Casey and Associates, which will guide the budget committee.
Prado said having an outside consultant on board will help ensure reopening the campuses will “be done within current [district] revenues.”
Trustee Elda Flores cast dissenting votes on both forming the budget committee and hiring the consultant, expressing concern over a lack of rationale and detailed documentation. She also said Superintendent Flores should have made a formal recommendation on both agenda items and reiterated criticism that the board was infringing on the superintendent’s duties.
“We’re bring in an external person who’s going to work with the budget committee, but it’s the superintendent’s responsibility to do fiscal management,” she said.
Administrators estimate it would take a total of $5.6 million in startup costs (materials, physical campus upgrades, and hiring and allocating employees) to reopen and $8.16 million in recurring annual costs (employee pay and benefits, maintenance, and other operating costs) to run all three schools.
The campuses also need a range of facility improvements, such as roofing, which could run anywhere from $9.6 million and $15.4 million across three schools, district officials said. West Campus, which was closed in 2007 due to flood damage, would take up a bulk of the renovation budget.
Prado, Rodriguez, and other trustees suggested various ways to pare down anticipated costs, such as reallocating furniture and library materials from existing campuses to the reopened schools. Trustees suggested reconsidering the addition of bus routes and acquisition of buses as part of the reopenings and recommended the district reallocate existing personnel to the three schools come 2019-2020.
Athens enrolled 423 students in 2016-2017 before closing, and has a projected student population of 311 in the current academic year, 2018-2019. Students who would be attending Athens now go to Price and Carrillo elementaries.
Kazen enrolled 480 in 2016-2017 before closing, and has a projected student population of 480 in the current academic year. Students who would be attending Kazen now go to Dwight, Shepard, and Zamora middle schools.
The West Campus zone has a projected freshman population of 195. The current enrollment figures, administrators said, are based on existing indexed streets in the respective attendance zones, and are to be used as a baseline for projecting future figures.
None of South San’s schools have been at or are expected to be at capacity in the near future, Prado said, citing district figures and criticizing past boards’ decisions to shutter Athens and Kazen due to declining enrollment.
Prado said now is the time for the board to “correct a wrong” and reopen the three schools in order for South San to compete with area charter and private schools, prevent further declining enrollment, and capitalize on approaching development.
“Those kids are coming,” she said. “We’ve got to keep [the schools] open.”