A May vote on whether to continue funding the citywide Pre-K 4 SA program could be postponed because of the spread of coronavirus.
The board that governs the early childhood education entity on Thursday recommended that City Council move the election slated for May 2 to Election Day, Nov. 3.
In mid-February, City Council called on voters to decide in May whether to reauthorize the one-eighth cent city sales tax that supports the bulk of Pre-K 4 SA’s budget. At the time, Pre-K 4 SA’s board supported the decision saying it would give them more time to plan for the future. Without voter approval, the entity’s funding will expire in June 2021.
The initial eight years of funding Pre-K 4 SA was approved by voters in 2012. Voters will decide this year whether to approve an additional eight years of funding for the program.
On March 18, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that local elections on May 2 could be pushed until Nov. 3 in light of coronavirus. San Antonio voters were scheduled to vote on a number of education issues on the May ballot: school board races for North East ISD, Southwest ISD, and Alamo Colleges District; a bond for Southside ISD; along with funding reauthorization for Pre-K 4 SA.
“All of the advantages we have of holding it in May or staying in May seem to be gone,” board member Richard Middleton said on Thursday in a board meeting conducted via conference call.
Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray told her entity’s board that she recommended the election’s delay. Voting unanimously, the board agreed.
“The same concerns that we had in being listed on the November ballot remain the same,” Board Chair Elaine Mendoza said. “However, who would have predicted what our country, what our state, what our city would be going through at this point in time.
“With the concern of the health and wellbeing of our citizens top of mind, with the concern of our staff and our parents and our students top of mind, it seems like we need to be proactive.”
In February, city officials asked Pre-K 4 SA to reserve roughly $900,000 from the entity’s fund balance to pay for the May election. The Pre-K 4 SA board voted Thursday to allocate those funds for the November election, which could cost less but is unlikely to cost more than the May election would have, Baray said.
Board member Brandon Logan asked if the Pre-K 4 SA funding question could be put before voters in July, but representatives from the city attorney’s office informed the board that Abbott’s proclamation only allowed for the May election to be pushed to November.
Last week, Abbott signed an order pushing the primary election runoffs, initially scheduled for May 26, to July 14 with early voting beginning July 6.
City manager Erik Walsh said Council will likely discuss the matter next week.
“The Council, I think, will remove it from the May ballot and we’ll have to take that issue up in the summer to determine how to place it back up on the November ballot,” Walsh said.
“The preference was to take it to the voters in May so that there’s certainty. Well, there’s a little bit of uncertainty right now, so everybody’s going to have to pivot. November … still gives us time.”
Last week, Bexar County Election Administrator Jacque Callanen told the Rivard Report that she had no authority to change the election date – the decision rests with individual school districts. She advised against some but not all entities moving their elections.
“It would be very difficult if we had a split decision. I think that would confuse some of the voters,” Callanen said.
As of Thursday afternoon, officials with Southside ISD, North East ISD, and Southwest ISD had not come to a decision about the election.
“For us, when it comes to a trustee election, education code states that we must participate in joint-elections with municipalities and community college districts,” North East ISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said via text. “Therefore, we are waiting for other entities to make decisions before we can decide whether to postpone or not.”
Chancellor said North East ISD was monitoring the decisions of the city of Castle Hills and Alamo Colleges.
An Alamo Colleges spokeswoman said there would be a special meeting to vote on moving the election. The meeting has no scheduled date yet, she said.
Changing an election requires official board action, according to guidance from the Texas Secretary of State. Should an election be delayed, the people currently serving in the positions with delayed elections would continue to hold public office until new officers are sworn in.