San Antonio Independent School District’s (SAISD) board of trustees unanimously voted Monday to place a $450 million bond and a 13-cent increase in the district’s Maintenance and Operation (M&O) tax on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.

If passed, the district would direct the bond toward renovating its 13 neediest schools, while splitting new M&O revenues between expanding extracurricular activities and updating classrooms to meet 21st century standards.

Board President Patti Radle (D5) described the increases as the city’s responsibility to its students.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing in the past,” Radle told the trustees directly before the vote. “And to do more and to do it better, it takes dollars… We are ready to be very bold.”

According to the 16-member Blue Ribbon Task Force recommending both rates, if passed, the M&O tax increase would go into effect immediately, adding an estimated $91 to the average homeowner’s annual tax bill. Assuming fixed property values, this would rise to $175 by 2020 as increases in the district’s Interest and Sinking (I&S) tax, which services bonds, are gradually phased in.

According to Superintendent Pedro Martinez, these measures are the district’s only opportunity to tap into additional state funds and “provide students what they need.”

This is because the Tax Ratification Election (TRE) this November, which would raise the M&O tax to the state-allowed maximum of $1.17 per $100 of taxable property value, would not only generate an additional estimated $15.6 million in local tax revenues, but also trigger $16.5 million in state funding.

Approximately one-third of school districts in the state currently tax at the maximum rate, while, according to Martinez, another 100 are putting M&O increases on the ballot this fall.

Martinez says the emphasis on 21st century classrooms and extracurricular programs is based on national and district-specific research.

“It’s purely driven by need,” he explained in an interview.

Not only do many SAISD students lack essential technology at home, but their schools currently fail to provide the basic technological exposure needed to prepare them for the workplace. Moreover, Martinez cited research that shows how students participating in after school programs regularly perform highest, while summer programs, usually only affordable to affluent students, are critical to preventing a dramatic summer backslide in student performance.

To trustee Steve Lecholop (D1), it’s all about putting money in the classrooms.

“This money that we would get from the TRE, which is going to be supplemented by the State, is going to help us take a giant leap forward in the quality of education we’re providing to our students,” Lecholop said. “It’s incredibly important that the community understand that their tax dollars will be going directly into classrooms to be used for teaching our students.”

The M&O increase would provide a continuous revenue stream to be applied to all schools in SAISD, allowing the district to improve “two to three schools every single year, regardless of a bond program,” according to trustee Ed Garza (D7).

The $450 million bond, on the other hand, would emulate the SAISD 2010 Bond, prioritizing schools that haven’t experienced renovations in over 40 years and fail to meet current standards and code requirements. These schools include: G.W. Brackenridge, Burbank, Edison, Jefferson, Lanier, Sam Houston, and Fox Tech high schools; Davis, Irving, Tafolla, and H. Rogers middle schools; and J.T. Brackenridge and Bowden elementary schools.

“The people in the Burbank community can see what has happened at Burbank (High School) and the other particular schools (renovated in the 2010 bond),” Board Vice President Arthur Valdez said. “They’re very excited on this next bond to see that we continue to have our schools upgraded to the 21st century.”

A 12-cent increase on the I&S tax rate over the course of five years – from $0.34 to $0.46 – would pay for the bond.

Estimated tax increases are based on a static average taxable homestead value of $70,023 and do not account for rising property value.

According to a statement released by the district, however, increases in revenues generated through rising property value would not augment the district’s budget, since “any increase in revenue generated by higher property values is offset by a decrease in state funding.”

To task force member Rachel Ponce, who graduated from SAISD and raised her children and grandchildren there, a higher tax rate is the district’s only chance to compete with more affluent communities like Northside Independent School District (NISD).

“Grant you, they have a large tax base,” Ponce told the board of trustees, referring to NISD. “But those people are also willing to invest their money in their kids’ education, and we’ve got to be able to do the same.”

Top image: SAISD Board of Trustees discuss $450 million bond proposal and additional 13-cent tax increase. Photo by Daniel Kleifgen.

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Daniel Kleifgen

Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.