SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez (right) speaks with Patti Radle, SAISD board president.
SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez (right) speaks with Patti Radle, SAISD board president. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

At a tense San Antonio Independent School District board meeting Monday night, members of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel renewed their criticism of a recent board decision to lay off 163 district employees to mitigate an expected budget deficit. As the budgeting process continued, the district’s finance chief proposed a 3-cent property tax rate increase.

About a dozen Alliance members spoke at the meeting, making emotional pleas for the board to reconsider recent layoff decisions, criticizing how firing decisions were made, and threatening to vote the trustees out of office.

Last week, trustees finalized layoffs for 132 teachers and 31 administrators to help close a budget gap of $31 million expected for the 2018-19 school year, a deficit brought on by a sharp decline in student enrollment. SAISD officials report a decline of roughly 1,800 students from the last school year. In Texas, funding is tied to enrollment, which will translate to less funding for the district in the coming year.

Board President Patti Radle started the meeting by acknowledging that the board had made a number of tough decisions, saying that none had been more difficult than the layoffs.

“This is a board that grieves over what had to [have] happened and grieves over this tough decision,” she said. “We are very sorry for the lives that have been affected through the [layoffs]. … But we will continue in the best spirit and the best work that we can because we are determined to put everything for our students first and to just do the best we can.”

Still, Alliance members were dissatisfied. The most visibly strained moment came when Alliance member Terri Byers came to the microphone during the meeting’s citizens-to-be-heard portion. To start her time, Byers asked board members to close their laptops and listen to her. She said some of the teachers who were terminated had been penalized for students who used electronic devices in their classes, so it was only fair that trustees stop using their own devices as she spoke.

Byers stared down trustees Ed Garza, Debra Guerrero, and James Howard, who all had their computers open.

“I’ll wait,” she said.

None of the three closed their computers, however, and Byers did not speak. A bell rang, signaling Byers’ three minutes had expired. The room was largely silent for Byers’ time, except for a few Alliance members shouting, “Respect!” or “Voting is coming!”

Other teachers who spoke Monday night protested not the layoffs themselves but the manner in which they were carried out. One speaker characterized the process as “not fair or even ethical.”

Alliance President Shelley Potter pointed to recent SAISD job listings posted online that she said required a lower standard of qualifications than those of teachers affected by the layoffs.

“This is like pouring salt in the wound, adding insult to injury,” she said.

After hearing from Alliance members and others, the trustees continued to work on the budgeting process. Chief Financial Officer Larry Garza presented a proposed property tax rate increase of 3 cents to keep up with costs related to 2016 bond debt.

If approved by the board, the tax rate would increase from $1.5326 to $1.5626 per $100 of property valuation.

The Bexar County Appraisal District projects the average taxable value of a residence in SAISD will increase from $75,132 to $85,210 from 2017-18 to 2018-19. With a tax rate increase, the average homeowner’s annual property tax bill from SAISD would increase from $1,151.47 to $1,331.49.

Garza said that the increases in residents’ tax bills mostly come from the increase in  home values, not from the proposed tax rate increase. Annually, an increase in home value would raise the average homeowner’s tax bill by $154.46, whereas the tax rate increase would raise it by $25.56.

The board plans to vote on the budget and hold a public hearing on the tax rate on June 18.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.