San Antonio Independent School District parents and community members peppered Superintendent Pedro Martinez with questions Wednesday evening at Fox Tech High School, where the third and final public meeting to discuss the district’s new central office plans there took place.
Questions ranged from future growth of SAISD central office staff to potential impacts on traffic in the area. SAISD trustee Steve Lecholop (D1) emphasized the need for a central office to eliminate monetary and operational inefficiencies created by a spread-out district staff.
“When you have an academic department that is living in a building that is not where the superintendent is, you by nature create silos,” Lecholop said. “You can’t go down the hallway to ask the HR person a question about staffing at the school. You create insularity, silos, and get rid of any harmonies that come from working in the same space.”
SAISD has two years to vacate its current central office in Southtown. The district sold the property to the group that redeveloped the Pearl in late February, but is leasing it from the buyers for $100 per year, for 28 months.
The new building at Fox Tech will consolidate 30 departments and offices that are currently located in six different facilities. Kamal ElHabr, SAISD’s associate superintendent of construction services, told the Rivard Report in July the new building would house around 625 SAISD employees.
Martinez said the district’s plan aimed to strike a balance among meeting the needs of the district, being responsible to taxpayers, and conserving green space – a hot topic as the new office will be built on top of Fox Tech High School’s football field. The school does not have a varsity football team.
Martinez said the district would make up for the football field being gone by creating up to two times as much green space as exists now and make it open to the public. He added the district could partner with the City to make the green space a park.
The plan would include four lanes of dedicated drop-off and pick-up for parents to help alleviate traffic in the area, Martinez said, as well as adequate parking for office staff.
Sara Schmidt, whose fourth-grader attends the Advanced Learning Academy, asked if the district had planned for growth in the central office to avoid space shortage down the road. Martinez said no, but that his administrative staff has already shrunk in the past year because of job cuts.
The district would also make ground-floor spaces such as board rooms available for public use, he said.
“Worst case scenario, we have a lot of space on the first floor,” he said. “But we want to free up that space for the community. It’s a central office building, but it’s also a public building.”
Schmidt said she was frustrated by the lack of transparency in the planning process for the new headquarters. She missed the first two community meetings the district organized, and when she called to ask for meeting notes, there were none for her to look at.
“I didn’t know about the previous meetings, which is why I wanted to get something in writing, some notes,” she said. “Nothing was available.”
She also scoffed at the traffic proposal because the district has yet to complete a study analyzing how a new office would affect traffic in the area.
“As a parent, it is ridiculous to think it’s going to reduce traffic on Flores [Street],” she said. “It doesn’t take into account all the directions parents come from.”
Yon Hui Bell, another SAISD parent, said she appreciates the community meetings, but they came too late.
“I think having community participation in the decision-making process is important,” she said. “What kind of participation is there if students and community [aren’t included] while decisions are being made?”