SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Superintendent Pedro Martinez delivered a dim outlook for the San Antonio Independent School District’s finances in 2018-19 at Monday night’s board meeting. He introduced the budget process by alerting trustees that they may be dealing with a $31 million revenue shortfall due to a sharp decline in enrollment over the last two years.

SAISD Chief Financial Officer Larry Garza said in that period of time, the district has lost approximately 3,000 students, which has resulted in a projected decrease in state funding. Garza said that he anticipates the state’s funding share of SAISD’s budget to decrease from 56 percent, as anticipated at the beginning of the 2017-18 year, to 50 percent in 2018-19.

SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said that in the coming months, the district will take steps so that it will not have to start the year with a budget deficit.

From 2016-17, to projected numbers for 2018-19, SAISD estimates its enrollment will decline from 52,486 to 49,908, which represents a decrease of almost 5 percent. And while SAISD projects that enrollment will sit just under 50,000, the district is anticipating the average daily attendance will be 43,890. State funding rests heavily on this figure.

This enrollment drop correlates to a decline in state funding, Martinez said. The district adopted a 2017-18 budget with the state contributing $270 million, or about 56 percent of all revenue to SAISD’s general fund.

Looking forward to 2018-19, the district said the state will likely contribute $225.8 million, or 50 percent, to the general fund’s revenue. This difference represents $44.2 million less in funding, although when taken with increased income from local property tax dollars, the total revenue loss comes out to $31 million.

Trustees discussed priorities to direct the budget making process, which continues through June. One includes “right-sizing” central administration, school administration, and positions at campuses to align with enrollment, according to the finance department.

Martinez said he would like to minimize the impact of the budget shortfall on students, families, and teachers.

Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Toni Thompson said the district normally hires roughly 500 teachers prior to a new school year, and some reduction in staff will come through attrition. At this point in the school year, Thompson said only 50 teachers have indicated they will leave the district following the 2017-18 year, although many teachers announce their departures in June or July.

Martinez emphasized that SAISD is not the only school district dealing with declining enrollment. He called it a county-wide problem.

North East ISD Superintendent Brian Gottardy has been vocal about the impact of charter schools in causing declines in NEISD’s enrollment.

At a February board meeting, NEISD officials said the district had lost more than 2,000 students in 2016-17 to the “big four” charter schools: BASIS Texas, Great Hearts Texas, IDEA Public Schools, and KIPP San Antonio.

Martinez said that the growth of charter schools is not the only reason SAISD’s enrollment is declining. He also suggested that growth north of San Antonio along Interstate 35 and recent immigration legislation could be contributing factors.

Even though 90 percent of SAISD’s students are born in the United States, it doesn’t mean all their parents are U.S. citizens, he said, adding that he has heard of students living with relatives because of action immigration officials have taken against their parents. Either way, the enrollment trend is certainly “across the entire county.”

“There is a pattern here going on,” he said. “My hope is that we go back to some normal growth in the county, but this year it doesn’t appear like the county had that type of growth.”

Other guiding principles suggested by SAISD’s finance department included minimizing the impact on academic and extracurricular programs and streamlining the district’s operations outside of the classroom.

Trustee Debra Guerrero said the lessened funding is just the “reality of what it is” and the district has to adapt to continue educating students. She suggested working with the San Antonio Housing Authority to find students not attending school on a daily basis. If SAISD can raise its average daily attendance and reduce truancy or absenteeism, enrollment declines won’t hurt the district as much.

James Howard
James Howard

Trustee James Howard brought up a topic that is not often broached in regular meetings: district consolidation. He said that at a certain point, SAISD would have to engage in a long-term conversation about joining with other districts serving lower-income students that also are seeing enrollment declines. He specifically mentioned South San Antonio, Edgewood, and Harlandale ISDs.

“Sooner or later we are going to have start talking consolidation of school districts,” he said. “We are all in the same boat.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.