South San Antonio Independent School District trustees will again consider a proposal to close three schools, less than three months after voting down a similar measure. The agenda for the March 22 meeting includes separate items for permanently closing Kazen Middle School, Kindred Elementary School and Athens Elementary School.

The proposal comes after low attendance and declining enrollment resulted in a $12 million budget deficit for the district, with those trends projected to continue.

The agenda does not mention West Campus High School, which trustees voted in January to keep open, along with the three other schools.

The high school had been closed before, in 2007, because of flood damage. In 2017, Athens and Kazen were shut because of declines in enrollment. All three were reopened in a controversial 2019 vote by trustees, leading to an investigation by the Texas Education Agency. Kindred also has low enrollment, according to district officials.

The schools were reopened against the recommendation of the superintendent at the time, and enrollment already was trending down.

After trustees voted down the school closure plan in January, the district and board held a series of community meetings at which district personnel shared the grim financial picture of the district.

Across the district, only 56% of classrooms are full, with some schools like Kazen Middle at less than 30% enrollment.

The district has shored up its finances in recent years with the help of federal funding designed to help school systems recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but with that funding running out, the district will have to dip into its general fund, similar to a savings account, to cover operating expenses that are outpacing revenue the district is receiving.

The general fund will be depleted to $18 million at the end of the 2023-24 school year, according to Tony Kingman, the district’s chief financial officer.

“If we do that for one more year, the district would be at roughly $6 million,” he said at the community meeting on March 6. “At that time we would have a difficult time making payroll.”

Failure to take action could result in the district’s Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) rating, which consists of a letter grade based on the quality of the school system’s financial management practices, being downgraded.

While there are no state requirements for the amount of money a district must have on hand, TEA officials told the San Antonio Report that drops in any district’s fund balance below 75 days of operational expenditures could impact its FIRST rating.

South San Antonio ISD has had an A rating for 2021-22, the most recent year ratings were given.

The rating is one metric used in deciding a district’s accreditation. Other consequences for unsatisfactory financial indicators include increased governance oversight.

The district is already being monitored by the TEA following a previous investigation into governance issues in the district. The district has become the subject of a new investigation by the agency in recent weeks, according to a TEA spokesperson. No other details were provided.

The district will discuss the TEA investigations in closed session, according to the agenda.

The proposal to close the schools has divided the community, with many board members calling for other options to be presented by district staff. Many community members said the schools are an essential part of the community and that their closure would have a negative impact on the students, families, and the community as a whole.

The board will also discuss financial reports and proposed raises for school bus drivers at the meeting.