The state is set to install a monitor at the South San Antonio Independent School District.
The state is set to install a monitor at the South San Antonio Independent School District. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

It is imperative that the South San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees proceed with the reopening of Athens Elementary, Kazen Middle School, and West Campus High School.  The schools should not have been closed in the first place.

Besides doing the right thing by correcting an egregious act, there are long-term ramifications for our school district should we fail to reopen these schools.

We must restore the trust and confidence of the communities that were betrayed. If we do not, the likelihood of ever passing a future bond or tax ratification election (TRE) is slim and none. We have aging schools that need to be replaced with new construction. While we have been able to keep our financial footing, it will eventually not be sustainable.

Further, the school business is cyclical in nature. If we do not act now, we will lose an entire academic year. Our reticence will cause more students to leave our school district, a loss we cannot accept or afford.

Our proposal to reopen our schools is being developed with great care and examination. We have remained cognizant of our responsibility in keeping our school district financially solvent. Therefore, the reopening efforts have been formulated around the utilization of a smaller footprint at each of these campuses.

More importantly, I submit that we will be able to reopen our schools without having an adverse impact on our financial status. By utilizing unassigned special funds and excess fund balances in selected funds, our need to use the general fund balance will be limited.

In fact, we fully expect to retain the Texas Education Agency-recommended three-month operating expense in our general fund balance when all is said and done. The board of trustees has taken its financial responsibility very seriously. In order to ensure we are performing our due diligence, we have retained Texas school finance experts Moak Casey & Associates to verify we can undertake this endeavor without financial jeopardy.   

In the case of West Campus High School, there is a unique circumstance for reopening it. First, this community has not supported a bond or the recent TRE since the campus was closed in 2007.

The community was misled by being told that flood damage was the reason for not reopening the campus. The community has never forgotten the outrageous deception forced upon them.

However, a tremendous housing development is currently underway with most of the new housing units to be available for purchase by the end of 2019. Close to 1,000 new housing units are being developed. We have not seen this kind of new housing development in many years, and the promise of additional housing opportunities is very possible.

The community still harbors bitter, hard feelings over the closure of their high school in 2007. If we are not proactive by reopening West Campus High School, it will just be another punitive act inflicted upon this community. We should not be afraid of competition by our neighboring school districts or charter schools. However, we should offer a viable public school choice by reopening West Campus High School. It is time to make this community whole again.

The board of trustees is not opposed to partnering with other institutions of higher learning or similar public partnerships as long as our school district identity is not lost or forfeited. Similarly, we are not opposed to restructuring our schools into specialized campuses, but we must begin by reopening our campuses.

Recently, at a board of trustees meeting, we heard the cries of some of our high school students. Many of them are in need of crisis counseling, mental health counseling, and other related issues. I was deeply moved, as were my colleagues, by their resolve in addressing their needs to the board of trustees. It took guts.

The board of trustees is not tone-deaf, and I will be proposing a plan to provide them with the help they need so desperately. As long as the board finds a suitable site within our school district, we can provide these students with the mental health services they greatly need, and we can restore the campus the Kazen community lost. We can do both!

Finally, the board of trustees can only provide a pathway to the reopening of our schools. We hope that the superintendent and his staff will enthusiastically embrace our efforts and make it happen. We are aware that some of our board colleagues would prefer to wait 18 to 24 months before we take any action. I would submit that our communities cannot afford to wait, and our students deserve the best we can offer them, including reopening their schools.

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Gilbert F. Rodriguez

Gilbert F. Rodriguez is an information technology professional who was elected to the South San Antonio Independent School Board in November 2018, representing District 6.