In the midst of a contentious election, where the South San Antonio Independent School District is seeking voter support for a tax rate increase, the 8,600-student school district is busing employees to polling sites.
Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra confirmed to the Rivard Report that South San is using district school buses Tuesday to transport South San employees to polling sites located at the central office administration building and South San High School.
“It is in the best interest of the school district that it increase voter awareness, turnout, spread factual information, create a culture of voting, and encourage all district employees to model responsible citizenship for the benefit of its students,” Saavedra wrote via e-mail. “However, it is important to note that the school district is not advocating a specific vote.”
The district is not advising employees how to vote, but the stakes are clearly high for South San employees. South San ISD faces a $6.4 million budget deficit, and district officials have said without the passage of the tax rate increase, and the infusion of $6.3 million in new revenue, further jobs and programs would have to be cut.
At previous budget workshops, district officials discussed what positions might be at stake with and without the passage of the tax rate increase.
The issue of school districts busing employees to voting locations is complicated in Texas. State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked Attorney General Ken Paxton in December to issue an opinion on a related matter. He asked Paxton to decide whether a school district “providing or securing transportation for employees or students to and/or from polling places” violated the Texas Constitution.
Paxton responded in January with an official, non-binding opinion that said “absent an educational purpose,” a school district could be violating the Texas Constitution by busing employees to a polling site.
“If a school district employee has no responsibility or duty to perform on behalf of the school district at the polling location, a court would likely conclude that a school district’s funding of transportation to the polling location for that individual serves no public purpose of the school district and therefore violates article III, section 52(a) of the Texas Constitution,” Paxton wrote.
Paxton’s opinion also states that the Texas Education Code prohibits a board of trustees from using public funds to work for a particular measure or candidate.
The opinion is not legally binding. However, government officials typically reference attorney general opinions for information on what complies with state law.
The South San tax ratification, which, if approved, would be used to bridge a $6.4 million district deficit, has drawn debate from both those who support the tax rate increase and those who want voters to reject the increase. Each side agrees, however, that turnout likely will be low with the election held off the typical election calendar, and after the recent special election for Senate District 19.