The South San ISD board of trustees. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In a split vote, South San Antonio Independent School District trustees passed an $82.6 million budget Wednesday night, which Chief Financial Officer Bettinae Kaiser said was not only balanced, but also featured $20.8 million in the fund balance, an account that acts like the district’s savings account.

Wednesday night’s vote came after fears that the $6 million appropriated or spent to reopen Athens Elementary, Kazen Middle, and West Campus High School would hurt the district’s bottom line.

However, there’s some question about where money will be saved to achieve this balanced budget. The board opted not to use Kaiser’s suggested cuts and instead, a majority voted in favor of suggestions made by Board President Connie Prado, which included reducing almost all budget areas by 12 percent and eliminating five administrative positions. Trustees Gilbert Rodriguez, Homer Flores, and Shirley Ibarra Pena all supported the board president.

The budget includes $2.9 million in pay increases for district employees and additional stipends for employees. To fund the stipends, the district plans to transfer $100,800 from a Workman’s Comp fund, which Superintendent Alexandro Flores said would be well funded even with the transfer.

Still, the controversial reopening of three campuses continued to be a point of tension and debate among trustees in the board majority and minority. 

Trustee Louis Ybarra was outspoken about the way in which the board reopened the schools and the expedited timeline in which the schools were made ready to open. He also questioned how the district benefitted from the campuses reopenings.

“We gained nothing by opening those schools as far as enrollment,” Ybarra said. “All we did was divide up the kids that we had into more campuses.”

As of Wednesday, Athens had enrolled 202 students, Kazen had 183, and West Campus had 56 students.

Overall, South San ended last school year with 8,630 students. Three days into the school year, 8,278 showed up for class. The district expects enrollment to grow as the year moves toward Labor Day and other school districts start.

South San High School Principal Lee Hernandez, who also oversees West Campus, told the board that West Campus started out with a potential class of 193 students, all eighth graders from Shepard Middle School. About 60 opted to participate in programs only available at the South San High School Campus.

South San is an open enrollment district, which means students can enroll in any campus they choose. Hernandez said 74 families that were zoned for West Campus requested their student attend South San High School.

Trustee Rodriguez said he wanted to see more done to increase enrollment at the three new campuses and throughout the rest of the district.

He also expressed frustration about the continued hand-wringing regarding the reopening of the three campuses, saying it was the duty of those in the board minority to support the decision the board majority made and move on.

“Four hands go up, it has got to get done,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s about time you get over it, get on board with being and conducting yourself with this initiative to open our campuses in a positive way.”

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.