South San Antonio Independent School District board (from left) trustee Edward Mungia, president Angelina Osteguin, superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, vice president Leticia Guerra, and trustee Connie Prado.
South San Antonio Independent School District board (from left) trustee Edward Mungia, president Angelina Osteguin, superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, vice president Leticia Guerra, and trustee Connie Prado. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

South San Antonio Independent School District trustees on Wednesday night unanimously approved a budget that leaves the district with an estimated $3 million deficit.

The board was expected to tackle a $6.4 million deficit by building on $3 million in previously approved cuts and eliminating an additional $1.7 million in expenses. But trustees avoided layoffs, implemented pay increases, and increased funding for a support program, thus adding to the deficit.

The board approved a hiring freeze for nonessential personnel, eliminated several positions that already had vacancies, and cut an after-school program that is no longer needed.

In September, trustees will likely vote to take the estimated $3 million budget gap from the district’s fund balance, and then work throughout the year to replenish the funds. Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra told reporters after the vote he feels confident the district can make up the deficit through the hiring freeze and revenue brought in by higher-than-expected enrollment totals.

Whereas the district projected it would lose 500 students from last year to this year, South San is seeing about half of the estimated decline. Saavedra said this could bring in additional funds.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, district officials proposed eliminating 15 positions, with some being laid off. Trustees instead rejected layoffs and voted to eliminate only positions that were already vacant.

The board also voted to award all teachers, librarians, nurses, and instructional coaches a 1 percent pay increase and all other staff a one-time 1 percent pay increase. Saavedra estimated this would cost the district about $800,000.

“We know the type of job and the struggles you go through,” trustee Luis Rodriguez said. “While I wish it was more, I’m glad we are able to do at least a little bit.”

Trustees also voted against a recommendation to remove funding for Communities in Schools, an organization that places coordinators inside schools to assist students and connect families with resources. Right before the final budget vote, trustee Edward Mungia proposed funding Communities in Schools at $300,000 for the coming year, and the board approved it.

Trustees entered the budgeting process in March with a gloomy forecast. With rapidly declining enrollment, the district faced a budget shortfall equivalent to about 8 percent of its operations budget from the previous year.

As a potential solution, trustees voted to increase the district’s property tax rate by 13 cents, a move that required voter approval. The district, and the five trustees who supported the tax rate increase, said the tax rate hike would save South San from having to cut jobs and needed programs.

Ultimately, voters defeated the proposed increase last week, leaving the district facing a financial hole to fill.

Saavedra, who announced he would retire once his successor is hired this fall, reiterated after the budget vote that the district should consider a tax rate increase in the future for a long term improved financial outlook.

Neighboring school districts – including San Antonio, Harlandale, Southside, and Edgewood ISDs – have raised their tax rates by 13 cents in recent years, allowing the districts to collect more property tax revenue.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.