In a tense meeting Wednesday night, a divided South San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees approved a resolution calling for the reopening of three shuttered campuses.
The district closed two of the schools, Kazen Middle School and Athens Elementary, in 2017 because of low enrollment, and closed West Campus High School in 2007 after flooding damaged the campus.
Parents of current students and district alumni attending Wednesday night’s meeting expressed broad support for the proposal, saying the decision to close the schools had been wrong. Some supporters said they believed reopening the schools would cause students who left the district to enroll elsewhere to return to South San.
Trustee Elda Flores, who voted in favor of closing the two schools in 2017, dissented from the board’s majority, expressing concern that approving the resolution would be overstepping the board’s authority and ignoring a request from Superintendent Alexandro Flores for more time to research the resolution before a vote was taken.
She said she wasn’t opposed to repurposing the schools, but needed to give the superintendent time to evaluate the process.
“[This is] clearly a directive from the board to the superintendent to act,” Elda Flores said. “I must act responsibly and give the superintendent the time he needs to assess the situation, conduct his research, and make sound recommendations.”
Trustee Louis Ybarra Jr., who voted in 2017 to close the schools, also expressed concern with the resolution, saying that if the board voted to tell Superintendent Flores when and how to open the schools, they would be doing his job.
Gilbert Rodriguez, one of the four trustees elected to the board in November, spoke emotionally in favor of passing the resolution. He questioned the board’s attorney on how legally binding a resolution would be.
While passing the resolution does not effectively open the schools, it does direct district staff to start researching the process and putting a plan in place, board counsel said. The attorney described the process as binding “in that it is going to spur effort on the part of the staff in an attempt to carry it out.”
Rodriguez responded by describing the 2017 closures as a wrong that needed to be corrected. The new trustee told attendees at the meeting, many of whom applauded the efforts of trustees to reopen the schools, that he communicated his desires to reopen the campuses when he first met with the superintendent at the start of his term on the board.
“The feedback that I was getting [from him] was that there was already a plan in place [to reopen the schools],” Rodriguez said. “We’re at the end of January now, and we’re here, and we have a workshop tomorrow, so it … shouldn’t have taken two years to address the closed campuses. … We need to get it done, is my position.”
Trustees will meet on Thursday night to talk about the superintendent’s recommendation about reopening the schools. Flores has not stated publicly whether he wants to reopen the schools and declined comment after the meeting.
Four trustees including Homer Flores, board president Connie Prado, Shirley Ibarra Peña, and Rodriguez voted in favor of the resolution. Trustees Mandy Martinez and Ibarra voted against, and Elda Flores abstained.