A 16-member Blue Ribbon Task Force formally recommended that the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) board place a $450 million bond proposal and a 13-cent increase in the district’s Maintenance and Operation tax on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.
The recommendations came during a well-attended special meeting of the SAISD school board Monday evening. The bond and new tax revenues would go to renovating some of the district’s oldest schools, updating classroom technology and environments to meet 21st century standards, and providing additional academic support through after-school and summer programs.
More than 50 community members, including more than 15 concerned parents and teachers from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA), attended the special meeting.
“We’re recommending that the board look at these two ballot questions, for a bond and a tax ratification election, that would be placed on the ballot for the November General Election,” the task force’s co-chair, Mario Barrera, told Superintendent Pedro Martinez and the board of trustees. “We’re also asking that the board, if it proceeds with this recommendation and approves it, appoint a citizen advisory committee to oversee the bond.”
A school district’s tax rate has two components: the Maintenance and Operations (M&O), which funds daily operations, and Interest and Sinking (I&S), which services debt and funds capital improvements.
The $450 million bond would be limited to brick and mortar renovations of 13 schools, which were last upgraded with funds from a 1968 bond. The facilities do not meet current standards and do not comply with accessibility and code requirements. These schools include: G.W. Brackenridge, Burbank, Edison, Jefferson, Lanier, Sam Houston, and Fox Tech high schools; Davis, Irving, Tafolla, and H. Rogers middle schools; and J.T. Brackenridge and Bowden elementary schools.
The bond would be generated through a 12-cent increase on the I&S tax rate over the course of five years, from $0.34 to $0.46 per $100 of assessed property value.
The 13-cent M&O tax increase, from $1.04 to $1.17, would generate an additional estimated $15.6 million in tax revenue, matched by an estimated $16.5 million in state funds.
According to Martinez, half of this continuous M&O revenue stream would go to providing an average of three schools per year with improved technology and labs, enhanced manipulative resources, and an array of interactive environments.
“I believe that if our children are going to be competitive,” Martinez said, “there is no way that we can make that true unless they have the proper learning environment.”
The other half would go to expanding after-school and summer programs. According to district data presented by the task force, only 18% of SAISD elementary and middle school students participate in after-school programs, while only 10% of all students engage in programs during the summer.
“Our teachers spend so much time reviewing at the beginning of the school year and after Christmas break, because the children are not involved in additional enrichment activities,” Martinez said in an interview. “Students that have been in ROTC, in the fine arts, in sports – those are our top students across the board without exception. So we said, ‘You know that tells us something. If you get kids engaged in our schools, they do better.’”
Other funding targets, such as measures to increase teacher pay and retention, decrease class sizes, or alleviate counselor case loads, would not be included.
The session began with emotion-filled speeches by 10 teachers and parents of YWLA, one of the highest performing schools in SAISD and the only national blue ribbon school in the city. They voiced concerns about inadequate facilities and overburdened teachers.
“The teachers are so talented, so devoted, so exhausted, and so close to a really dangerous level of burnout,” said Shannon Prichard, who commutes an hour from the Northside to bring her daughter to the school. “Our daughters will be the losers if we allow these educators to burn out.”
Following their speeches, the superintendent and several board members promised to address their maintenance concerns and encouraged members of the YWLA community to help communicate the importance of the bond and tax increases to improving underfunded schools.
Data presented by the task force showed that, if the two ballot measures passed, the average homeowner’s monthly tax bill would increase by $7.59 beginning in the 2016-2017 tax year, and rise incrementally over the next five years to $14.59. Senior citizen and disabled homeowners would not be impacted by the increase.
Sixty-three percent of the M&O and I&S tax increases would come from commercial and industrial property, while another 26.3% would be generated by rental property owners. Only 10.4% would be paid by homeowners.
The volunteer 16-member Blue Ribbon Task Force has analyzed SAISD’s capital and operating needs since it was appointed by the board in May 2016. Each district is represented on the task force.
The Board unanimously voted to publish a Notice of Public Meeting for its Aug. 15 session, when trustees will decide whether to send the proposals to voters, which appears to be virtually assured.
“The two initiatives on Nov. 8 are really about transformation,” said Trustee Ed Garza (D7). “If you vote ‘yes’ on both of these you’re voting to transform our school district into a national model.”
Clarification: The $7.59 tax bill increase referred to the average homeowner’s monthly tax bill.
Top image: SAISD Board of Trustees discuss a $450 million bond proposal and a 13-cent tax increase during its Aug. 1, 2016 meeting. Photo by Daniel Kleifgen.