After two hours of debate, board members of the South San Antonio Independent School District rejected joining the city’s Pre-K 4 SA program.
South San ISD approved last year’s memorandum of understanding with the city on Pre-K 4 SA but declined to do so this year under the direction of newly hired Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra. The board voted 6-1, with Rose Marie Martinez the lone dissenting vote.
Saavedra said he had several issues with wording in the memo but the decision came down to numbers. South San had 37 spots made available to them the first year under the program, but only 13 were filled by parents wanting to use it.
“There doesn’t seem to be as big of a demand from this community for this program as there has been in other districts," Saavedra said. "The new MOU that we rejected provided 71 slots. If we couldn’t fill the 37 slots I doubt that we were going to fill the 71.”
Saavedra said all of the district's four year olds, over 560, will be able to be served with no waitlist and that extended day pre-K with before and after school care is, and will be, offered by the district.
District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña, however, said he believes the rejection and a delay in placing the free program on the agenda so it could be discussed was politically motivated in retaliation. Last December Saldaña asked the Texas Education Agency to investigate South San ISD following a list of in-house problems, which included a revolving door of superintendents.
“You don’t put kids' educational futures at stake because you need to make political point and that’s what I think happened today,” Saldaña said.
Saldana said the goal of Pre-K4SA is to be a supplemental program.
“And so it can't be the case that South San would reject any type of help from the outside if it’s not from their own terms," Saldaña said. "We want to provide high-quality education to our four year olds and that doesn’t need to be halted and be held hostage by a few adults.”
He added that the low enrollment numbers were likely due to it being the first year of the program and that more families in South San had signed up for the next school year.
“They essentially, at the end of the day, stripped these families of a choice to make a decision on where to send their student,” Saldaña said.
Saavedra and South San Board President Helen Madla said they completely disagree with Saldaña’s statements and claims.
“As an elected an official I guess I’m disappointed that he would try to bully the board into making a decision that in the opinion is not best for our district,” Saavedra said.
“It’s not about Mr. Saldaña, there again it’s about the school children," Madla said. "He needs to get over that it’s not about him, it’s about 561 pre-K students.”
The 71 slots that were available to South San will now be redistributed to the other participating districts. With the rejection, any South San parents who still want to participate in Pre-K 4 SA will have to do so with tuition.