South San ISD Vote To Increase Property Taxes Invalid

Jun 5, 2018

Updated June 7 at 5:35 p.m.

South San Antonio Independent School District officials said Wednesday's trustee vote to increase the property tax rate is invalid. Trustees voted 4-2 to raise the tax rate 13 cents, but state law requires a 60 percent majority. 

“Our attorney thought it was 60 percent of those who are there, but it’s actually 60 percent of the governing body,” district spokesperson Laurie Salazar said.

Trustee Elda Flores was absent for the vote, leaving just 57 percent of the governing body. Flores will have to be present and vote yes in order for the tax increase to pass.

In a statement, Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra apologized and said the vote will be rescheduled soon.

State law requires taxpayer approval before an increase can go into effect. The election was slated for Aug. 14, but it's now unclear when the election will be held or if trustees will approve the measure to bring it to a vote.

Trustee Connie Prado, who voted against the measure, questioned its legality after the vote.

Prado and Leticia Guerra, the two trustees who voted against raising the tax rate from $1.04 to $1.17, said they opposed the increase because schools in the areas they represent were closed last year.

“We closed schools just this last year, and the community was very upset over that, and that’s a community I represent and those parents at that time had said ‘If you close our schools we are not going to support a bond,’ ” Prado said. 

Also during the meeting, Saavedra announced he will be stepping down March of 2019, when his contact ends.

Saavedra said he’s turning 68 the month before his contract ends, and wants to spend more time with family.

Saavedra came out of retirement in 2014 to help stabilize the district. He said now is a good time for a change in leadership because the district is stable.

“Things are going very well, and so this is one of the best times to go recruit for a successor, and someone to pick up where I’ve left off and carry the district to the next level,” Saavedra said.

The state returned South San to complete control of the elected school board in January, following two years under the oversight of an appointed conservator.

Saavedra plans to return to his teaching job at Texas A&M University after he leaves South San in March 2019.

Original post

Board trustees for the South San Antonio Independent School District are slated to vote Wednesday evening on a proposal to raise the property tax rate from $1.04 to $1.17.

District officials have recommended the tax increase to offset a $6.45 million budget deficit.

According to South San Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, the 13 cent increase would give the district an additional $6.4 million a year.

“We are the only school district in this area of San Antonio who has not raised the tax rate to $1.17,” Saavedra said. “Harlandale did this 10 years ago, and they since then have raised probably about 80 million additional dollars.”

State law requires voter approval to raise the property tax rate for operating expenses above $1.04. If South San trustees approve the increase, it will be placed on a ballot for taxpayer approval later this summer.

Edgewood, Southside, Southwest, Somerset and San Antonio ISDs all have the maximum rate of $1.17 per $100 of assessed value.

Declining Enrollment

By next school year, district officials said South San will have about 8,600 students — 1,400 fewer than in 2014. State funding is distributed based on enrollment, leaving the district with less revenue.

Like most area school districts facing enrollment declines, Saavedra said South San is losing students to charter schools. But he also said limited housing options are adding to the problem.

Cuts

Stacey Alderete, a South San parent and former board trustee, speaks at a community meeting on the district's budget May 29, 2018.
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

To help offset costs, the district is cutting staff by 14 percent, including 19 teacher positions and six police officer positions. But Saavedra said that will only save about $2.9 million, and won’t be enough to balance  the budget.

“If we were to keep cutting until we reduced a complete $6.4 million … then we would actually have to start cutting programs that have a severe impact on kids — Communities in Schools is a good example. (And) after school programs,” Saavedra said.

The idea of cutting police after the recent school shooting in Santa Fe concerned community members at a budget meeting last Tuesday.

Stacey Alderete, a South San parent and former board trustee, said she thought bringing up police cuts was a “scare tactic.”

“I don’t think that all avenues were looked at,” Alderete said. “There’s other ways to do this.”

Saavedra said the six police positions being eliminated were for after-hour campus surveillance, and the number of officers providing security during school hours won’t change.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille