South San students victims of state, local politics

August 22, 2018

Successful schools don’t just happen. Community support is a vital component in that success and one on which there can be no compromising.

The community of the beleaguered South San Antonio Independent School District failed its children by voting down a proposed school tax increase. Unfortunately, a sitting member of the district’s board helped persuade it to do that.

The failure of the measure is troubling on many fronts. Its means the school district will have to do some severe belt-tightening, and it will likely result in the trimming of additional programs and staff during the upcoming school year. The district has already done some of that in its new budget in anticipation of a revenue shortfall as student enrollment declines. The district has eliminated 44 positions, including 22 teaching positions, due to shrinking enrollment. The failure to generate new tax revenue will likely result in an additional 30 positions on the chopping block.

The rejection of the tax ratification elections also sends a negative message to those considering applying to be the district’s top administrator.

Superintendent Abe Saavedra has announced his retirement at the end of his current contract. He was already retired when the board, in a last-ditch effort to save the school district from state control in 2014, brought him in after having had four superintendents in two years.

It has not been a smooth ride. A dysfunctional school board with major governance issues prompted the Texas Education Agency to assign a conservator, who stayed until elections resulted in a group of people who could work together better. Connie Prado remains the one member from the board who was in office when Saavedra was hired.

Prado did the district and its students no favor opposing the proposed tax increase. She worked the polls hard during the early voting period. Her husband was a donor to South San Accountability, a political action committee against the tax proposal.

Public school finance in Texas is in desperate need of attention, but state lawmakers have failed to meaningfully act. A Texas Supreme Court ruling a few years ago that found the state’s public education was in need of major overhaul but still constitutional gave state leaders enough leeway to stall further without fear of legal repercussion.

The state’s failure to act has prompted more than half of the state’s 1,000-plus public school districts to seek voter approval through tax ratification elections to make ends meet.

It is disheartening to see the children of South San continuing to do without because of state and local politics.

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