Despite declining enrollment and rising revenues, a San Antonio school district is seeking to float $450 million in additional debt and a maximum property tax increase.
“This is just the beginning,” said Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District.
The bond issue – the third since 2001 – comes on top of $765,579,988 in unpaid principal from SAISD’s earlier debt offerings. District officials could not estimate the total cost of the 2017 bond, saying interest charges and other expenses “would be determined at the time of the sale of the bonds.”
The district’s property tax rate for maintenance and operations would rise from $1.04 to the state-allowed maximum of $1.17. Over five years, the annual tax bill on a median-valued homesteaded household would rise 7.9 percent to $1,143.20.
SAISD would receive $16 million from the state to match the $16 million raised by the tax hike.
If approved by the School Board on Aug. 15 — and the votes appear to be there — the bond and tax proposals will go on the Nov. 8 ballot.
“If our employees know about this, we can pass it easily,” said School Board member Olga Hernandez.
Martinez said his downtown district suffers from a “high poverty rate.” Yet SAISD hasn’t felt the pinch.
Since its last bond package six years ago, the district’s annual property tax revenues grew $25,483,907, a 16.7 percent increase, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Over the same period, SAISD enrollment shrank 2.5 percent, to 53,701 students.
Not counting the yet-to-be-determined interest charges, the cost of the proposed bond works out to $8,380 per student.
Martinez, entering his second year as superintendent, said he was shocked by the lengthy list of deferred maintenance around the district. He pledged bond and tax money to catch up.
But parents from SAISD’s top-performing school, the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, complained this month that the district’s priority list neglects their campus even as its waiting list for admission lengthens.
While the bond issue and tax hike are designed to equip “21st century classrooms” and expand extracurricular programs across the district, SAISD received an academic “intervention” notice from the Texas Education Agency.
In a March 8 letter, TEA stated that the district “needs assistance or intervention regarding the performance of their special education students.”
According to the state order, “The district is required to correct any noncompliance items as soon as possible, but in no case may the correction take longer than one calendar year from the date of notification of noncompliance. Failure to correct noncompliance within required timelines will result in elevated interventions or sanctions.”
Like other Texas school districts, fewer than half of SAISD employees are teachers. In the 2014-15 school year, 3,288 of 7,382 full-time equivalent staffers were classroom instructors.
Tax hikes or not, the self-professed “poor” inner-city district found enough money to issue across-the-board pay raises and boost its minimum wage from $10 to $12 an hour this fall. Employees who already earn $12 will receive an additional dollar per hour.
“Our hope is that [this] will push other school districts” to follow suit, Shelley Potter, president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, told Current magazine.
Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward.