FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 11, 2019
O: (512) 463-0119
O: (512) 463-0126
AUSTIN – Sen. Peter P. Flores (SD-19) and Sen. José Menéndez (SD-26) sent individual, identical letters to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath regarding South San Antonio ISD. The letter outlines the recent history of issues in SSAISD and ask Commissioner Morath to appoint a conservator to oversee the district. The two Senators represent 100% of the school district.
Both signed letters are attached with the full text below.
Sen. Flores said:
"The Texas Education Code grants the TEA Commissioner the authority to appoint a conservator to oversee the operations of a district. That's all we're asking for: an individual to check out the day-to-day operations and finances of SSAISD and report back. If the TEA identifies room for improvement, those steps should be taken immediately to help turn this district around.
"My request to the Commissioner is a response from the requests of our communities. Whatever serves Texas kids best is whatever schools, districts, teachers, and administrators should be doing. Ignoring this issue is to ignore the children of South San Antonio."
Sen. Menéndez said:
“It is our duty to protect and advocate for the children of South San ISD and ensure their schools are operating at full capacity. The quality of education is paramount and our Texas kids, parents and communities need and deserve to not risk their education on a questionable proposal. They rely on us for one thing, and that is to make fiscally responsible decisions on behalf of the education of our children. I have spoken to educators a board member and parents within South San that are concerned that opening schools will take limited resources from current campuses. This is why we need an objective conservator to step in now in order to make sure our district is making sound decisions without jeopardizing the future of our children.”
Full text of letter:
April 9, 2019
Commissioner of Education Mike Morath
1701 N. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas, 78701
Dear Commissioner Morath:
We are writing to you as concerned members of the Texas Legislature to ask that you use your powers granted under the Texas Education Code to place a conservator in South San Antonio Independent School District to address the ongoing financial and governance turmoil that continues there on a daily basis.
As a former member of the Board of Trustees of a major public school district, we know that you understand the proper role of the Board of Trustees and the proper role of the Superintendent, and we know that you understand the necessity to refrain from actions that jeopardize the fiscal well-being of the district in the service of winning local elections or simply calling attention to oneself.
Certain South San Antonio Independent School District Trustees have voted to reopen three previously shuttered campuses, one of which was a high school that was remodeled through a bond that taxpayers are still paying for and currently serves as the central administration building. These campuses were closed by previous Superintendents because the district could not justify keeping them open as it continues to suffer from declining student enrollment. By solely focusing on the reopening of these campuses, these four members additionally rejected to hear a proposal from the City of San Antonio to transform the recently shuttered middle school into a badly needed community center for the students. As the press has documented, tears flowed at a recent Board meeting as more than 20 students and parents spoke to the board, overwhelmingly against the proposal to reopen the schools. This is a perfect example of how the community has not been effectively engaged in discussions regarding the reopening of these campuses.
We are concerned that reopening any closed campuses will deplete needed resources from an already thinly stretched district. South San ISD is projected to lose another 300 students in the upcoming 2019-20 school year. In spite of these losses, the Board
President and a faction of the Board have proposed a course of action that will cost the district over $6 million by their own estimates to re-establish the three campuses under an unreasonable timeline to reopen by the start of the 2019-20 school year. All without any consideration for the future long-term operational costs incurred under currently declining student enrollment.
We agree that Superintendent Flores is rightly concerned about this plan. “When you start expanding your operational cost without any additional revenues, by logic you start diluting the quality of the resources that you can allocate to the campuses you currently have open,” Flores said. “So my concern is rooted in the long-term financial and operational impact on the overall quality of services we provide our community.” The situation is all the more appalling because the district currently has five campuses that did not meet state standards in addition to another four that were considered “D” rated campuses this past year. As evidenced through publically available recorded board meetings, the new Board majority is not collaborating with Superintendent Flores in terms of addressing the reopening of these campuses and other governance related matters.
Substituting blind faith for hard data from its own staff, a four-trustee faction of the South San board started this campaign to reopen the schools in January, saying in effect “if we build it, they will come” – that reopening mere empty buildings would draw students back to South San. The district continues to face declining enrollment and this amounts to a publicity stunt with no real chance of success.
It is this kind of historical mismanagement of financial resources and micromanagement of administration by the Board that caused the Agency to install a Conservator in the past. Today, the new majority is displaying the same kind of previous behaviors, once again led by its long time Board Member who is the current Board President. It is our belief that the behavior of the new board majority surely contributes to declining student enrollment in the first place. These students are not leaving the San Antonio area. They are choosing to leave South San and enter either another public school district or, increasingly, a public charter school.
South San Antonio ISD was on the path of redemption with the assistance of the Lone Star Governance model, TEA Conservator, and district leadership. We fear that if the new Board is left to its own devices, it will undo all the solid foundational work that was exerted to transform the district for the better. It is for all these reasons, we ask that you intervene by appointing a conservator to the district immediately yet again before any further irreparable harm is done to the students and the community of the South San Antonio Independent School District.