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Property Owners Learn Impact Of SAISD Ballot Measures

Property owners in the San Antonio Independent School District have been attending community meetings, learning how two issues on the November ballot would affect educational opportunities and their property taxes. 

A proposed 13 cent increase in the school property tax rate would raise money for classroom technology and instruction. A $450 million bond would help renovate aging buildings. 

At a community meeting at Jefferson High School, about 40 people sit in a large room next to the cafeteria. Superintendent Pedro Martinez takes the floor. He says he’s shocked when he drives to other school districts and sees the resources those students have compared to his students. He says the bond money would repair air conditioning, plumbing and security at 13 schools, most of which haven’t been renovated for more than 40 years.  Then Martinez begins to explain the tax rate increase, referred to as the TRE.

"So the TRE, ladies and gentleman, is the one avenue we have as a district to be able to add revenue specifically for operations, for day-to-day operations," Martinez says.

Increasing the tax rate has become a necessity because the state hasn’t provided enough school funding, he says.  SAISD, along with most other Texas districts, has repeatedly sued the state over inadequate school funding. But earlier this year the Texas Supreme Court said the state’s funding practices are constitutional.

Martinez says the district is now turning to local residents for help. "And so, the way it works in our state is that if we’re willing to tax ourselves 13 cents, it would produce $15.6 million from our community, from our tax payers, and it is matched dollar for dollar by the state. So the total becomes $32 million," he says.

The tax rate increase would add technology in classrooms and pay teachers who help with afterschool and summer programs where students get additional academic help.

Molly Romo

At the meeting, all heads turn when Molly Romo, a junior at Jefferson High, stands up and begins to speak to Martinez. She says she’s on the twirling team and that the group’s accommodations are inadequate.

"You know, it’s like, the ceiling for the dance room was supposed to be higher, but it wasn’t. And the twirlers—we’re a small group, but we’re the biggest in Texas and we would like to have recognition of that, and our room is a closet. It’s not an actual room," Romo says.

School district resident Christine Drennon says it’s because of students like Molly that she’s going to vote for the bond and tax rate increase.

"You know, I don’t have kids in the schools anymore. I used to. My kids were in SAISD schools. I support it fully. They’re all of our kids. And every single one of them is as wonderful as that young woman that just got up and spoke so eloquently. And they deserve this—they’ve been denied this— for generations they’ve been denied it. We’ve kind of drained the inner city of money for ages," Drennan says.

But Katherine Bravo, a library assistant at Fenwick Elementary School, has mixed feelings about the bond and tax measures.

"I want to vote for it. I think the superintendent has a great vision," she says. Bravo says, however, she’s going to vote no on both issues because she believes renovations funded through the 2010 bond measure were mishandled.

"The cafeteria was remodeled to be a library.  What happened was it came in late, and when we moved in there, there was no air conditioning.  It was built with a counter that you might see at the downtown library which is not appropriate for elementary school kids, so it could not be used. Because of that we had no Internet; we had no telephone," Bravo says.

As the owner of a home with a taxable value of around $258,000, Bravo would see her school property taxed go up about $336 this year, if both measures pass, and about $645 in five years. She says that increase wouldn’t keep her from supporting the measures if she were convinced the money would be properly used.

And Nancy Andry says she doesn’t mind paying more. She has grandchildren who will attend these schools.

"It’s good for the children. They need to be in a good environment and have the air conditioning working, and the desks are probably ancient," Andry says.

But Realtor Carrie Morgan with Phyllis Browning Company says the tax increases may be a burden on other property owners.

"It’s possible for some people the combination of increased taxes plus increased home value may result in people deciding to sell because their ultimate tax number may be higher than they're able to afford on an annual basis," Morgan says.

Superintendent Martinez tries to reassure the residents the district has scaled back renovation plans so improvements can be done right. He says if voters can be convinced of the deep, educational needs, 14,000 students – many low income - will get the additional academic help they need.