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‘Skin In The Game’: San Antonio City Council Asks Local Schools How It Can Help Lobby State

From left: superintendents Brian Wood of Northside ISD, Abelardo Saavedra of South San Antonio ISD, Brian Gottardy of Northeast ISD and state representative Diego Bernal during a Feb. 3, 2018 city council committee meeting on school funding.
Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
From left: superintendents Brian Wood of Northside ISD, Abelardo Saavedra of South San Antonio ISD, Brian Gottardy of Northeast ISD and state representative Diego Bernal during Tuesday's city council committee meeting on school funding.

San Antonio City Council and local public schools are looking into ways they can work together to advocate for changes to school funding at the state level.

At an initial planning meeting with the council’s committee on intergovernmental relations Tuesday, committee chair Rey Saldaña said the city wanted to have “skin in the game."

“We have gotten a lot of pressure from our community members about what we’re going to do about property taxes,” Saldaña said. “What we’d like to do as a city is be unified and march to one drum (when lobbying the state Legislature) because it could be very simple to divide and conquer.”

Attorney David Thompson, who has represented school districts in two different funding lawsuits, laid the groundwork for the meeting by explaining the current school funding system in Texas.

Thompson said the current school funding formula prevents local districts from benefiting when property values increase because the state collects local property taxes and only gives a set amount back.

“Property values and taxes from schools indirectly are helping support other areas of the state budget outside of schools, such as healthcare, transportation, et cetera,” Thompson said.

School and city officials agreed taxpayers don’t realize that’s happening.

It’s an area of possible common ground in a system that divides local districts based on property values. Right now, state law gives property-poor districts like Edgewood some of the money the state collects from property-rich districts like Alamo Heights.

More than a dozen area superintendents attended the meeting, including Alamo Heights Superintendent Kevin Brown and Edgewood Superintendent Emilio Castro.

Despite the opposing funding realities, Brown said school leaders are unified.

“We’re really on the same page in terms of, we really feel like we need better funding for our schools, and we feel like that is critical for the future of our city and our state,” Brown said.

San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said both property rich and property poor school districts are interested in getting its message out to taxpayers.

“All of us are still struggling with the fact that our taxpayers don’t understand the complicated formula for school funding, that every time their taxes go up we get a similar reduction right from the state,” Martinez said.

As the superintendent of a district with a high concentration of students living in poverty, Martinez also wants the state to study how much it takes to fully fund education and increase the amount of money that goes to education to reflect that study.

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

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.