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Education

South San Staff Set Preliminary $14 Million Price Tag To Reopen Schools

The board of South San ISD is developing plans to open Athens Elementary, which closed in 2017.
Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
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The board of South San ISD is developing plans to open Athens Elementary, which closed in 2017.

Administrators at the South San Antonio Independent School District estimate that it will cost nearly $14 million dollars to reopen Athens Elementary, Kazen Middle School and West Campus High School next fall. But the majority on the board is skeptical that it will cost that much.

During a three-hour meeting Wednesday sprinkled with rebukes from Board President Connie Prado, Vice President Gilbert Rodriguez and trustee Homer Flores, district staff presented a breakdown of costs to reopen the schools.

They estimated total one-time start-up costs of $5.6 million for items like HVACs, roof repairs, furniture and library books, with recurring expenses of $8.2 million for staff and transportation. Administrators also identified another $10 million to $15 million in future needs to renovate the high school and maintain the buildings.

Prado, Rodriguez and Flores pushed back against those estimates, questioning the need for some of the purchases, hires and repairs.

“I don’t understand. Would you not move [the students] with their teacher to Athens, and therefore you don’t have to hire another — three more [fifth grade] teachers? You use your existing staff.” said Prado.

Staff members said the furniture and books had been distributed to other schools and may be difficult to return. They also said some teachers may be able to move schools with the students, but more staff will still be needed.

Some teachers will have to stay at the existing schools to teach the students that remain. For instance, if Price Elementary has one fifth grade teacher with 22 students, Price will still need that teacher even if 10 of those students are transferred to Athens.

Vice President Gilbert Rodriguez told Superintendent Alexandro Flores he was disappointed in the staff presentation and had come up with his own — considerably cheaper — cost estimate.

“Would you be surprised, Dr. Flores, if I said that in my own initiative, my own due diligence and research — and a calculator — that the make-ready cost -- there’s a difference of $20 million,” said Rodriguez.

“Sir, if I may interject … the amount of time and effort that has been put by just about every department that has been working on this plan is running on a couple of hundred hours,” said the superintendent. “All of these discussions can’t just be solidified and nailed down in a couple of weeks.”

The board voted 4-3 to form a budget committee to look at the expense of reopening the schools.

Trustee Elda Flores took issue with forming the committee, arguing that it was the superintendent’s job to set the budget.

“I feel that we’re dangerously infringing on the superintendent’s role,” she said.

The board also voted 4-3 to bring both the trustees’ and the staff’s cost estimates to the committee for further discussion.

Rodriguez initially proposed setting the first committee meeting for February 19, but Superintendent Flores requested time to consult his staff’s calendars to make sure they will be available.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille.