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San Antonio ISD Makes The Case For Unprecedented Bond

The San Antonio Independent School District is gearing up to ask voters to approve one of the largest bonds in district history. The bond, slated for the November ballot, could be as high as $1.25 billion.

During his annual state of the district speech Wednesday, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said SAISD’s academics were improving rapidly, and it was time to improve the district’s classrooms, too.

SAISD has identified $2.5 billion worth of needed renovations at the district’s 90 buildings.

“When you walk into our buildings…they show their age. They show their need,” Martinez told the business and community leaders gathered for the presentation.

“I want the classrooms to match the academics. I'm seeing the instruction. I'm seeing the results. I'm seeing the aspirations being built. It doesn't match up to the buildings.”

He said the growth in economic development downtown has given the district the “unique opportunity” to ask for an unprecedented $1.25 billion dollar bond without an increase in the tax rate.

It’s a familiar advantage for districts in north San Antonio. In 2018, Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods said his districts hadn’t raised the tax rate in seven years, even though they were paying off multiple bonds worth over a billion dollars.

“Five years ago, I was complaining, like, 'Where are the cranes? Where are the cranes? I don't see the cranes.’ I go to Northside (ISD), I see cranes, I go to North East (ISD), I see cranes,” Martinez said to laughter from the audience. “Now I see the cranes (in SAISD).

“That development, whether it's apartment buildings, office buildings, new housing that's coming up, that development is what's going to find this future growth. It's going to fund these future bonds,” Martinez said, promising that the 2020 bond won’t increase the tax rate.

Martinez also promised that the bond would touch every school in the district, and that all of the outdated HVAC systems would be replaced, eliminating SAISD’s perennial problems with faulty air conditioning.

During a Q&A with Martinez, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Richard Perez pointed to the district’s ability to support such a large bond without a rate increase as evidence San Antonio was on the right track.

“The investments that we're making in our neighborhoods, in our businesses, is paying off and it's really showing the opportunity for us to grow,” Perez said.

According to SAISD spokesperson Leslie Price, the district’s largest bond to date was $515 million in 2010.

 The school board is slated to vote on the specifics of the 2020 bond this summer.

Five Year Goals

As evidence of the district’s improved academics, Martinez said SAISD had moved from the equivalent of an F in 2016 to a B rating in 2019 under the state’s academic accountability measure.

“Our goal was to be a B district by the end of 2020. We got there a year ahead of time,” Martinez said. “The main headline is we want to be an A district by 2025. And we see we see the possibility.”

He said that the district had cut the number of children attending low-performing schools from 35,089 in 2016 to 7,126 in 2019, and increased the number of A and B schools from 8% to 27% over the past three years.

“We're very proud that we tripled the number of A and B schools, (but it’s) not enough,” Martinez said. “We want 70% of our schools to be A's and B's by 2025.”

Martinez first laid out the district’s 2025 goals last week at Sam Houston High School.  He plans to present the state of the district at SAISD’s other high schools over the next few weeks.

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