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$450 Million Bond Could Pay To Renovate 13 Schools; Upgrade Technology

In November, voters in the San Antonio Independent School District will decide on two measures that would raise money to renovate aging schools; provide technology in classrooms; and offer after school and summer programs.  Property taxes would go up some. 

Proponents believe it’s money worth spending, while opponents say the price tag is too high.


Credit Louisa Jonas / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Tafolla Middle School Principal Jeff Price

Jeff Price, the principal at Tafolla Middle School, says the students and teachers have two choices during hot weather. They can be comfortable or they can hear. That’s because the air conditioners are old and loud. You run them, it’s hard to hear. You turn them off, you’re too warm.

"So the learning environment would be vastly improved without the constant buzz of the ACs—when they’re working. Let’s also throw out there that the ACs go down. So you’ve got these inconsistent classrooms for kids where we are striving to be as consistent as possible," Price says.

Heating and air conditioning problems are part of what a $450 million bond would fix. That money would primarily be used to renovate 13 schools, most of which are 40 years old. Price points to an example of the problem -- the stage floor in the auditorium at Tafolla. It’s warped from water damage leaking from the ceiling.

"So, I ride bikes. So, we’re not on a flat floor. So, using my bike metaphor, this is like, maybe riding on Boerne Stage Road where we’re coming from a wall you come up to a slight rise, you come over the hill, you come down into a bit of a valley," he says.

Credit Louisa Jonas / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Water damaged floors at Tafolla Middle School.

A separate measure on the ballot calls for increasing the district’s maintenance and operating tax rate from $1.04 to $1.17, which is the maximum allowed by state law.

Price says money from the increased tax rate would pay for afterschool and summer school teachers. SAISD officials say an additional 14,000 students who need additional academic help would be served. The increased taxes also would pay for classroom technology.  On Price’s wish list - interactive white boards similar to giant iPads.

"The kids come up and configure numbers and figures. You can have videos streaming.  Teachers can search the web and put up an example. Kids can broadcast their work from an iPad that they’re using," Price says.

If voters approve both measures, SAISD home owners with properties valued at $200,000, would see their annual tax bill go up about $260 this year, and about $500 in four years.

Realtor Carrie Morgan with Phyllis Browning Co., says the tax increases may affect real estate in SAISD.

"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.

She says, on the other hand, if the school district improves more buyers may be interested in purchasing in the area.

James Quintero has his own concerns. He’s with the conservative-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin . He opposes the tax rate increase because he says Texans already pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation. He opposes the bond too.

"Anytime I see a proposal to dramatically increase property taxes I have great concerns about not only the economic impact, but also the social impact, because as we begin to increase property taxes at an unsustainable rate, what we’re doing is putting an additional burden on people who are already struggling to make ends meet," Quintero says.

He wonders if there’s waste in SAISD's budget, and if there’s money already there that could pay for what the district’s asking for.

Credit Louisa Jonas / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio

But Superintendent Pedro Martinez says SAISD is not able to pay for the renovations or the other needs within the existing budget.

He says the state legislature has not restored all of the school funding cut in 2011, and a lawsuit by school districts to increase state funding for schools was rejected by the Texas Supreme Court. State law requires the district to go to voters for extra money.
Martinez says his district’s children should have the same opportunities as those in other districts.

"Our families can’t afford summer school programs or after school programs. We have classrooms that are not part of the bond that are pre-World War I. So we want to modernize those classrooms," Martinez says.

SAISD is holding a series of community meetings to explain the proposed bond issue and tax increase.  Supporters of the measures hope voters will see the importance of both for improving their students’ education. Upcoming meetings are scheduled as follows:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 27, 6 p.m., Sam Houston High School, 4635 E. Houston St.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 28, 6 p.m. Brackenridge High School, 400 Eagleland Drive
  • Monday, Oct. 3, 7 p.m., Highland Hills Elementary School, 734 Glamis Ave. (in conjunction with Highland Hills Neighborhood Association)
  • Tuesday, Oct. 11, 6 p.m., Lanier High School, 1514 W.  César E. Chávez  Blvd.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 12, 6 p.m., Jefferson High School, 723 Donaldson Ave. (in conjunction with Jefferson Educational Leadership Council meeting)
  • Thursday, Oct. 13, 6 p.m., Burbank High School, 1002 Edwards St.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 19, 6 p.m., Fox Tech High School, 637 N. Main Ave.


Louisa Jonas is an independent public radio producer, environmental writer, and radio production teacher based in Baltimore. She is thrilled to have been a PRX STEM Story Project recipient for which she produced a piece about periodical cicadas. Her work includes documentaries about spawning horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds aired on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Louisa previously worked as the podcast producer at WYPR 88.1FM in Baltimore. There she created and produced two documentary podcast series: Natural Maryland and Ascending: Baltimore School for the Arts. The Nature Conservancy selected her documentaries for their podcast Nature Stories. She has also produced for the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations Podcast. Louisa is editor of the book Backyard Carolina: Two Decades of Public Radio Commentary. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her training also includes journalism fellowships from the Science Literacy Project and the Knight Digital Media Center, both in Berkeley, CA. Most recently she received a journalism fellowship through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she traveled to Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska to study climate change. In addition to her work as an independent producer, she teaches radio production classes at Howard Community College to a great group of budding journalists. She has worked as an environmental educator and canoe instructor but has yet to convince a great blue heron to squawk for her microphone…she remains undeterred.