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Superintendent Message (Aug. 26, 2016)

First week of school and ballot proposals

Aug. 26, 2016

Dear SAISD Staff,

First, thank you for helping to make this a smooth first week of school! I hope you had a good week getting to know your students and laying the groundwork for the year ahead.

I visited several schools this week, including our brand-new PK-12 advanced learning academy, in partnership with Trinity University. It was great to see our students’ and parents’ excitement, and feel their energy, as they arrived for the first day at this school for highly motivated students, which is like no other in our city.

At each school, I saw committed educators. It was reassuring as we launch Year 2 of our five-year effort to transform SAISD into a national model urban school district that ensures academic excellence for all students.

Many initiatives are getting off the ground this year to move us closer to our goals. If there is one message I want our campuses to take away from this email today, it’s that you will be supported. District leadership is asking much of you as we work to move the bar for our students, and in turn, we are asking much of ourselves in ensuring that you have the support you need to do your jobs. Some supports include professional development opportunities and guidance from campus implementation specialists.

We will gather campus feedback about the initiatives throughout the year through committees that will be created for that purpose. We want SAISD to be excellent by design and that is an all-in endeavor. It cannot happen any other way.

Our core values remind us that we are student-centered and have high student expectations. We believe that every student, regardless of his or her socioeconomic status, has the ability to learn at high levels. More than 90 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged and tend to come to us with significant educational needs.

We are seeking additional resources to help provide an excellent educational environment.

As you know, the Board of Trustees called for a Bond and a Tax Ratification Election for Nov. 8, putting two separate proposals on the ballot: 1.) a $450 million bond proposal and 2.) a 13-cent increase to the District’s Maintenance & Operations (M&O) tax rate to generate additional revenue for daily operations.

The bond would fund renovations at 13 aging schools. The M&O increase would assist us in creating 21st-century classrooms and expanding learning opportunities beyond the school day by providing additional academic support through afterschool and summer programs and expanding extracurricular opportunities for students across the District.

We just launched a Bond TRE 2016 website that explains in more detail how the money would be used and the associated tax impact.

Issuing bonds is the most common way for Texas school districts to cover the cost of construction, which typically is a major expense that would be difficult for most school districts to absorb in their daily operating budget. It’s similar to when a family wants to renovate their kitchen or add on to their house – those are significant costs that the monthly budget wouldn’t cover and likely would require a home improvement loan.

Some school districts issue bonds because they are growing and need to build new schools. Others, like our District, issue bonds because they have aging facilities in need of significant renovations and upgrades. It was determined back in 2010, when a community-based committee studied the District’s facilities, that the needs were extensive and it would require three bond elections to address them.

The first step was the $515 million Bond 2010, which is substantially complete and allowed the District to make major renovations at 22 schools, along with a host of other improvements to campuses and facilities Districtwide. The majority of our current debt, all of which was incurred to pay for construction projects, today is attributable to the 2010 bond. We were able to complete those projects at a tax rate that is 7 cents lower than what voters authorized, due to fiscal management strategies.

The proposed $450 million bond is the second step.

The state caps the part of the tax rate that raises money to pay off debt at 50 cents; our debt tax rate currently is at about 34 cents. If the bond proposal passes, the associated 12-cent increase would be phased in over five years, starting in 2017, instead of being increased all at once.

Regarding the 13-cent M&O tax rate increase, it would take effect in 2016, bringing in an estimated $15.6 million in additional tax revenue, with the state more than matching that with an estimated $16.5 million, for a total of $32.1 million in annual revenue.

Our District has lost student enrollment over the years, and we are working to reverse that. That kind of change, which would generate additional revenue from the state, will take years. However, we already are seeing promising results with some of our efforts, in particular with the new advanced learning academy. This school attracted some SAISD families who previously had sent their children to private and charter schools and helped to keep families who were ready to leave us.

Our intention is to continue to implement the kinds of tailored programs that better serve our current students and attract others back to their home district.

I look forward to working with you to reach new heights with 2016-17.