Finally some good news for South San
The spring semester is off to a good start for the South San Antonio Independent School District.
This low property wealth school district with a student population of about 10,000 is no longer under the direct oversight of the state.
The Texas Education Agency has removed the conservator appointed in February 2016. That appointment came following a special accreditation investigation that found the district in noncompliance with several state rules and regulations.
Specifically, the state education agency found the district had failed to “establish and gain effective management control over its finances and operations” and the board could not work collaboratively with district administrators.
The TEA’s last action bodes well for South San on many fronts.
The state’s intervention has been an albatross in the recruitment and retention of staff and has adversely affected morale.
It has not allowed for serious consideration of any bond proposal for the district’s many pressing needs.
With a conservator in place, the district was in no position to ask taxpayers to support a bond election or allow it to raise its tax rate.
The removal of the conservator is a positive first step for the South San community, but the work is not over. The district’s trustees now must work hard to rebuild public confidence and trust by demonstrating it has acquired the ability to govern without state intervention.
Fortunately, the district is no longer dealing with the same board it had two years ago.
The 2016 school election brought some much-needed new faces to the board room.
The recent resignation of two board members will allow for further changes on the seven-member board. The two vacancies are expected to be filled early next month.
We urge careful vetting of the applicants for those posts.
There is optimism things are finally on an upward trajectory in South San, but the school district’s turbulent history makes us cautious of celebrating too early. On several past occasions, when things looked like they might be stabilizing in this beleaguered district, they took a turn for the worse.
In his letter to the district notifying them of the removal of the conservator, Deputy Education Commissioner A.J. Crabill said the move does not relieve the district and the board of the responsibility for complying with all applicable statutes and rules. He further warned that the agency reserves the right for further intervention.
The positive changes that have been made in South San need to become permanent.
For too long the focus in the district has been on political agendas. Over the past couple of years, the TEA has slowly been attempting to chisel away at the dysfunctional culture that was allowed to developed over the course of several decades.
It has not been easy.
Last January, the board attended a two-day TEA-sponsored workshop that focused on research-based best practices in school governance, with an emphasis on student success.
In the last year, Judy Castleberry, the district’s conservator, has worked with the board to foster a culture focused on the best interests of the students and improving their education outcomes.
We hope the lessons were taken to heart. After coming this far, the district cannot afford to take a step backwards.