South San ISD board governance woes resurface

February 24, 2019 GMT

The antics of a runaway South San Antonio Independent School District board are having negative repercussions beyond the district’s boundaries.

In recent weeks, the school board has voted to quickly reopen closed schools next fall against the advice of the superintendent, abruptly ended a yearslong lease contract with Bexar County for use of one of the district’s facilities as a sheriff’s office substation and expressed a lack of interest in a city of San Antonio $10 million investment in a new community center at one of the shuttered schools.

Micromanagement by the board has been on overdrive since a new majority swept into office and Connie Prado was installed as president. The last time Prado led the board, the Texas Education Agency intervened because of board governance issues. The district appears headed down the same path.

Superintendent Alexandro Flores, who was hired by the former board majority, has had his hands full during his first four months on the job. He has not been given an opportunity to lead. The disrespect the board has shown in disregarding his professional recommendations while they make continued attempts to usurp this authority and assume some of those roles themselves has been extremely troubling.

Most recently, the board voted to create a budget committee on which staff will have a limited role. During the committee’s first meeting, a camera set to broadcast the proceedings was removed, raising serious transparency questions. Committee chairman Gilbert Rodriguez did not respond to a telephone inquiry about the camera’s removal.

In another bizarre and petty move, the board shifted the seating arrangement at board meetings so Flores no longer sits alongside them. Superintendents generally sit next to the board president at meetings; in South San, the superintendent now sits on a lower tier of seats in front of the dais.

Flores has advised the board that it is impractical to steamroll the reopening of shuttered campuses without thorough review. The district does not have the money or the students to justify the moves, but the board majority is intent on fulfilling campaign promises regardless.

In one of its more reckless moves, the board voted to end its lease agreement with the county for a sheriff’s substation early without a valid explanation. The substation has a new home, so the loss of the contract will not impose a hardship. But relationships with community partners are important; this one provided a law enforcement presence in the community and offered the school district other perks.

The move has fueled speculation the board wants to use the facility to house the district’s administration offices once the old high school where they are now located is reopened. If that is the plan, it should have been done with a bit more transparency.

The new board majority has also given the cold shoulder to attempts by City Councilman Rey Saldaña to discuss the possibility of partnership with the city for the construction of a community center at the site of the former Kazen Middle School.

The school is one of the campuses the board is adamant about reopening, but it is a disservice to all South Side taxpayers to ignore a potential $10 million municipal investment in their community. The city recently partnered with Southwest ISD on a $21.2 million natatorium off Loop 410 near Old Pearsall Road that included SWISD land and city funding.

In letter to the board last month Saldaña encouraged consideration of the proposal. “With assets like a gymnasium, cafeteria, classroom space, athletics field and access off Highway 16, we can breathe life back into this publicly-owned facility together and envision a multi-generational destination for the South Side,” he said.

He has gotten no one on the South San board to engage in a conversation. That’s too bad as many other communities are likely eager to make a bid for the funds.

South San’s future looked so promising a few months ago, but the district is now moving backward. The new board majority needs to take off its blinders and set aside its political agenda.