RIO GRANDE CITY, March 9 - Board Trustees with South Texas College hope that a proposed bond election set for November 2013 will provide some of the infrastructure needed for a future medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.
As they prepare to address potential voters for the bond with a series of town hall-style meetings within the next two months, STC Board chairwoman Rose Benavidez says STC could be a major conduit for a medical school, which has been proposed alongside a merger of the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas-Brownsville.
“I’ll tell you also that one of the things we are looking at is this merger between UTB and UTPA,” Benavidez said following Starr County Judge Eloy Vera’s State of the County speech last Wednesday. “It’s going to be really significant if they create this medical school because all of the support staff that goes to doctors is trained and educated at South Texas College.”
A proposed $150 million bond referendum is set to go before voters this fall. The call for the bond election took place in Dec. 2012 during the monthly meeting of the South Texas College Board Trustees, who have been mulling the details of a preliminary master plan originally started in 2008. At that time, STC leadership hired consulting firm, Freese & Nichols Inc. to develop a draft of the master plan to possibly outline future growth at the college for another generation.
The bond could raise property taxes on a home valued at $100,000 by about $30 (thirty dollars) per year, Benavidez said.
“The expectation right now is that it will probably be for $150 million. That probably translates to three to 3.5 cents of an increase for maintenance and operations,” she said. “Just to give you an idea, if you have a home, and in Starr County the average home is probably about $50,000, that would be a $15 dollar increase, annually.
“In McAllen, if they are doing $200,000, which is about average over there, you are talking about $60,” she said. “Right now you spend $30 to $40 every time you go to the movies, and this is an investment that would go straight into education.”
On the same day the Starr County State of the County address was taking place, Texas Senate and House higher education committees unanimously approved legislation that would merge the University of Texas-Pan American, UT-Brownsville, and the Regional Academic Health System, plus create a UT medical school as part of the proposed system.
The legislative actions followed testimony and related lobbying of the two higher ed panels by a delegation led by Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, Edinburg Mayor Richard García, McAllen Mayor-elect Jim Darling, and Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell.
The merger and medical school plans are included in two identical proposals – Senate Bill 24 and House Bill 1000 – that are being hailed as landmark legislation. If approved later this spring by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry, the legislation would help transform the Rio Grande Valley into a powerful center for economic development, health care, and education, say supporters.
Those proposals await scheduling for debate and action by the Senate and House of Representatives in the next few weeks.
“Our hope is to have that infrastructure in place to support that as we are moving forward,” Benavidez said, regarding the impact of the legislation at STC. “All we will say as a message is that there is no price tag on education. The more we can offer for our future generations, the better off we are going to be.”