MERCEDES, Texas – The leadership of South Texas ISD cannot understand why the school district is coming in for criticism this year.
The complaints have centered on the funding STISD receives, with some of the smaller public schools in the Rio Grande Valley leading the way. But, officials with the magnet school district point out that their funding model has been the same for years.
At a news conference, STISD Superintendent Marco Antonio Lara was asked why the criticism has flared up over the past year. He said he did not know.
“That’s another great question and I wish I could answer that. But I don’t know why. Even the legislators we have met with, we ask why, why now? I really don’t know,” Lara told the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.
“If it’s about equity, that’s not the way to go about it because now you are harming 4,300 students and 680 employees – by taking away our taxing ability. That’s not equity. And if you do, what do you gain from it? That money doesn’t go anywhere. The school districts don’t get that money.”
Lara asked where STISD’s 4,300 students would go if his district was disbanded.
“Do they go back to their home schools? I don’t know. That’s a great question and I wish, maybe, you could find somebody who could answer that,” Lara said.
“This came up all of a sudden, again with a lot of misinformation, misconceptions about how we are funded and why we are funded. And I would really like to know. This is just something that’s beyond us.”
The news conference was held just before a school board meeting. The meeting drew a large crowd of parents and staff, all supportive of the school district.
In his answer to the Guardian’s question, Lara mentioned state legislators because it has been assumed that critics of STISD would try to get the 88th Legislature to change the school district’s funding model.
Here is an audio recording of Superintendent Lara’s comments at the news conference:
Just The Facts
At the news conference, South Texas ISD provided a brochure to reporters that included six pages of data about the district’s academic performance. The brochure started with the headline: Against A Coordinated Effort to Eliminate a Valuable Public School District.
It then offered these two paragraphs:
“Currently, public school districts and private interest organizations in South Texas are forming a coordinated effort to support or promote potential legislation that would eliminate South Texas ISD’s taxing authority, thereby effectively eliminating South Texas ISD.
“In an effort to promote South Texas ISD’s successes and to counteract an organized campaign centered on promoting or supporting legislation to reduce or eliminate STISD’s taxing authority, South Texas ISD aims to educate and inform key decision makers, stakeholders, community leaders, our family of educators, students, alumni, and families, the media, and the general community-at-large by sharing accurate information and dispelling misinformation.”
Included in the brochure was a section called “Just The Facts.” It had a row on the left headed “Myth.” It listed four statements STISD said were myths. On the right was a row headed “Fact.” It listed four statements STISD said were facts.
Here they are:
Has changed from its original intent.
“South Texas ISD no longer serves its original purpose to serve students with special needs.”
South Texas ISD was originally created as a rehabilitation district in the 1960s under legislative authority to serve students with special needs. However, over time, changes in legislation mandated that students with special needs be mainstreamed and served in home districts. In 1983, South Texas ISD was authorized to offer vocational magnet schools, and has been operating in this capacity for 40 years. South Texas ISD continues to serve students with special needs with full-time enrollment and half-day Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs for ALL interested students.
South Texas ISD has evolved with the times and continues to serve its legislative purpose
Duplication of taxes
“There is a ‘duplication of taxes’ for residents in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy Counties paying taxes to their home public school districts and South Texas ISD, even if their children are not enrolled in South Texas ISD.”
The tax rate of .0492 cents is minimal, and costs the average homeowner approximately $5.33 per month. This provides students and families with a choice should they choose to pursue a high-quality public school education from one of the top schools in the nation, at less than a nickel per $100 valuation. There are other taxing entities that serve legitimate public purposes for the greater community that the taxpayer may not directly benefit from. For example, property tax owners pay taxes to home districts regardless of if they have school-age children, and families whose children attend STISD pay public school property taxes at their home district.
The minimal tax allows for the operation of STISD to serve students from all three counties served, should they choose to enroll.
STISD receives more funding
“South Texas ISD receives $5,000 more funding per student than other districts.”
The information that is being spread in support of these efforts is inaccurate. The actual revenues that South Texas ISD receives is considerably less compared to other school districts who are able to receive other sources of revenue that South Texas ISD cannot access, such as Interest & Sinking (I&S), IFA & EDA, and more. Because South Texas ISD does not receive the same types of funding as other districts, tax revenues pay for maintenance and construction of facilities, as well as the unique cots associated with servicing three counties such as FREE transportation. Other school districts are able to receive considerable additional funding for these serves.
Once all sources of revenue are included, South Texas ISD is not the district with the highest revenue per student.
South Texas ISD is not open enrollment
“South Texas ISD I not available to all students.”
All students from the three counties served are able to attend South Texas ISD, and FREE transportation to and from South Texas ISD campuses is available to all students at their home cities. The only limitation to enrollment is the physical capacity at each of the campuses.
South Texas ISD is an open-enrollment district.
Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian has run one story criticizing the funding model of STISD. Click here to read it.
Quality journalism takes time, effort and…. Money!
Producing quality journalism is not cheap. The coronavirus has resulted in falling revenues across the newsrooms of the United States. However, The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service is committed to producing quality news reporting on the issues that matter to border residents. The support of our members is vital in ensuring our mission gets fulfilled.
Can we count on your support? If so, click HERE. Thank you!