Austin Community College District President Steven B. Kinslow spoke Thursday to a committee of the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
A petition drive is soon to be announced with the goal of placing the San Marcos CISD in the Austin Community College (ACC) District through a vote this November.
San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce (SMACC) President Phyllis Snodgrass said Thursday that she expects an announcement to soon be forthcoming. Snodgrass said the drive to circulate petitions has not yet started, though the petition was available at the chamber office as of Wednesday.
Organizers must secure about 2,000 petitions by April 9 in order to have the list certified, thus continuing the process of placing the issue on the November 2010 ballot. Snodgrass said she believes the task should not be difficult, even though the local initiative is off to a late start relative to the ACC-recommended timelines, which would have allowed the petition drive to start in November.
Snodgrass said the San Marcos area already has been through the process on a more or less continuous basis since 2006, when ACC cancelled an election in San Marcos due to allegations of petition fraud.
A group of Hays CISD residents called ACCess YES! began a petition drive in November with the goal of placing an ACC campus in either Buda or Kyle. The San Marcos steering committee is called San Marcos ACCess.
Speaking Thursday to the governmental affairs committee of the SMACC, ACC President Steven B. Kinslow said he’s confident that measures in San Marcos CISD and Hays CISD will pass.
“All (ACC) annexation elections have been successful,” he said.
The projects call for a property tax increase of 9.46 cents per $100 of taxable valuation in each or either school district. In exchange, ACC will set up campuses in school districts approving annexation and students within the ACC district would pay $39 per credit hour, rather than the out-of-district rate of $137. In-district individuals also receive free access to ACC’s Early College Start Program, which allows high school students to earn up to one-year of transferable college credit before entering institutions of higher learning.
ACC has capped its maintenance and operation (M&O) tax rate at nine-cents, and an increase can only come about with voter approval. Community colleges in Texas have an average tax rate of 15 cents per $100 valuation, according to Kinslow.
Senior citizens and disabled property owners would receive a $105,000 tax exemption, along with a $5,000 homestead exemption. Seniors would also receive up to six-credit hours of free tuition contingent upon available seating.
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said in a report entitled “Texas Works” that the annual economic impact of all Texans with associate degrees amounts to $10.1 billion, adding that graduates earn an average of 32 percent more than those with only the high school diploma.
Kinslow said San Marcos is “behind the eight-ball in competitiveness,” adding that an ACC campus would help attract businesses, raise the per capita income, and reduce reliance on social welfare programs.
Kinslow said Texas State and University of Texas transfer students come predominantly from ACC, and that these students perform as well or better than those who began instruction in four-year universities.
“Whether it’s a four-year degree or career training at a community college, higher education ensures the success of our children and the economic future of our state,” Combs said in a December press release.
The report executed by Combs’ office said the demand for skilled workers is not being met in Texas.
“Multiple paths to high school graduation and postsecondary training and education will help reduce the skilled-worker gap and could help reduce dropout rates,” Combs said in the report. “(The) current state policy focuses on a single path to a four-year degree. Texas population projections point to a less educated work force if the state continues on its current path, negating the economic advantage of a younger average working population … On a state level, this is about our strength as an economic powerhouse. On a personal level for all of us, this is about making the future success of every Texan our top priority.”
At least five percent of all registered voters in a school district must sign a petition in order for the ACC matter to go to an annexation vote.
Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan said that the Hays ISD has 26,482 registered voters, not including a small overlap in Travis County.
Cowan said SMCISD overlaps into three counties — Hays, Caldwell, and Guadalupe. In San Marcos, Cowan said, there are 34,252 registered voters in the district. Guadalupe County Elections Administrator Sue Basham said 2,313 registered voters are in the SMCISD, and an official at the Caldwell County Tax Office said preliminary numbers indicated 1,114 registered voters were in the SMCISD, though, the official said, there could be up to 3,000, as the SMCISD covers precincts 301 and 302 in Caldwell County. Given those numbers, San Marcos supporters would have to gather at least 1,884 signatures.
Should SMCISD or Hays CISD voters produce enough signatures to include the referendum on the November ballot, the petition lists will be submitted to Cowan. ACC will then take up the petition and verify the entries on May 7. All valid entries will then be presented to the ACC Board of Trustees on May 10, and, in June, ACC will publish a service plan. Public hearings would be held in July.
The timeline calls for the ACC Board of Trustees to call a Nov. 2 election on Aug. 16. If voters give the go-ahead, the board will canvass the election results, pass a resolution amending the boundaries, and the tuition will be adjusted on Nov. 10.
Kinslow said Hays County is inevitably growing, and having workforce potential in place is necessary.
“We’re trying to reach all people that need the college,” he said. “… If supported appropriately, community colleges can save the U.S. economy.”
Kinslow said the ACC campus in San Marcos should be open in 2014, if the vote approved ACC in November.
ACC Media Coordinator Alexis Patterson said the district has been authorized to seek property in the Hays CISD. In San Marcos, she said, local developer Randall Morris has donated 38 acres for the campus off SH 123, and ACC is in negotiations to purchase adjacent property in efforts to construct the already designed 476,000-square-foot campus structure.Email | Print