San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

June 11th, 2010
ACC certifies San Marcos CISD for November vote

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A map of the Austin Community College (ACC) district. ACC graphic.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Trustees for Austin Community College (ACC) unanimously certified a petition circulated by San Marcos ACCess this week, placing San Marcos CISD’s inclusion in the ACC district on a Nov. 2 off-year election ballot that shapes up as the thickest ever in Hays County.

The trustees approved 2,174 signatures, exceeding the total of 2,033 upon which they finally settled after the number shifted about for two months due to uncertainties about the eligibilities of suspense voters within the school district.

The certification advances a long effort by local ACC supporters to put the matter in front of San Marcos voters. A similar effort in 2006 failed after a consultant hired by a local steering committee was found to have committed signature fraud.

“The message we got from the dais was that they met the minimum and then some any way you counted it,” ACC Trustee Jeffrey K. Richard said.

About a week ago, San Marcos ACCess co-Chair Miguel Arredondo said his group had collected about 2,400 signatures. San Marcos ACCess needed signatures from five percent of registered voters living within San Marcos CISD to place the initiative on the November ballot.

ACC trustees also unanimously certified similar petitions for the Elgin and McDade ISDs Monday after previously certified petitions from Bastrop ISD and Hays CISD. But the largest is San Marcos CISD, with its $3 billion tax base.

If voters approve San Marcos CISD annexation to ACC, then the community college district will levy an ad valorem tax of 9.46 cents per $100 of property value and build an ACC campus in San Marcos. In addition, students from within San Marcos ACC could attend the college for the in-district rate of $42 per hour, as opposed to the out-of-district rate of $150.

ACC has capped its maintenance and operations (M&O) tax rate at nine cents and uses 0.46 cents per $100 of taxable valuation to retire facilities bonds. Voter approval is required before a change in ACC’s tax rate can occur.

“Students would get the benefit right away, within (a) six-month period, but the taxes wouldn’t start to be collected for probably more than a year, because it takes a year for the tax assessor to assess the values, and get the tax bills out, and then for people to start paying them,” Richard said. “So, the benefit is much more immediate than the cost. The cost is always at least a year away.”

ACC officials plan to release a Request for Proposals next week for architects to begin planning the first phase of the proposed San Marcos campus. In February, ACC District President Steven B. Kinslow said an ACC campus near San Marcos High School should be open in 2014 if those voters approve annexation.

San Marcos ACCess will begin campaigning for the ballot initiative by participating in ACC-sponsored public forums, running articles in local news publications in support of ACC annexation, and block walking.

Senior citizens and disabled property owners in the proposed annexation zone would receive a $105,000 tax exemption. ACC also offers a $5,000 homestead exemption. According to an ACC fact sheet, the owner of a $120,000 house would pay $108.79 annually. Homeowners with disabilities and senior citizens would pay $9.46 a year, according to the same $120,000 home ownership scenario. Owners of $120,000 in commercial property would pay $113.52 annually.

“The San Marcos campus will have entry-level job training programs and general education courses that will transfer to any Texas public college or university,” said Arredondo.

The San Marcos City Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of annexation to ACC. The establishment of a community college in San Marcos is in accord with the three main goals of a recently-released economic development plan funded by the City of San Marcos and Partners for Progress, a group of regional leaders from the public and private sectors. The three main goals of the Greater San Marcos Plan are workforce excellence, economic diversification and quality of place.

“ACC fits the bill, providing high-quality, affordable workforce education that helps citizens find better jobs, earn higher wages and contribute more to the local tax base, along with customized training such as management skills, technical and leadership training tailored to meet the needs of our local businesses and organizations,” said San Marcos ACCess co-Chair Kim Porterfield.

ACC officials will present a service plan for San Marcos at a public hearing on July 15 at 6 p.m., at a location yet to be announced. The service plan will be developed by ACC with input from San Marcos CISD, Texas State, local industry representatives, Gary Job Corps, and others. The proposed service plan will outline courses, programs, tax information and other items.

The November ballot now shapes up as a very crowded affair. Not only is ACC now up for vote, but at least three of seven positions for the San Marcos City Council will be on the ballot, and that number could grow. The seats held by San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz and Councilmembers Kim Porterfield and Gaylord Bose are up for election.

Also on the ballot locally are races for Hays County judge, the Precinct 2 and Precinct 4 county commissioners, several other Hays County positons, as well as governor of Texas and other statewide positions.

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16 thoughts on “ACC certifies San Marcos CISD for November vote

  1. The ballot needs to be clear this would be a new tax we would be paying to ACC every year. We would be sending millions of new tax dollars to ACC each year, and they would decide how they want to spend it. Lately, ACC has been deciding to spend more and more on administration, and less on delivery of instruction. In 2004, teaching and instruction represented 58% of ACC’s operating expenses. In 2006, teaching was 54% of operating expenses. In 2008, teaching was 48% of the ACC system’s operating expenses. ACC is increasingly using tax dollars to pay for administration, not instruction of students. And, once we join their taxation, we can’t get out, we’re in it (these new taxes) for life. Why would we want taxation without representation?

    This is too expensive for us right now. Many families have been and continue to face economic challenges. Looking at our total annual tax picture, we’re probably going to have to pay more tax money to the City of San Marcos, since we have more than doubled our long-term debt and obligations during the past 5 years. And, we may need to spend even more money directly to SMCISD.

    Proponents have said there is a 5.1 ROI (Return On Investment) for community college investment. They say that for every $1.00 in tax money paid, there is a $5.10 economic benefit to the community. But, when pressed for details, there has been no response to date. At various State of Texas online sites, I’ve seen economic studies on the benefits of community colleges, but none portray such a glowing ROI. Proponents, how will this directly benefit the people paying for it?

    For our local SMCISD graduates, let’s remember that Texas State University developed the “Bobcat Promise.” From their website, it states, “This program guarantees free tuition and mandatory fees for 15 credit hours per semester to new entering freshmen with a family adjusted gross income that does not exceed a specified level.”

    The program information additionally states, “Students may qualify for the program for up to eight continuous long semesters (fall and spring). This program will provide up to the cost of 15 credit hours of tuition and fees each fall and spring semester (an award in excess of $7,800 per academic year).”

    I hope we can engage true community dialog on this subject (versus campaign rhetoric). I understand being part of the ACC tax base is good for Texas State, and good for certain businesses (some located here, many located elsewhere), but I am concerned the ROI is not acceptable to the taxpayers who would actually be paying the additional (new) tax money each year, and I believe most of us would prefer to first address the more pressing needs of our students attending SMCISD.

    We need to increase the (High School) graduation rate of SMCISD students, and improve the readiness of those students to enter college. If we’re going to spend more tax money, it should directly go to and benefit our local students in SMCISD.

    My wife and I signed the petition. I spoke at City Council thanking them for bringing the ACC subject into community dialog. But, the more I now hear and read about this, the more it sounds like a yearly transfer of money from normal citizens over to special interests (such as students who want a tuition decrease, or businesses who want more training options, and Texas State who benefits from ACC bringing prospective students “up to speed” first).

    I remember San Marcos ACCess leadership saying, “This effort will bring lower tuition rates and a full-service, comprehensive campus to San Marcos,” and, “the return on investment is high.” The goals of the ACC annexation (tax) drive do not relate to our SMCISD students improving their academic performance and graduation rate. The Steering Committee campaign letter states these goals:

    () Workforce training, economic development
    () Customized training
    () Entry-level job training
    () Our own campus
    () Lower tuition
    () Transferability

    Based on their stated goals, I continue to see why Texas State, and certain businesses, and students already going to (or planning to attend) ACC, would love for us little individual taxpayers to “roll over” and pay the proposed ACC tax bill each year – they get benefits and they don’t have to pay for them.

  2. Steve, you raise some good issues.

    How will this dialogue continue in a constructive way for the next 4 months?

  3. Mike, that is a very challenging question. Will those in power, who want this to pass, embrace true dialog, for the benefit of informing those who will vote, those who would be paying the new tax every year? Texas State University is for it. The Chamber of Commerce is for it. All seven members of the City Council appear to be for it. We can safely assume those in power, who want this to pass, will campaign for it in various ways. Who will represent the taxpayers? Who will help ensure the pros and cons are all brought to light?

  4. Steve, I think you may have nailed it. ACC is attempting to expand its taxing jurisdiction out from Austin in all directions. That requires money–like PR money, and time. The more direct approach failed. The long, slow stealth approach, with a flood of PR and testimonials, holds more promise. One difference is that this time the interested parties were convinced to buy in. However the community expresses itself, the deal is expansion of the student and revenue base. I rathger agree with you: I might even be wiling to pay more taxes to help SMCISD graduate more home-grown personnel to fuel the community with hireable, job-ready personnel who can feel a stake in it. I hate to even say it, but there is already a pile of student aid for really qualified students, including students of particular need.

    In terms of the usual Community College fare, such as entry-level clerking and basic computer use, plus the “required courses” such as English, History, and languages, which TXSTATE would be grateful to jettison to serve only Honors-level students, and fewer of them, what is offered by ACC that is truly exceptional? (please don’t suggest “hospitality management” or “culinary arts.”) Does ACC qualify students at a level comparable to what is required to GET IN either TXSTATE or schools like those in the Metroplex or San Antonio or Houston? Will ACC be able to afford and provide IT, electronics, technology, or science labs here and in Kyle? How mush will be delivered by their admittedly great telecom rather than hands-on?

    Has anybody heard of Gary Job Corps or looked at their program roster and curriculum? And they actually PAY students to attend, as they learn their jobs. Plus dorm space, activities, athletics, meal facilities, clubs, pro-
    fessional and interest groups, or non-resident student status. They certify their graduates in one or more fields.
    I’m easy. I just need to see some substance if I have to pay for it to a legal taxing entity that won’t serve me but in the verrrry remotest way. I’d rather donate to local scholarships, which I have done at some level for many years, including a good many from Gary who sought to go on with higher education.

  5. As further evidence of the “we’ll tell you what we want to tell you when we are good and ready” approach, it was reported elsewhere today that ACC is refusing to release purchase prices for their future campuses. This includes, “87 acres in Bastrop, 100 acres in Leander, 98 acres in Elgin and 18.5 acres at Highland Mall.” ACC is also pursuing property in the Kyle-Buda area, and they say that, “disclosure of the price for one campus could prompt sellers of land for other campuses to demand the same price.” It’s quite a stretch to say that public information on the land they’ve recently bought (in totally different markets) would compromise their negotiating position in the Kyle-Buda area. This is another example of taxpayer money being spent behind closed doors, with the leaders wanting to keep the information away from the public’s eyes.

  6. As noted in a Statesman editorial this morning: “Austin Community College should immediately come clean with the public about what it paid for property it recently purchased in Bastrop, Elgin, Leander and in Austin’s Highland Mall shopping center. After all, the college is using public dollars to help finance those purchases that likely will be used to build or house future ACC campuses.” Regardless of what ACC may say up to the election, to try to sway positive votes, their actions here speak louder than words. We need more, not less, transparency on how our tax dollars are used. If voters decide to become taxed every year by ACC, then we’re shipping off those millions of dollars to ACC, and then they decide how they want to spend that money. So far, I’ve heard no guarantees that it would exclusively be spent for San Marcos. At this point, even if they said that right now, it’s not binding, it’s just a campaign statement. I hope plenty of people attend the first (and may be only) public information session in July. I wish I could be there, but I’ll be at M.D. Anderson in Houston at that time. Take good notes, because this is an important issue for the November elections.

  7. It’s quite a campaign that ACC has going here in San Marcos.

    I wonder what community’s tax dollars are presently financing ACC’s publicity drive here, to include staff, block walkers and petition gatherers, billboards, etc. etc. here in OUR town, and if they realize as a community that they have absolutely no say about how THEIR tax dollars are being spent by ACC to sell us on a similar flavor of kool-aid.

    And I wonder where OUR tax dollars will finally be spent, once we actually cover the tremendous cost for a brand new ACC campus (land and buildings) as well as the faculty and personnel to staff it.

    We see now only the tip of the iceberg of a perpetual financial burden and tax commitment that may soon be imposed upon our community regardless of whether or not we actually realize any comparable degree of benefit from this forced assessment upon us, as already over-extended taxpayers.

    It is quite expedient for the ACC proponents to tout the alleged benefits of such a project, and bask in the glory and excitement of its planning, when they know that someone else will certainly be left to ultimately foot the bill.

  8. To Mr. Moore: While not able to respond in any useful way to your comments on the taxing or political sides of the issue, I do feel that the past few years I’ve spent working with college-bound high school dropouts has given me a decent vantage point on the other questions you’ve raised.
    First, though we would do very well to raise the graduation rates at our high schools, the trend in the economy is that a high school diploma means less and less in our workforce. Most people nowadays need some sort of post-secondary education or training in order to get a job that will earn them a living wage. While I think it’s somewhat lamentable, a high school education just doesn’t cut it anymore.
    Second, the community college fills a very great need that the traditional university does not. Many of the students I work with originally quit high school because they started families early, had financial burdens too great for them to work as much as they needed to and attend school, or they just didn’t like it and weren’t interested. Very few of these students can afford to go to college full-time, and the commitment to spending the next four to six years working on their associate’s degree is about all they can stomach. Not to mention, in the intervening years of raising a family and making ends meet, the degree of practicality that many of them have developed far exceeds that of the typical dreamy-eyed traditional college freshmen, and they are interested far more in what can get them quickly back into the workforce and earning a higher wage at something they enjoy than in idealistically meandering along the path of a liberal arts education.
    In a related vein, you asked about what ACC can provide that is exceptional. You can check out their offerings at austincc.edu, and then click on “educational choices.” A few examples of certifications and degrees which earn a living wage are Architectural & Engineering Auto CAD, Web Developer Specialist, Texas Peace Officer Certification, Dental Hygiene, Firefighter Certificate, Green Technology, HVAC, Land Surveying, Paralegal, Pharmacy Tech, Physical Therapist Assistant, Sonography, Welding, and quite a few others.
    Another question you posed was whether ACC adequately prepares students to enter into universities. In my experience in working with students, any time a student is not academically prepared to enter Texas State, the nice person in the admissions office suggests that they spend a couple of semesters at ACC and then transfer. So it seems that at least the TX State admissions office thinks so. A June 9th article in the Daily Texan quotes UT spokesman Matt Flores as saying that students who transfer to UT from community colleges perform better than students who begin there as freshman. 1/3 of ACC students transfer to four-year institutions, and ACC provides for all of those students a Transfer Academy to help them get their ducks in a row starting from day 1 so that they can transfer as smoothly and successfully as possible.
    As for Gary Job Corps, I like to think that’s a good institution that just doesn’t work for everybody. At least, I have had a few students who wanted to go there and got so much runaround that they gave up. It seems that there’s always a sure deal, and then it falls through at the last minute. I don’t know why that is. I also sincerely doubt, since nearly 70% of Hays county residents over 25 don’t have a degree, whether Gary Job Corps would be sufficient to meet the need.

  9. Kelly, thank you for the work you do with the youth and young adults. I hope we as a community can continue our dialog (during the next several months) on how best to invest (potentially more) tax dollars each year for maximum impact. I still feel we get more bang for our buck by investing (for our students) tax dollars K-12, but I appreciate hearing a variety of perspectives, since that helps each SMCISD taxpayer cast a more informed vote in November.

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  11. I don’t suppose I mentioned that I spent more than a few years working on the same front as Kelly. I was for some time in the Occupational Education program at TxState, a nontraditional and interdisciplinary degree program largely for adults, which offers direct credit for prior training (military and other), transfers in credit from other accredited educational institutions, and credit for skills acquired in the course of work-life–experiential learning. This involved not only interviewing and counseling hundreds of students, but evaluating hundreds of transcripts, creating hundreds of TxState Degree Outlines and Degree Plans, and teaching/supervising a boatload of interns in various fields

    During this time, I was also a primary point of contact for students wishing to transfer in from the Austin area–mainly St. Edwards and ACC. I served as well with Community Action, San Marcos Literacy Action, Gary Job Corps Community Relations Council and other educational interest groups. (As well as helping to facilitate transfer agreements between Gary and ACC and SMCISD. I have also done many guest lectures and tutored high school students, including the Academic Decathlon Team. To wit, I think I have seen the movie. Most of my life has been about paving the way to success for people of backgrounds like my own–low income, single-parent, first-generation college, etc. For what it is worth, those are my bona fides in an ACC discussion.

    As for the 5+ return on investment on our taxes, I would defy anyone to show me convincing proof of such a number, especially outside the “home community” of the institution. I have seen the last Economic Impact Statement put out by the Rising Star of Texas, which used a flawed economic model to create an annual local benefit of over a billion dollars (WHAT! That is near the entire economy! Where IS all that money?). As a practicing urban planner and economic development activist, I kept seeing, and being annoyed by, the perpetual use of ROI numbers that were inflated terribly by using incredibly optimistic, even patently mythological numbers like those of the US Chamber of Commerce, which showed a typical dollar spent in a community to turn around 5-7 times in the community, or a 7+ ROI. Bull puckey. The real numbers, as shown by actual research and according to the national Carnegie model, are more in the range of 2.6. Aside from that giant red herring thrown in by promoters to sweeten the pot, there are
    more real and important issues at stake.

    First, as I have noted earlier, I am really skeptical that ACC can supply all of its new territory with the equipment and lab settings to provide HVAC, pharmacy tech, and other programs being touted, either in the near term or without hefty capital investments and tax increases. More likely is the use of existing equipment, material and personnel in the community–offering “basics” in a local setting, then transitioning into a “hands-on” situation until everything is in place. SMCISD has long ago shuttered its own vocational and technical facilities, for the most part, as being too expensive and too little to the point. That is history. The future we can find out by committing, along with Elgin, Kyle and the others.

    Secondly, and this is hard to say, one reason high school education is no longer a valid entry level for training is that it is no longer perceived to have enough starch to turn out either workers ready to work, or workers who are able to learn in an entry position. The fact that people “choose to start their families early,” before graduation, is a priority choice that THEY make, even knowing or being half aware that they are creating their own obstacles. Same with just dropping out because school is “boring.” (I admit my bias that bored people are themselves boring people– the world is filled with wonders, for even the mildly curious, and most of the teachers I know would faint in exhilaration if the student on the back row would actually challenge the curriculum, rather than ignoring it.)

    Education is not a circus or an exploding-propane movie, but neither is it a burden to be grudgingly and halfheartedly toted toward some magic finish line and a grand reward. Why would an enrollee who doesn’t believe in junior high or high school suddenly transform into an alert and inquiring student when offered a shot at community college? “Because you have to” is not a motivator. Obviously, “Because others are helping to pay the bill” is even weaker–
    not even visible on the screen. The main reason older students return to school is often that they discover their own ignorance for one reason or another, and realize that it alone can consign them to the bottom of the heap. It is a matter of when people realize that they alone are responsible for their destinies, and that teachers and others are willing to help, if they show any signs of desire and commitment. Witness again the number of truly disadvantaged Gary students who, often with community scholarships, start out without even a GED, but end up in community college or higher post-secondary education. Once more, it is not about the money. Many people jump that hurdle.

    Another problem: Who locally is going to employ all these new welders and CAD draftsmen? It is hard for a young student in our community to get any job, even the most menial, because we have too much competition, not only from peers, but from older and more advanced students, of whom we are blessed with God’s own plenty. Look at our own narrow economic base, which has not widened much in years–retail, service, education (ironically) and government, with a smattering of technical and manufacturing line work. For many years past and likely many to come, our best economic development tool has been not tax giveaways, but the presence of the University and the Job Corps. ACC might add to that allure, and it might not.

    Bottom line: I agree with Mr. Harvey, and I appreciate his willingness to be the conscientious citizen and look at the facts, which speak for themselves, in a decision to tax ourselves, along with the rest of Central Texas, to make sure ACC is seen as the best game in town. I am more concerned about, and more ready to support, students in their formative years, who can be taught skills and motivation and resourcefulness before they actually walk the stage having met minimal requirements.

    This is not a PR issue. It is fundamental to who we are as a community. Cheerleading will not solve the basic fact that too many of our students are not STUDENTS, don’t want to be students, won’t show up, won’t present work product, defy school authority, are entertained by hampering the efforts of often desperately committed teachers and others to help them become adults and succeed. Those who “are just not cut out for the classroom,” and who consider being disciplined to be the same as being outstanding, are likely not to suddenly see the light and blaze through ACC.

    The question is a very old one: Who is to be responsible? The answer is not bringing in a responsible party “from the outside.” Especially when that party is not very responsible to us.

  12. I read elsewhere that ACC finally went public with the information on the land purchases they have negotiated. One can glean an interesting trend by dividing the total amount of money committed to each tract to the acreage involved:

    $31,900/acre – San Marcos: 72 acres (includes a “partial donation” from the landowner)
    $33,700/acre – Elgin: 98 acres
    $36,700/acre – Bastrop: 87 acres
    $102,500/acre – Kyle: 96 acres
    $124,000/acre – Leander: 100 acres
    $237,000/acre – Austin: (18.5 acres and a 194K sq ft building)

    I wonder if Kyle and Leander would be first in line for top-flight facilities, and San Marcos would find itself at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to quality facilities and schedule for completion.

  13. You would think that the since ACC spent $102,500 and $124,000 an acre in both Kyle and Leander respectively the bulk of the money allotted for their facilities would have already been spend on the land purchases…

    But that is just me….

  14. Not to worry, folks. The first wave of money is at work. Soon, almost all of Central Texas will share for the new money to put facilities, labs, equipment, local administration, and a teacher corps (likely a pretty good size group of part-time locals on this now open land. I just wonder how all these clustered disadvantaged students are going to choose among several “affordable” campuses. Are there REALLY THAT many candidates? And respectable ones?

    Then why not use our own, local taxes to support marginal and high-quality students to come out of HS ready to go forward and take advantage of the pile of existing loans, scholarships, honorary stipends, etc. to matriculate in an existing facility with academics already in place? And avoid stepping into a small canoe running rising rapids, driven by permanent ad valorem taxes, unlimited but by the imagination and the depressed communities’ ability to spend so much for so few? (As I have said before, we have many resources outside ACC’s “business Plan,” but a wobbly tax base, especially since the experts are beginning to predict commercial real estate is soon likely to stumble into the same sort of “downturn” residential is in.) How many of these freshly-produced workers will remain in the local or regional economies? Will we have to step up our efforts to uproot businesses from other communities to come here
    by paying startup and other costs for them? What is the Community’s RISK here, related to potential “bennies”?

    Still think we have plenty of adequate resources for job placement and staffing here already, or a market for more, if I am wrong in my analysis. Full-campus ACC education is doing fine right now… in Austin..but can they really hope to become a mega-school? Will they ask that we entertain none of the dozen schools around San Antonio in a whole range of different facilities with lots of diverse curricula. Are the big Universities really driving this bus–deliberately trying to skim the cream for enrollments and avoid the less-than-valedictory, as a way of growing on the cheap?

  15. Why I am voting FOR the ACC Annexation:

    1. Increased accessability of higher education for San Martians. We all can’t afford to pay tuition at Texas State.
    2. Education improves the lives of those who receive it. This is an opportunity for those who can’t afford to pay tuition at a university to be able to improve their lives through education.
    3. More jobs. A more educated population = more job creation and attraction, and trust me, this town needs it. It is becoming increasingly difficult to live and work in San Marcos.

    Isolating ourselves from ACC will only force those who choose to take advantage of community colleges (recent high school grads, non-traditional students, and employers) to go elsewhere. Lets increase San Marcos’ IQ! $100 annually is a small price to pay for a smarter and more economically attractive town.

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