Local Government Watch – Austin Community College District: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Those who favor the annexation of the SMCISD by the ACC taxing district claim that we need to be annexed in order to receive academic and vocational training opportunities (see Albert Sierra’s Commentary, September 27, 2010, The San Marcos Mercury). This claim is absolutely false. There is nothing in the ACC taxing district’s authority to serve the SMCISD that requires that we be annexed to receive course offerings of any kind. But what is absolutely true is that no other community college can serve the SMCISD and levy a tax on its citizens. And if we are annexed by the ACC taxing district, it will be able to tax us forever.
Just look at the courses that ACC now offers in San Marcos (without annexation): accounting, art, automotive technology, biology, English, government, history, psychology, business, math, philosophy, Spanish, speech. computer science, economics, and sociology. Except for automotive technology (which I have been told by knowledgeable people does not provide up-to-date training), few vocational courses are available, though vocational training is the focus of the much-heralded “strategic plan” developed by those in San Marcos who claim to be concerned with economic development and who are uncritical supporters of letting the ACC taxing district begin collecting taxes from us.
Just 15 miles away in New Braunfels is the Central Texas Technology Center (CTTC) operated by Alamo Colleges, a consortium of five community and junior colleges in the San Antonio area (San Antonio, St. Philip’s, Palo Alto, Northeast Lakeview, and Northwest Vista), which, as described in its publications, “offer associate degrees, certificates, and licensures in occupational programs that prepare students for jobs, as well as arts and science courses that transfer to four-year colleges and universities and lead to AA and AS degrees.”
CTTC, which began operations in 2005, was spearheaded by economic development groups in New Braunfels and Seguin. Working closely with the Alamo Colleges consortium, they focused on the kinds of vocational training needed to take advantage of economic development opportunities in the area and sought grants to build a first-class vocational training center.
CTTC explains that it provides a “regional workforce development” program that trains “the local workforce in emerging occupations that stimulate economic development.” CTTC offers courses and training in automotive mechanics, heavy diesel, manufacturing, welding, computers, medical (including for nurse’s aides), building trades, and more traditional courses in the arts and sciences and GED/ESL adult programs. Those who complete various courses of study and training can receive associate degrees, certificates and licenses in selected vocations, and marketable skills certifications. Students can participate in “short-term workforce training programs that connect residents to emerging jobs in demand occupations.” That is, they actually train students to become employees of such manufacturers as Caterpillar, a major employer in the New Braunfels/Seguin area, and H. B. Zachary, Cisco, Senior Flexonics, Austin Bridge & Road, and others.
CTTC has over 2,600 students currently enrolled, split almost evenly between dual credit students and those out of high school. The students live mainly in the Comal ISD, New Braunfels ISD, Navarro ISD, Seguin ISD, and attend or have graduated from some private schools in the area, and include currently at least two SMCISD graduates. All students, except those from Bexar County, pay the same out-of-district tuition–$107 per credit hour, with a minimum charge for 6 credit hours.
To determine what training to offer, the staff at CTTC regularly does research on the needs of area businesses, concentrating on those with four or more employees. From a recent survey, staff learned that many businesses were converting their computer software and operating systems to Microsoft Office 2010 and Windows 7, and were in need of employees trained on these systems. As a result of receiving that information, CTTC will offer three-month computer courses to respond to that need beginning October 28 and concluding on January 27, 2011.
Had the ACC taxing district worked with San Marcos economic development groups and officials a few years ago to produce a similar program for San Marcos that proved its value, there would likely be little opposition to the ACC taxing district annexing the SMCISD. But both San Marcos economic development leaders and the ACC taxing district have failed to produce vocational training opportunities in the San Marcos area that are even a shadow of what is offered at CTTC.
Aside from the mostly academic courses provided in San Marcos by the ACC taxing district, there is one little-known academic financial benefit for SMCISD graduates from low-income families who want to attend Texas State University–San Marcos. The program is called Bobcat Promise. It pays for all tuition and mandatory fees for SMCISD graduates whose families have adjusted gross incomes (based on tax returns) of $35,000 or less. Bobcat Promise began in the fall 2009. The program pays about $8,000 in benefits for a two-semester academic year, making it possible for local graduates with inadequate financial resources to attend Texas State University–San Marcos.
Although the supporters of the ACC taxing district have made broad statements about what ACC will do if annexation passes in the election on November 2, the ACC taxing district will be under no obligation to do any of the things suggested. It doesn’t have to provide a “full service campus” (however that may be defined) in San Marcos. It doesn’t have to meet “the challenges of economic development” in San Marcos, a task that has never been focused on producing living-wage jobs for SMCISD graduates, but has been directed toward providing tax money to businesses and development projects.
Claims that local residents do not have access to a community college are simply not true. But what is even farther from the truth is that the annexation by the ACC taxing district will guarantee SMCISD graduates ways “to improve skills and increase their income.” The ACC taxing district has not offered such opportunities in the SMCISD during ACC’s entire existence (36 years), and there are no legal reasons it could not have done so if it wanted to. The ACC taxing district does not have “a history of responding to industry and workforce training” in San Marcos, as claimed by its proponents, and there is no reason to believe that will change.
Approving annexation by the ACC taxing district is not buying a “pig in a poke,” because we know what we would get. ACC has failed to provide significant vocational training in the SMCISD as the Alamo Colleges have provided for New Braunfels and Seguin, though those two communities are not in the Alamo Colleges taxing district.
The ACC taxing district is like a suitor asking a woman to marry him because he has been nice to her, though he has seldom taken her out to eat, or to a movie, or dancing, or remembered her birthday. He promises that once they are married and he has access to her bedroom, the benefits of marrying him will be available in great abundance. The taxpayers are in the role of the woman’s parents in my analogy. What would your parental advice be in such a situation?
I have maintained for the last four years that the ACC taxing district can demonstrate its ability to provide significant vocational training, but it has not wanted to do so, or it is incapable of doing what CTTC has done for the New Braunfels and Seguin area. Had it done so, it would have my support for annexation of the SMCISD. Its failure in this regard makes clear that its interest in San Marcos is tied directly to its desire to tax our people and businesses to improve its financial stability, as the Austin Chamber of Commerce concluded in its 2008 Austin Community College Progress Report. The ACC taxing district continues to focus on Austin and the high-growth area in Williamson County–its real areas of interest and commitment.
The ACC taxing district is a poor bargain for SMCISD taxpayers. It has proven by its three decades of inaction and neglect that it has no interest in helping the economic development of San Marcos by training its young men and women for good jobs that could be available if we and they had leaders with vision.
Whether the annexation fails or passes, we in the SMCISD have much work to do. We need to help our schools improve their performance with the goal of graduating many more students. We need to make possible meaningful vocational training for our graduates, either by building a facility and program like CTTC or by arranging low-cost transportation to CTTC for our graduates. If this annexation election has done nothing else, it should have helped our citizens focus on the needs of the students and graduates of SMCISD. The task now is to make their lives better by making sure they have real vocational opportunities after graduation that can lead to living-wage jobs.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Local Government Watch–ACC taxing districtEmail | Print