By LON R. SHELL
Distinguished Professor of Agriculture at Texas State, retired
Many cities and communities, including San Marcos, are adopting what is referred to as “SmartGrowth” in their planning. Although there are many descriptions of SmartGrowth, most include “good stewardship, managing outcomes, economic development and responsible growth” in their definitions.
The Citizens Advocating Responsible Education – San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District (CARE – SMCISD) have these same concepts for educating our citizens in the San Marcos school district.
Responsible education implies that it is accountable to those in the district that pay the taxes supporting it. For example, in our public schools we elect school board members to represent us in the decisions made providing our students the best education possible with the resources available. Sometimes, they fall short of our desires and expectations and we fire them by electing new school board members. The same goes for the administrators and leaders in our school.
A few years ago, our taxpayers voted bonds to build a new school plant, including a new high school. In planning for the new $50 million plus high school, there was very little provided for laboratories for technical and career education. I expressed my concern to representatives of our board at the time. Closing down most of the existing vocational/technical programs and busing a few students back to the old facilities does not meet what I would call smart and responsible education. College preparation should be part of our educational goal, but it is not mutually exclusive to technical and career preparation.
I understand that there are discussions ongoing by our school board on how to rectify this career technical education deficiency. There is no question that good vocational programs will increase our graduation rates and, at the same time, provide and prepare our students for gainful employment.
Austin Community College (ACC) promises many things that address not only our vocational technical education, but also academic programs that would transfer to universities. The big problem is that it is only a promise. ACC is not accountable or responsible to San Marcos CISD. ACC’s record has not been good in the past, even though we were assigned to its service area years ago by the legislature. ACC is obligated by law to provide for our citizens’ post-secondary education needs; yet, their offerings of vocational technical programs in San Marcos have been very limited. Most of the courses they offer in San Marcos are remedial courses. Even these are taught by adjunct (part-time) faculty in facilities leased from our school system. ACC has not shown any intent or desire to teach the more demanding and expensive technical career courses. They have not been forthcoming in their literature, including their San Marcos service plan, regarding maximum tax rates and course offerings. For example, the maximum tax rate ACC could levy is 10 times the present rate. Wording on the petition and ballot regarding annexation does not even have the word “tax” in it. Is this truthful?
Building $100 million dollar plus campuses in the San Marcos, Hays and Bastrop school districts, ACC wants to annex in order to increase its tax base, but will not assure that it will establish or duplicate the expensive technical courses, such as robotics, CNC (computer numerical controlled) machine labs, welding, automotive, medical and health care courses at those campuses. For example, moving or duplicating expensive health care courses ACC has in north Austin to the San Marcos campus is very unlikely.
It is not probable that ACC will establish, in San Marcos, $700,000 labs for courses such as robotics, such as those at the Central Texas Technology Center (CTTC) located down the road in New Braunfels. ACC is already $500 million dollars in debt. By the way, annexation will result in all San Marcos CISD property owners incurring liability for ACC’s indebtedness.
There are less than 50 San Marcos High School 2009 graduates attending ACC at this time. ACC indentifies 757 students that resided in San Marcos CISD and attended ACC this past year. What this implies is that a vast majority of students that ACC will serve are not graduates of San Marcos, but mostly Texas State students. Should our tax payers subsidize these students with reduced enrollment fees?
If the San Marcos CISD is annexed to ACC and the funds generated by this additional taxing authority go to Austin, San Marcos will forever be restricted in its ability to develop more responsible post-secondary educational opportunities for its citizens. Foundations to support scholarships, developing our own technical school, and cooperating with other educational groups and community colleges like CTTC will be severely limited because resources will be soaked from us that could be allocated here in a more responsible and accountable way.
What makes one think that by voting for ACC to annex us in their taxing district will make them more responsible and accountable – forever? If you give them this authority by voting for annexation, unlike our school district, you will have no effective representation and control or recourse.