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Commentary: ACC won't address training needs

COMMENTARY
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.

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#1 Comment By chris north On 10/21/2010 @ 3:23 pm

wow. Thanks Professor Shell. Lots of points I had not thought about, and I agree, especially with the last paragraph.
Forever is a long time.

#2 Comment By Jon C. On 10/21/2010 @ 8:46 pm

Dr. Shell,
You illustrate very clearly why we should not vote for annexation. Your lifetime of service to higher education makes your opinion worth more than most. Thank you for your continued support of our community.

#3 Comment By Steve Harvey On 10/21/2010 @ 8:58 pm

California is having major issues in their community colleges, needing to teach remedial Math and English to bring the “college students” up to speed. The impression I continue to get from many various data points across the country says we need to improve academic performance in K-4 if we really want to help our children break out of low-income cycles so they can then create a better future for their children.

Here is a link to a front page article that ran yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle on this subject:

sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/10/20/MNN41FUHQH.DTL

#4 Comment By ARMYDAD On 10/21/2010 @ 9:01 pm

How nice that a retired Prof from Texas State thinks that he knows what ACC will offer in San Marcos. Has he been part of the discussion with ACC on what our community wants taught in San Marcos at a proposed new campus? He rails against spending money on ACC when Texas State spends and spends and does not address the vocational needs of the business community. Texas State now has tuition rising faster that a bucket of yeast. I graduated from Texas State but if it were not for the small class size and less expensive classes at ACC I doubt I would have graduated from Texas State. Where and when is Texas State accountable to the taxpayers? Maybe we can get a few Profs to come down off the hill and start some new programs at SMCISD. Nah. Texas State already does enough to justify the endless meal from the public trough on which they feed.

#5 Comment By ARMYDAD On 10/21/2010 @ 9:11 pm

Steve, how do we get solutions to address K-4 when we are just about maxed out on our school tax rate without giving money back to the state? I see many comments on investing more funds into SMCISD but how can it be done? Thanks for the different points of view and comments. I think we all want the same thing. The hard question is how do we get there? I hope we can agree that what we have been doing is not working.

#6 Comment By SamD. On 10/22/2010 @ 5:46 am

IMO (Children in SMCISD system) our elementary campuses are doing a good job. I was glad to see our district bring 5th grade back to elementary campuses.

I see problems begin in middle school (tough years for kids – peer pressure, hormones, less parent involvement) and think more support (= $, community/TSU volunteer, parent accountability) could be spent there.

An example ( trivial, maybe, but common when talking to others) is the in-school athletic program. Students who don’t make teams spend gym period “conditioning” (jogging) the class time instead of coaches working s/them on skills. The kids get bored & discouraged & drop out of athletics. Take a look at San Marcos local obesity rates sometimes in HEB. ( I do believe this trickles down to academic achievement.)

I see a lot of kids drop out and give up, in spirit, during middle school years.

It’s nice to see SMLN recognize academic successes w/our older students.

#7 Comment By JayMan On 10/22/2010 @ 8:17 am

I must say that you have truly made me think about my desion to support the annexation. The statistic regarding the number of San Marcos students actually enrolled versus the number reported is staggering and I had no idea about assuming their debt. Thank you for this great information to consider when makinga more informed vote.

#8 Comment By Ted Marchut On 10/22/2010 @ 8:38 am

Armydad, I don’t know that more money is the answer. I think the solution starts with a superintendent who has a successful track record in districts like ours. There are many out there, in poorer districts, making less money than we pay. We should recruit one, or at a minimum, forge relationships with as many as possible, to get their insight.

#9 Comment By Steve Harvey On 10/22/2010 @ 10:27 am

Tuesday, Oct 26, 6:30pm, Central SMCISD Office Boardroom (501 South LBJ Drive), this is our opportunity to give input on the next SMCISD superintendent profile under development by the superintendent search team.

#10 Comment By mike On 10/22/2010 @ 2:16 pm

I respectfully disagree with the notion that places hope and reliance on the SMCISD superintendent.

Long term San Marcos residents have seen MANY superintendents come and go over the years. Some “sups” were well liked by the community and almost all had some controversy – as it is common to the job. Several former San Marcos “sups” are still active in Texas public education and very notable in their accomplishments.

I suggest we abandon our search for a “Messiah” and simply ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY for our situation. The more we place reliance on the superintendent the more we suffer when he/she leaves. We have serious issues that we fail to face. As one interim superintendent said (referring to our lack of academic accomplishment and the dropout rate): “you have made your bed in this town and now you have to sleep in it.”

The superintendent profile is a standard exercise with predicable results – it is kinda like writing a letter to Santa – you might get some of the stuff but probably won’t get everything and the fun is in writing the letter. If history is any indication, it is best not to get one’s hopes up.

#11 Comment By Ted Marchut On 10/22/2010 @ 2:53 pm

Um, do you have any specific action items?

#12 Comment By Bob On 10/22/2010 @ 3:08 pm

Make San Marcos the most teacher friendly district within 150 miles and you’ll attract and keep the best and brightest. We need to work with TxState to utilize more teachers aids to come in early and stay late so teachers can leave on time and not pull bus duty or other things that get in the way of teaching, preparing lesson plans, grading papers, calling parents and all the other garbage that gets dumped on them by administators.

#13 Comment By mike On 10/22/2010 @ 3:47 pm

Thanks for interest in SMCISD – unfortunately this article is about ACC – so I think these comments are a bit off-topic here but VERY appropriate for THIS article (which ironically has NO comments as of yet):
http://www.newstreamz.com/2010/10/15/san-marcos-cisd-sets-superintendent-search-meetings/

Therefore I will copy my comment over there and continue the dialogue.

#14 Comment By SMHometown@aol.com On 10/22/2010 @ 3:57 pm

Mike is correct. We can not wait for Superman/women to come save us. I know of one San Marcos CISD middle school teacher that HATES the career choice she made to teacher but continues day in and day out to collect her paycheck. She recently she wrote on FB that she wished some parents would SLAP some sense into her students. At the end of many weeks she celebrates and most Sundays she writes of the dread she feels. She does not use her current married name of FB. I do not know how many other of SMCISD teachers feel as she does but I would guess that she is not alone. We all talk a good game about wanting to help SMCISD but quality of life/work balance remains a challenge. Many would say that she could find another job if it is so bad but not many jobs currently open with insurance and all the other perks.

#15 Comment By Ted Marchut On 10/22/2010 @ 8:58 pm

Again, action items, please.

#16 Comment By Jane Hughson On 10/24/2010 @ 9:09 pm

To be clear, I am recommending to the voting citizens of the San Marcos CISD to vote NO to allow annexation into the Austin Community College district.

It hurts me to suggest to anyone to vote against any type of education, truly it does. But in this case, we must. We cannot allow over 3 million dollars to leave this community for only a thousand students. One thousand and forty eight, to be exact. That is ACC’s estimate of the number of students in San Marcos that will enroll the first year at the lower rate, assuming this passes. ACC’s estimate for year two? Only 1,386 students.

Where did I get these numbers? From a presentation last spring, by Stephen Kinslow (president of ACC), at a meeting of the Governmental Affairs committee of the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce.

If I thought that everyone in the SMCISD who is unemployed or underemployed would attend ACC and become fully employed, I could get behind this. If only half would become fully employed, I might be convinced. But only a thousand? No way. Just too expensive.

Think about the letters you have read and ads you have seen. It appears that those FOR are running on the “feels good” campaign. No hard numbers, just text such as “think about it great it would be to have a community college in our town” or “we would look so progressive” but nothing concrete about costs. And certainly nothing about Return on Investment!

Think about the letters that ask you to vote AGAINST. Hard numbers and hard facts. Once passed, irrevocable. Over 3 million dollars. Not every program will be offered in San Marcos so many will still have to drive to an Austin campus. And more.

If nothing else, can you vote for an educational institution whose print ads have punctuation errors? “i am acc” all in lower case. After seeing something similar in the 60’s, my mother (a sixth grade teacher) said “How am I supposed to teach children proper punctuation when they see things like that.” Enough said. Enough for me. Think about it. And vote NO to ACC.

#17 Pingback By QUOTE CORNER – San Marcos Local News On 11/01/2010 @ 10:21 am

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#18 Comment By chris north On 11/01/2010 @ 1:27 pm

I just answered the 3rd or 4th robo-call in recent days asking me to vote for ACC. This one began Spanish.
It’s “for our future”!
I wonder if our Spanish-speaking neighbors understand the tax implications of voting “yes” to ACC?
I also wonder who’s paying for these calls?

#19 Comment By John Mcglothlin On 11/01/2010 @ 1:41 pm

I don’t think that speaking Spanish makes one less able to put together information and make an informed decision.

#20 Comment By Steve Blank On 11/01/2010 @ 2:06 pm

I was sad to see that when voting there is nothing said about ACC. It’s the only resolution that says anything about money going to community college so I hope everyone understands that means ACC.

#21 Comment By SMHometown On 11/01/2010 @ 2:51 pm

Chris, we understand and many of us will vote YES. I am sure some english speaking people do not understand that voting Yes offers another path to economic gains for all of us. Entiendes?

#22 Comment By chris north On 11/01/2010 @ 3:54 pm

True, Homey. But at least english-speaking voters have the option to enlighten themselves on the issues by reading the 5 or 6 news publications in SM and Hays Co.
My point is, if one does not read/speak english, where does one go for information? Comprende?
And what economic gains are you talking about? How is raising my taxes so a couple of thousand students can get a better rate on tuition an economic gain for me? Who will benefit from a grand new ACC campus besides the developer and the builder? Where will it be built? On who’s land? Won’t the entire development be taken off the tax roles?
Haven’t we seen enough of the tax-exempt land-grab by Texas State? They even refuse to pay the city’s Drainage Fee, and they have quite a bit of impervious cover that results in incredible amounts of NPS pollution that directly affects our aquifer and river.
If we need a community college so badly, let’s have our own! San Marcos Community College has a nice ring!

#23 Comment By Dreamteam On 11/01/2010 @ 7:38 pm

yes to ACC

#24 Comment By SMHometown On 11/01/2010 @ 9:16 pm

Chris, was it you that decided long ago to live in a home near the recharge zone and fought to make sure no one could build near you? I know it was about the enviroment. Have you moved from your comfy nook on Prospect St? Talk about a thug!.

#25 Comment By chris north On 11/01/2010 @ 11:32 pm

Homey, what the hell does that have to do with ACC?
And that is such a tired argument and proves that you are a member of the SMABOR.
I live ON the recharge zone, as you know, in a house that was built (badly! chronic plumbing problems and wiring that would not pass code today.) in 1974. I’ve lived here for 15 years.
Again, what does the recharge zone and where I live have to do with anything on this thread?
(i know, i just fed the troll, but i can’t help it sometimes)
Shut up and vote.