By the San Marcos Local News editorial board
We, on this editorial board, are divided about the proposed annexation of Austin Community College into the San Marcos CISD. We are divided because the question pulls us in two directions. We want and support more and better educational opportunities for our people of all ages and incomes, particularly the less advantaged. But we do not like the circumstances underlying this proposal and entirely understand the opposition’s sincere voice.
One might wonder how the pro-ACC forces could botch this so badly. But it’s not such a mystery around here.
There have, as well, been a good number of insincere voices on both sides of the debate, and it all goes back to the 2006 fiasco in which the pro-ACC consultants wrote up phony signatures and almost put the matter before voters under false pretenses. Merely changing the name and some members of the advocacy group this time around isn’t going to assuage some people, even if the pro-ACC forces gathered the signatures legitimately this time.
But if we can leave 2006 back in 2006, we are offered a proposal. If the voters on Nov. 2 vote to annex ACC into the San Marcos CISD, then property will be taxed at a rate of 9.51 cents per $100 of value, with a $105,000 exemption for the elderly and disabled. In exchange, ACC says it will build a campus in San Marcos and charge people living within San Marcos CISD at the in-district rate of $42 per credit hour, compared with the $150 per hour now paid out of the district.
ACC is a community college system offering two-year associate degrees and various professional certifications. The benefits within San Marcos would be enormous and are very much needed. If we were looking at making some kind of public investment to address precisely what ails San Marcos, thinking only about the cost and benefit while leaving out the rancor, ACC could very well wind up at the top of the list.
If only it were that simple. Some voters in town don’t even trust the service ACC offers, arguing that the community college will not address the job training needs of young San Marcians. But many people who trust the service ACC offers also mistrust the relationship with ACC, for reasons that are hard to refute.
First, ACC’s tone deafness about the political climate in San Marcos borders on obstinacy and raises the possibility that the community college district won’t be everything we’d like in an education partner. For example, if we’re going into a permanent relationship with ACC, then ACC can’t be making unilateral decisions about where that campus goes. But ACC has done exactly that.
Anyone who has been around this town for a few days knows that the location of San Marcos High School, way out on the eastern edge, continues to have people scratching their heads. It was one of those “free land” type of deals that makes small governments act dopey. It’s not near anything. So what does ACC do? It contracts for land right next to the high school. In ACC’s defense, at least the location is consistent with the Horizons Master Plan, which is more than we can say for how the city council makes decisions.
There may well be a good argument for putting ACC way out there. Maybe having ACC next to the high school can seed some kind of good commercial development in that area. But that’s a discussion that needs to take place in the community, and that simply never happened. The people in this city have a huge stake in where ACC goes, particularly if they’re going to be permanently taxed for it. We’ve got a good many people in this city who are committed to the public process and will not put up with having the city’s future dictated to them. They won’t take it from City Hall, and they won’t take it from ACC, either.
Apparently, ACC is more interested in tapping San Marcos CISD’s $3 billion tax base than in engaging the community. And while ACC is attempting to annex our $3 billion worth, it also is simultaneously attempting to annex four other school districts that are much smaller than ours. So, we’re supposed to be 20 percent of ACC’s expansion, but it appears we would end up funding well more than 20 percent of this expansion, perhaps as much as 40 percent. It does look like those ingredients shape up as a raw deal for San Marcos.
Along with all of that, times are tough, as everyone knows. It’s just not a good time for asking people to accept tax increases. The Hays County commissioners, who were about to raise taxes by nearly two cents, heard that loud and clear from citizens and wound up budgeting based on last year’s tax rate.
But it is way too easy to just blow off ACC and ignore the numerous benefits. Broader and deeper access to continuing education is one of many reasons why San Marcos would do well to embrace the community college district.
ACC stands to provide several dozen living-wage employment opportunities, perhaps enough to reach our bar for economic development incentives if it were some other kind of business looking to locate in town. The teaching positions, alone, would considerably help enable this town to capture some of the young talent coming out of Texas State with advanced degrees, diversifying our population with the energy of young professionals. We could do with a bit more of that. The broad range of needs for the campus would create numerous other employment options, administrative and professional to maintenance and custodial, full-time and part-time. ACC is a legitimate employer.
ACC also is a workforce development program. We already have Gary Job Corps and some ACC training programs? Apparently, that’s not good enough. And it is flat-out missing the point to say we need to ignore the possibility of ACC and concentrate on kindergarten through high school, even if you’re willing to add 9.51 cents to your school tax rate, which you are not. Obviously, we need to be better in kindergarten through high school, but a good secondary education doesn’t qualify anybody for anything except admission to a four-year college, and that simply isn’t realistic for the kind of people we’re talking about when we gripe about the low incomes and limited skills in this city.
Which is why it is equally disingenuous to argue that the presence of Texas State makes a community college unnecessary. Texas State is not and cannot be all things to all people. The entrance requirements for students at Texas State are as demanding as those at Texas A&M. It’s not a place where a kid can just crawl in, sign his name to a piece of paper and start going to college. Texas State is virtually useless when it comes to addressing people who don’t have the money or the academic chops to make a four-year degree realistic.
We have a terrible problem in San Marcos with people leaving high school and having no prospects, limited skills almost zero opportunity. We need that community college level of education in our local arsenal, if only to realistically address our young people of low socioeconomic status who aren’t exposed to ideas at home, won’t ever be able to trade on conceptual dexterity and would embrace training, even if they think “school” is a dirty word.
People talk out of both sides of their mouths when they bemoan the lack of skill and income in this town, but won’t embrace the means to deal with it. Towards that end, nobody has offered a better option than ACC, and it is arguable that nobody can. Anybody who thinks San Marcos is going to attract high-wage employers with a high school-educated workforce needs a new calendar.
Those reasons, combined, speak for ACC as an anti-poverty program and an economic development program. It’s also a lifeline and a second chance for people, young and old. A good many kids don’t succeed in high school because the social environment is distracting and suffocating for them, and kids do dumb things, and we should not throw kids away just because they do dumb things. The opportunity to go to college, surrounded by motivated students in a higher level environment for $42 per hour is a godsend for people like that. We need opportunities in this city for people to reform and remediate themselves if we’re going to even begin dealing constructively with our most pressing social problems.
It has been argued that ACC is a tax on poor people. Rubbish. ACC levies a tax on property, and poor people, by definition, don’t own a lot of property. Since we’re talking about poor people, as we have through much of this discussion, let’s brainstorm the stakes here for poor people.
Suppose you are the patriarch or matriarch of your beloved family, you haven’t set the world on fire economically, life is hard and you can’t keep an eye on everything your kids do. You want something better for your offspring. Some educators have tried to deny this, but others see very clearly that there’s a difference between poor kids and rich kids. Rich kids can make plans for the future. Poor kids try to get through the day. That’s the nature of poverty. The poor are trapped in an eternal present.
The poor aren’t all sitting around with their hands out for free money. You can work your tail off in this country and go broke. And it is simply a truth that people who have to expend their energy on food, rooftops and clothing don’t have anything left for the political process. This is one of the deep tragedies of America. We’re a democracy that has so given in to market fundamentalism that our most gullible people are seduced into consumption rather than citizenship, and the demands of citizenship exclude poor people from participation.
So, our patriarch of the poor family wants something better for the kids. How about a two-year college degree? Today, that will cost you $9,000 (at 60 hours for $150 each), plus the fuel and inconvenience of driving to an ACC campus elsewhere. By the way, one of the sillier arguments against placing ACC in San Marcos CISD is that the San Marcos kids can go to the ACC campus in Hays CISD if ACC is approved there. Because San Marcos kids would still be out of the ACC district, they would pay the out-of-district rate that comes to $9,000. An ACC campus in Hays CISD does not help San Marcos kids one bit.
But if San Marcos CISD is in the ACC district, that two-year degree would cost $2,520. A kid can pay for that with a good summer job. Now, it’s going to cost our matriarch something. Say you live in a slightly below average home, assessed at $100,000 (according to the Hays County Appraisal District, the average home value in San Marcos is $118,790). Your property tax bite from ACC is $95.10. You will be paying that property tax for 68 years and change before the tax man has taken the money you saved on in-district tuition as opposed to out-of-district tuition for one child. By then, the family probably is a bit better off.
If anybody is going to vote for ACC, it’s going to be poor people. The guy in the $100,000 house already is paying the city $530 per year so it can give $20 million to out-of-town residential developers, the county is taking about $480 per year and can barely maintain a jail that won’t kill his hopeless and restless kid in case he winds up there, and he’s supposed to think $95 per year for educational opportunity is a raw deal?
And, yes, ACC would be of great help to Texas State, which could ship students there for remediation and channel those resources towards research and higher academic achievement. Why should anybody oppose that? Texas State’s growth and prestige are good for San Marcos.
Among the waves of dreadfully inept arguments against ACC, it is cited that 757 ACC students today reside in San Marcos CISD, as if that is an indication of how little a local campus would be used. In order to believe that, you would have to believe it makes absolutely no difference that those 757 students are paying $150 per hour and driving to Austin, and that the number of students would be similar if they could pay $42 per hour and go to a campus in town.
But the storms of poor arguments against ACC, desperate as they are, have as their source a deep, frustrating suspicion that the community college is attempting to prey on the city, rather than work in the city’s best interest. That mistrust defines the dynamic of this election.
The good reasons for annexing ACC are many, they relate to the service ACC offers and their grasp does require some effort of the moral imagination. The good reasons against annexing ACC are few, they point to the sad state of the relationship between San Marcos and ACC, and they are of direct consequence to the pocket book in harrowing economic times.
If we annex ACC, we develop a wide range of programs and opportunities this city badly needs, but there is a lack of consideration in the relationship and it would leverage a cost against each property owner. If we don’t annex ACC, we lose that opportunity, though it could come back in better economic times, perhaps when voters are convinced that ACC has the city’s interests sufficiently at heart.
We don’t know if annexation will win or lose. We only know that voters who have fully considered the matter will hold their noses, whichever way they vote. It’s that kind of a call.Email | Print