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

by SEAN BATURA

After an unusually heated discussion, San Marcos CISD board members on Oct. 24 voted narrowly to pay as much as $103,000 to stick with trustee elections in May rather than switch to November.

Many Texas school districts are examining whether to switch election days due to a recent change in state law. Senate Bill 100, passed by legislators this spring, puts primary runoffs on the third or fourth Tuesday in May, instead of sometime in April. The state made the changes in response to the federal 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which requires states to send ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a federal election — including party primary elections and runoff elections.

The school board voted 3-5 against moving elections to November and then voted 5-2 to appropriate the money to buy machines.

Because Buda and Kyle councils and San Marcos CISD traditionally hold their elections in May, voting machines cannot be cleared of data in time for the start of early voting in a runoff election the same month.

Joyce Cowan, county elections administrator, has said she cannot prepare machines for a new election until the old election has been canvassed. Therefore, she cannot guarantee county voting equipment will be available to cities and school districts in even-numbered years, when federal elections are held.

The $103,000 is the estimated cost of buying enough voting machines to conduct next year’s election with the same number of polling places utilized in previous elections, said Mike Abild, San Marcos CISD’s assistant superintendent for business and support services. He said the full $103,000 may not be necessary if the district opens fewer polling places or uses a leftover county voting machines. District staff will confer with Cowan to determine what options are available before voting machines are purchased.

The San Marcos chapter of the Texas State Teachers Association opposes keeping elections in May and expending up to $100,000 for voting machines.

“We believe that spending $100,000 during a budgetary crisis to pay for elections is the wrong choice,” said Susan Seaton, San Marcos TSTA president. “Classrooms and students, not politics, should be the school board’s first priority.”

Seaton said the district could put the money to better use keeping classes smaller, and providing additional classroom resources and
technology.

“I really don’t think it’s going to come close to $100,000 by the time we get through with it,” said Lupe Costilla, San Marcos CISD trustee. “This last time that I ran, there were only two polls open, and in years prior, there had been all of them open. [Cowan] has been in this business for a long, long time, so she more or less has an idea of what the voter turnout is going to be.”

Trustee Kathy Hansen and Trustees President David Chiu, both of whom both voted against sticking with May elections, have said the legislature in two years may require all school districts to have elections in November. They were joined in favoring November election by trustee Judy Allen.

“When we question spending $7,000 for choir uniforms because we’re getting more kids in choir, I don’t see how we can throw away $100,000-plus for machines that we may have no need for in two years,” Hansen said.

Trustee John Crowley, who voted for remaining with May elections, said they have served the district well, as evidenced by the fact that the board is an ethnically-diverse group of college graduates. Crowley said the board’s quality allowed it to meet the challenges of a tough budget year by cutting millions in spending.

Based on state funding formulas, the district expects to suffer a reduction in funding of approximately $2.2 million this budget year and $4 million next year compared to last year’s funding levels. Crowley said the district needs to be in top form in order to weather the stormy financial seas ahead.

“I think the system has worked — elections in May has done good things for this district and this community,” Crowley said. “I’m just afraid a November election will change that.”

Crowley said he is concerned by the cost buying new machines, but said “that’s not a huge amount of money in the big picture” when taking into account the affect of a November election.

“Next year we’re looking at probably cutting the budget again and I think it’s flippant for us to waste $103,000 — which, to me, is two teachers,” countered Hansen. “Or if we called every school and said, ‘We’re going to give you an extra $10,000,’ they would just jump for that. To me, [buying voting machines] is a selfish use of funds for what may just be our convenience. I think it’s important for this board to leave as minimal a footprint on the budget as we can and to assist in making sure that as many dollars as possible go to the classroom, to our students, so that we can give them a quality education.”

Hansen said November elections would increase voter turnout due to simultaneous federa, state, local, and city elections. San Marcos CISD elections are characterized by low voter turnout. By contrast, Trustee Margie Villalpondo opposed November elections because she said it would introduce political partisanship into what has been a non-partisan process. Further, she expressed concern that November elections would make it harder for some people to come out and vote due to the size of the ballot. Crowley said May elections are ideal because voters who care the most about the school district have a greater effect on the board’s composition.

Allen said reasons her colleagues offered for sticking with May elections are sound.

“But I can’t spend that money given our budgetary situation at this particular time,” Allen said. “Another time, I could consider it, but not at this time.”

There were a few votes taken on the matter at the Oct. 24 school board meeting. Those who voted for the change to November included Hansen, Allen, and Chiu. The same three trustees voted against remaining with May elections. Those who voted against the budget amendment allocating the $103,000 included Allen and Hansen.

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20 thoughts on “San Marcos CISD trustees opt to keep May elections

  1. I attended the regularly scheduled Board meeting where this matter was on the agenda and it was tabled in favor of taking it up in a special meeting which I am sure was more sparsely attended.

    This vote was about suppressing turnout to protect the incumbents. Because elections are in May and we are stuck with single member districts, these board members spend the largest budget in the county and make decisions regarding our children’s education after being elected by a couple hundred friends. One member got on the Board when he was upset about losing a coaching gig, and we cannot even count on some members to show up for meetings. If we are judging the elections by who is on the Board, please move the elections.

    And they voted to spend $100,000 to protect themselves while students are short on instructional materials and class sizes are swelling. Not to mention that we can only keep elections in May if a city within the district has May elections, so we will have to move anyway if Martindale moves its elections. Then what will the $100,000 of have gotten us? This district has real challenges, and until we have leaders ready to address the challenges, our kids will leave the district at a disadvantage against those around us.

    Thank you Allen, Hansen and Chiu; shame on the rest of you.

  2. I sent the below via email today…for those taxpayers that feel identical, please do the same and/or call.

    Dear John, Margie, David and Lupe,

    I, as well as MANY others, are stunned and OUTRAGED that you voted in favor of what you refer to as a ‘one time expense’! NOTHING in life is a ‘one time expense’ and with that being said it is apparent that there was little thought given to this astronomical expense at the cost of us, THE TAXPAYERS!

    What is the expense of hiring Hays County to ‘officiate’ the entire election and with EACH election? What is the expense of maintaining the equipment? What is the expense of the software updates?

    Margie, with your statement of, “My reason for keeping the elections in May is that a November election would be too political due to the partisan election, and we’d be at the bottom of the ballot.”…are you insinuating that those of us that DO VOTE are not intelligent enough to KNOW whom and what we are voting for? And, am I to assume that you are not up to a political battle in the event it even resulted in one? Give your constituents the benefit of the doubt and know that we are intelligent enough to make intelligent decisions, unlike the unintelligent decision each of you has made.

    John…your online profile reads…. John is interested in improving the educational system for students, while also being an advocate for strong financial decisions and appropriate fiscal spending. How does this expense constitute being an ‘appropriate’ and strong financial decision? Myself (and again many others), consider it a contradiction on all levels.

    In closing, each of you needs to do the right thing and be the bigger person(s) by acknowledging your err. Retract your vote in favor of this significant expenditure. This is an unnecessary expense and the wrong decision for our community and for our schools which you promised to represent OUR best interests, not your own.

    Best regards,

    Michelle Carswell

  3. It seems the real problem is SB 100, which has forced small entities (cities and school boards) to either fork over more money, or move their elections to where they will be drowned out by bigger races.

    For some reason, people equate more voters to more democracy and accountability. When you move every election to the same date, everything below the congressional races gets drowned out in the millions that are spent on TV ads and signs. November elections for small entities drastically increase the barrier of entry by forcing candidates to rely more on 4×8 campaign signs ($35+ each), mailers (thousands each depending on coverage), and TV ads (you don’t want to know). Even then, around 30% of people who actually show up at the polls simply don’t vote in anything but the top couple of races.

    Keep in mind that both of the people who voted for November elections are themselves up next. Chiu and Allen voted to extend their terms by six months, where they hoped their incumbent advantage would hide them on an overstuffed ballot.

  4. Griffin, please then explain the pathetic turnout in the last SMCISD election. I think I could take the falloff on down ballot races compared to 3% turnout.

  5. I’ll agree that turnout is poor in every election that doesn’t have a Presidential or Congressional race. But does moving every election to coincide with one of them somehow make for better elections?

    Again, people equate more voters to more democracy, and ergo accountability. It’s false logic. If you’re one of the 85%+ who don’t vote regularly, that’s not my fault. Don’t complain to me or anyone else when something bad happens and you can’t get elected officials to care.

  6. Let me make it clear that I’m not happy with the SMCISD decision either. I think we’d all prefer that money to be put in the classroom. The issue is that there is no “silver bullet” to more accountable government. We used to think early voting would do the trick, but all that has done is extended the campaign cycle and put more power in the hands of big donors and less power in the hands of activists. A massive shift to November elections will do nothing more than make local campaigns more reliant on big business, PACS, and special interests.

  7. Griffin:

    I appreciate your participation and opinion. I suspect you don’t have kids and therefore don’t share my sense of urgency. This is not some scenario in political science class – this is real life for parents, students, voters, and tax payers.

    48 months in the life of a teenager is an ENTIRE high school experience that they will live with forever. For an elected official, 48 months is plus/minus a term of office. We need the right people in office here – people who put students and representation of their constituents before self and ego.

    The school board has direct control of $60Million+ in taxpayer money PLUS the ability to change the lives (for better or worse) of over 7,000 young people.

    Griffin – this is not about you or what you know – this is about our kids!

  8. “It seems the real problem is SB 100…”

    NO, NO, NO, NO, NO…

    The real problem is we, as a community of San Marcos, do not own the responsibilities of public education. We do not care, we do not participate, we do not do the right things for our kids.

  9. Facts:

    Most voters in San Marcos do not vote.

    Most students in San Marcos do not go to college.

    Most students in San Marcos are poor.

  10. You’re right Mike, most people don’t care. Even posting a comment on a news story like this puts us in a very small group of informed and involved people. But I’m going to push you a bit on this: what’s the solution? Will November election really changes the facts you just listed?

    SB 100 is a problem not just for what it’s putting SMCISD through, but for what it put Austin through just last month, and what communities everywhere in Texas are having to do. It’s wasted money and time and energy. I understand the intent of the legislation but it’s just created a massive headache for cities and school boards across the state.

  11. Griffin – thanks for participating in this public dialogue.

    Here is my suggestion for you – go to Bowie Elementary – volunteer to read stories to Kindergarten classes and visit the ESL classes. Then go to the High School and help tutor the A+ lab after school sessions 2 times per week. Then come and chat about your perspective….

    This vote by the school board has NOTHING to do with SB100.

    This vote is about yet another example of the San Marcos community NOT taking ownership of public education.

  12. FTA: “Many Texas school districts are examining whether to switch election days due to a recent change in state law…Senate Bill 100”

    There are good arguments for moving local elections to November, but there are far better arguments for NOT moving them to November. However, without SB100 we wouldn’t even be discussing this right now.

    Mike, I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. I’d rather deal with the poor turnout in May because we ALL have the simple tools to solve that problem: get more people to the polls. If we had the elections in November instead, we’d be dealing with, at the very least the textbook companies giving out $10k each to their preferred candidates so that when the time comes their business gets the best deals with our tax dollars. How is the San Marcos community supposed to counter that?

  13. Griffen, I hate to disagree with such a well thought out idea, but San Marcos nie Texas has the money for new text books. Have you seen the outdated material used to teach science. Textbook companies are not backing school boards especially our district. Look to the state and governor races but I doubt it since the state isn’t funding new textbooks in this budget crunch!

  14. School Board deserves a grade of F.

    With budgets tight – I could not be more surprised that this is how the school board wants to spend our tax dollars. I think that even if you are at the bottom of the ballot, you would get more people to vote when there is more to vote on. You should be ashamed and embarrassed to spend instructional dollars on voting machines and election officers.

    John Crowley, Margie Villalpando, David Castillo and Lupe Costilla – this vote will NOT be forgotten. This issue alone will resonate with your constituents. You can be sure that $100,000 speaks volumes to all people in San Marcos. You might think that people without children will not vote in a school-only election. But they will come out to vote against you because of this foolish and unnecessary spending.

    I will not let this issue be forgotten and I will do whatever I can to get out the vote against you.

    John Crowley comes up for re-election in 2013. And even though David Castillo, Margie Villalpando,and Lupe Costilla don’t come up for re-election until 2014 – I will not let this issue be forgotten. You are supposed to represent the best interests of the school district and that would include spending the school tax money responsibly.

    I urge the School Board to reconsider this unfortunate, expensive and unnecessary decision.

  15. There is still time to convince the board to change their decision. This was a 4-3 vote, so we only need one trustee to change their vote.

    I encourage everyone to attend the next scheduled SMCISD board meeting on November 21. We are working on circulating a petition to the San Marcos community and presenting the signatures to the board, showing the overwhelming disapproval of the board’s decision to keep elections in May at the cost of SMCISD students.

  16. Where will petitions be available? It would be a good idea to have a location where people could stop by to sign the petition.

    Also, if you could post a link to where copies of the petition could be printed from the Internet, then anybody that wanted to would be able to circulate the petition for signatures.

    Other than the four trustees (Crowley, Villalpando, Castillo, Costilla) that voted in favor of this expensive mistake, I have not found one person that supports this action.

    However, many people were not aware of this School Board action. So a petition would give us the opportunity to talk about this issue with parents, neighbors, friends and students that are voting age.

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