San Marcos CISD voters will go to the polls on Nov. 2 to consider joining the Austin Community College District after trustees voted unanimously Monday to certify petitions containing enough signatures to call for the annexation election.
Annexation into the ACC District will bring immediate lower tuition for San Marcos CISD residents and a full-service campus to San Marcos by 2014.
ACC trustees certified 2,174 signatures submitted by San Marcos ACCess, the local steering committee organizing the petition drive, at its regular monthly meeting Monday.
The San Marcos ACCess committee organized earlier this year to help create more accessible and affordable higher education opportunities for San Marcos CISD residents in order to strengthen the local community and economy, said San Marcos ACCess leaders.
“This is a great deal for San Marcos. It fills an enormous gap in our local education services and provides a tremendous return on investment for the taxpayers of San Marcos CISD,” said San Marcos ACCess co-chair Albert Sierra, who serves with co-chairs Miguel Arredondo and Kim Porterfield.
“I’m proud of the hundreds of community volunteers who worked hard to make this happen. It was a grass-roots effort that received support from more than 2,100 voters who want to have the right to vote in November on joining the ACC district,” he said.
Sierra, one of the founding members of LULAC #654 and former chair of the San Marcos ENLACE coalition, said joining the ACC District makes sense for San Marcos. “ACC is a leader in workforce training. These services will be comprehensive, convenient and less expensive for our residents if we join the district,” Sierra said.
State law provides that junior colleges may call annexation elections when at least five percent of the registered voters in that territory as of the most recent general election for state and county officers sign a petition requesting a vote on annexation.
For San Marcos CISD, 2,033 signatures were required. The petitions were verified by Hays County Election Administrator Joyce Cowan.
Lower tuition, general education transfer courses and entry-level job training will help his classmates at San Marcos High School, said Arredondo, who graduated last weekend after two terms as Student Council President.
“Immediately upon joining the district, San Marcos CISD residents will see a reduction in tuition from the Fall 2010 out-of-district price of $450 for a typical three hour course ($498 with fees) to $126 ($174 with fees),” Arredondo said.
“The San Marcos campus will have entry-level job training programs and general education courses that will transfer to any Texas public college or university,” he added.
Should voters decide to become part of the ACC District, homeowners would pay a property tax currently set at $0.0946 per $100 valuation. The total tax rate includes a maintenance and operations tax rate of $0.09 (which cannot be increased without voter approval). ACC also collects $0.0046 for debt service on facilities bonds.
The college offers a standard $5,000 homestead exemption, and senior citizens and homeowners with disabilities receive an additional $105,000 exemption, for a total exemption of $110,000. For example, the owner of a $120,000 house would pay about $108 a year, or less than $9 a month, including the standard $5,000 homestead exemption.
Under the same $120,000 home ownership scenario, senior citizens and homeowners with disabilities would pay $9.46 a year or 79 cents a month.
The construction of the campus will not only bring hundreds of jobs and other beneficial economic impacts to San Marcos, but will result in a regional workforce training institution that will have permanent advantages, said Porterfield, a member of the San Marcos City Council and a long-time school and social service volunteer.
“This effort is about giving San Marcos CISD residents, especially our young people and those wanting to increase their workforce skills, greater access to affordable education,” said Porterfield.
Local support for the initiative is strong. The San Marcos City Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of annexation and the Partners for Progress strategic economic development plan released earlier this year calls for the “local presence of a community college.”
Partners in Progress is comprised of 33 leaders from the greater San Marcos area including elected officials, university, industry, school district, health care, retail, business, chamber and economic development representatives who came together over the past year to develop the best plan to keep the local economy moving forward.
“The gap in educational services between the high school and four-year university levels is draining the pool of skills labor,” says the report. “Without local access to a community college, workers are at an extraordinary disadvantage to improve skills and increase their income,” the report notes in its findings.
“ACC fits the bill, providing high-quality, affordable workforce education that helps citizens find better jobs, earn higher wages and contribute more to the local tax base, along with customized training such as management skills, technical and leadership training tailored to meet the needs of our local businesses and organizations,” Porterfield said.
Upon passage of the annexation, ACC has committed to building a full-service campus in San Marcos. The campus is part of the board-approved ACC Master Plan and officials plan to release a Request for Proposals next week for architects to begin planning the first phase of the proposed San Marcos campus.
Austin Community College officials have worked with local industry representatives, San Marcos CISD, Gary Job Corps, Texas State University and other officials to tailor a service plan that is unique to San Marcos.
ACC will present the proposed service plan, which outlines courses, programs, tax information and other items, and receive public comment about it at a public hearing on July 15 at 6 p.m. at a location to be announced.