Saturday, July 22, 2017


By Juan Montoya
Ostensibly created in 1964 – 53 years ago – with a mission to provide education to disabled youth who were then excluded from public education, the entity known as the South Texas Independent School District has evolved into a three-county taxing entity superimposed on taxpayers who already pay taxes to their own school districts.

The Texas Legislature then approved levying additional taxes (now at $0.0492 per $100 valuation on a $52 billion tax base) on Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties taxpayers to fund the district's operations. But since the districts in those three counties are now required to provide special needs students with educational services, the mega districts' supporters rapidly moved away from the original mission and now oversee a vast educational empire that can only be construed to be a form of double taxation since taxpayers already pay taxes to their home school districts.

How was it that this super district evolved into what it is today?

The district first known as the Rio Grande Rehabilitation District until 1973 and renamed South Texas Independent School District (STISD) in 1974. At its origin, it was just one residential high school in Edinburg, named South Texas High School. It then opened another school by the same name in Harlingen in 1967. In 1982, STISD moved the Harlingen school to a new facility in San Benito.

After local districts provided educational services to the disabled youth in their areas, STISD sought help from the legislature to allow it to provide services already provided by other districts that would allow them to continue in business. Lawmakers extended STISD’s purpose in 1983 to include the operation of vocational magnet schools. The year after,in 1984, the South Texas High School for Health Professions (Med High) opened in Mercedes, followed by the Science Academy of South Texas (Sci Tech), also in Mercedes, in 1989.

In 1993, South Texas High School in Edinburg was redirected and reopened as The Teacher Academy of South Texas (Teacher Academy).

In 2003, Teacher Academy added business and technology programs and the school was renamed South Texas Business, Education & Technology Academy (BETA). That same year, South Texas High School in San Benito was redirected and reopened as South Texas Academy of Medical Technology (Med Tech).

In 2008, the junior high from South Texas Business, Education & Technology Academy (BETA) separated and opened as South Texas Preparatory Academy (STPA). The STISD still serves special needs students with a small branch called the Half-Day Career & Technology Program offered at each school.

Meanwhile, its taxing power intact, the STISD has seen its operating budget balloon from $39 million  in 2010-2011 to $65 million in 2016-2017. (

Instead of lowering the tax rate, the district continues collecting more than $25 Million dollars from local taxes. The other $32 Million dollars or so comes mainly from State and Federal funds (the additional $7 Million dollars was added from the fund balance).

Many education administrators from neighboring school districts consider this outrageous considering that the district serves around only about 3,600 students from the three-county area. By comparison, La Feria ISD serves almost the same number of students with a budget of only $32 million. Yet in spite do the fact that the district is loaded with cash, it does not have a band, a  complete athletic program as LFISD does, and other extra curricular activities.

A La Feria ISD taxpayer, for example, is paying school property taxes to their own district (the LFISD tax rate is currently around $1.29 per $100 valuation) and to STISD. This allowed the STISD a few years ago to pay $32 million in cash to build the new Medical Academy in Olmito.

School district administrators say: It is almost impossible for any district to have this kind of cash to build any additional schools or to renovate existing facilities. In fact, the Brownsville Independent School District, with a $540 million budget, had to pass a 11 1/4 cent increase in property taxes to finance a $100 million facilities program over the next five years. How do you build up this kind of cash if there no excessive tax money generated?

Critics say that instead of lowering the tax rate, school officials are constantly urging administrators to spend the money left in the budget in order to avoid attracting any overt public attention. They say the STISD administration continues to spend money on new equipment, furniture, and remodeling existing facilities that doesn't need to be renovated.

They say that in some cases the STISD's Maintenance Department has torn something up just to rebuild it. Salaries are another sore point.

With only 3,600 students from throughout the three counties, the deputy superintendent's salary went from a $109,551 in 2014-2015 to $128,000 in 2015-2016 and now stands at more than $132,000.

The Asst. Superintendent for Finance is making more than $108,000, the Support Service Administrator now commands more than $104,00 and the Public Relations Coordinator is climbing towards $75,000. (See graphic at right. Click to enlarge.)

Will anyone in the the tree-county district scrutinize the operations and self-dealing going on in this mega district whose original mission has become obsolete but continues to milk the over-burdened taxpayers with its extravagant spending and inflated administrator salaries?


Anonymous said...

Good Montoya

Anonymous said...

And some people complain about BISD.

Anonymous said...

Do they buy turf? Do they buy rings? Do they grow pumpkins? Get iPads?

But they still get our students from Brownsville

Anonymous said...

STISD is a Great School District, great teachers and great students as well. Although they do not operate with task of educating "ALL STUDENTS". STISD has no discipline or attendance problems because they can send those problems on their way. So of course STISD has success that regular School Districts are unable to achieve. STISD also caters to students from Mexico, whose parents usually have a rented condo or apartment on this side of the river to establish residence, although not being burdened by an unfair tax levee. You may look at their advertised media for your self and see that they pride themselves with the fact that many of their students come from Mexico.
Just Saying

Anonymous said...

I feel so outraged for paying so much taxes to different entities in Hidalgo County. Why should I pay taxes to STISD if my kids don't even attend the district? I'm already paying high taxes to McAllen ISD and STC. We need to contact our politicians and encourage them to stop the wasteful spending and abuse committed by this district. We need to prevent school officials from throwing our money on overpaid employees and useless projects throughout the district.

Anonymous said...

People who send their kids think this school is better than a regular ISD and have the misconception that they are sending their kids to private school, if course things like discipline or attendance are better because they dump all the problems to regular ISDs and that alone is discrimination.

Anonymous said...

This might explain why the enrollment at STISD is dropping lately. Beside the fact that Idea Academy is recruiting many students from across the Valley, Many Mexican families are choosing not to move into the US because of the political environment created by Trump. Why should we pay so much of our hard working monies to educate non-American kids, who can afford private schools elsewhere? Our local school districts don't really care if taxpayers are paying extra money to education non- US citizens. It is time to contact our local politicians to let them know how we feel.

Anonymous said...

STISD was at one time providing services that were not able to children with disabilities in many of the Valley's school district. However, that is no longer happening due to the least restrictive environment guidelines that require students to be serve in their home environment.
As per Career Technology services, most of the school district in the Valley are providing those services to their students. The residents of the three Valley counties are the only residents in the whole state that are having to pay double school property taxes due to this setting that is no longer needed and has become a private school for children of affluent parents who do not want to sent their children to their local public school. In addition, STISD is also receiving funding from the state based on the student attendance of the school districts in the three Valley counties. Not only are the residents of the three Valley counties are paying double school property taxes but also this special state fund is based on the students attendance of their local school district. It is not a school district that allows students to continue enroll in STISD if their attendance is poor or if the student displays poor behavior, these students are asked to return to their local school district for services.

Anonymous said...

He dicho! Anyone who leaves the school district to go to STISD or any Charter School and is kicked out because they don't fit the mole should have to wait one year to be accepted back into the ISD where they belong. If parents don't like it, they can home school them and that would mean that they would also have to get up early and fix breakfast and lunch for them.

Anonymous said...

Mold. "They don't fit the mold."