Pre-K 4 SA Update

As the first Pre-K 4 SA program year comes to an end staff is preparing for the 2014-2015 school year which includes the opening of two additional centers, and increasing the total number of students served to 1,500 students.

In working with participating ISDs earlier this year, we streamlined the enrollment process for the coming school year allowing Pre-K 4 SA to control all aspects of enrollment, giving families a one-stop process to enroll in Pre-K 4 SA.

The application period began on February 24, 2014. Families have had the opportunity to complete their application online, by calling the Pre-K 4 SA Enrollment Hotline (206-PREK), or by visiting the North or South Education Center. The entire application process only takes about five minutes.

Since February 24, over 2,000 student applications for the program’s upcoming year have been submitted. Families still have time to enroll and can do so by going to www.sanantonio.gov or by calling 206-PREK.

On June 10, Staff will coordinate a lottery to select students to attend each of the four Education Centers. Shortly after the lottery, Pre-K 4 SA will send letters to families to notify them of the lottery results.

Staff Hiring
Pre-K 4 SA is aggressively recruiting remaining staff for the two new Education Centers and is proud to announce the appointment of two new Center Directors.

New Center Directors Christina Reck-Guerra and Janice Hammonds have assisted with hiring four assistant Directors for the East and West Education Centers, and have helped to select recommended candidates for the role of master teacher.

Construction
The Preparation for the upcoming year includes completion of construction on the East and West Education Centers as well as an expansion to the North Education Center. To date, the projects are all on schedule and under budget with projected completion dates prior to the start of school.

Kinder Prep & Upcoming Events
In addition to the hard work and time that staff has devoted to preparations for the upcoming school year, Pre-K 4 SA also is focused on preparing students for the transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten.

Both Education Centers will be hosting Kindergarten Transition Fairs during which they will provide parents with insight into providing continued education and preparation to their children over the summer months.

Pre-K 4 SA also will host the “Move Event with Pre-K 4 SA” on May 17. The event will incorporate fun, outdoor activities for families of current and future Pre-K 4 SA students. The event will feature Zumba, a fresh produce market and art activities among others.

The North and South Education Centers will conclude the school year with a celebratory Kindergarten promotion at the two Education Centers for all students.

Summer preparation also will include the Pre-K 4 SA Summer Reading Initiative during which Pre-K 4 SA will provide children with the opportunity to select, on their own, five books to read over the summer months. As an alternative to providing an assigned reading list, this discourages summer slide and encourages the whole family, siblings included, to actively read outside of school.

The Professional Development Team at Pre-K 4 SA also is preparing to host Summer Academies to provide San Antonio educators with new innovative techniques and ideas for the upcoming school year.

Historic Preservation Update

May is National Preservation Month and The Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) is offering numerous events and activities as part of our extensive education and outreach campaign on the Role of historic preservation in achieving economic, cultural and environmental sustainability.

Historic preservation has a demonstrated positive impact on economic development efforts in our community.  It is not simply a matter of aesthetics or quality of life, but also a tool for neighborhood stabilization and community revitalization that is connected to broader strategies of land use, smart growth, sustainability and job creation.

To kick off Preservation Month, OHP is hosting the State of Preservation Reception today at 6pm, at the Mission Branch Library overlooking Mission San Jose.  Speakers will include Assistant Secretary of the Interior Rachel Jacobson, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. The speakers will highlight the importance of preservation to San Antonio and discuss the community’s efforts to obtain World Heritage status for the San Antonio Missions.

The list of events during Historic preservation month include.

  • A lecture by Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy on May 8th, entitled “New York City Preservation: At The Pinnacle or on the Precipice.”
  • The annual Amazing Preservation Race for Adults will take place on Friday, May 9th, which is a fun adventure race for Teams.  It is a Great way to get exercise and learn about our downtown!
  • The annual Amazing Preservation Race for Kids will be held Saturday, May 17th, in the beautiful Monte Vista Historic District. This popular free event gives kids the chance to learn about history and buildings while solving clues and being active.
  • Wrapping up the month’s activities will be Preservation Day SA on Saturday, May 31st, where volunteers will complete repairs to homes in the Government Hill Historic District.

Many in the community will follow the City Council’s lead and participate in the ‘This Place Matters’ Photo Awareness campaign throughout the month of May.

Historic preservation is not about freezing time or resisting change.  It is about making careful decisions to protect our sense of place and preserve what makes San Antonio unique while supporting growth and development in our community.

For more information about all of the events and activities, visit the OHP website at www.sanantonio.gov/historic

Economic Development Update – Metro Foreign Investment Initiative

Last week, San Antonio was selected by the Brookings Institute as one of only six pilot communities they will work with to develop a foreign direct investment strategy.

The purpose of the foreign direct investment strategy is for San Antonio to develop a comprehensive and customized plan to attract foreign direct investment to our local economy which will support and grow our targeted industries.

This program is part of a broader Global Cities Initiative That the City has been participating in since September 2012. The Global Cities initiative is a 5-year, $15M project led by the Brookings Institute and JP Morgan Chase.  The Global Cities initiative aims to identify and establish strategies which will increase exports and attract foreign direct investment for the Participating thirty-one US and international communities.

San Antonio and the five other communities in this pilot program were selected from the thirty-one Communities Participating in the global cities initiative.

In September 2012, the City and our economic development partners began working with Brookings on the development of an export strategy – A comprehensive strategy to grow the number of goods and services our local economy exports to other markets and an effort to assist local firms in growing their business by reaching new markets. This export strategy was completed in October of last year and is now being implemented by the Free Trade Alliance.

Now San Antonio has been selected as one of only six communities to participate in the Foreign Direct Investment pilot program.  This demonstrates San Antonio’s growing role in the Global Cities Initiative.  This effort will create a comprehensive foreign direct investment strategy for our local economy and it will also help guide the development of Foreign Direct Investment strategies for the other cities participating in the Global Cities Initiative.

To undertake this effort, a working group has been formed under the leadership of the Economic Development Department and our key partners such as Bexar County, the Free Trade Alliance, Brooks City-Base, Port San Antonio and the Texas Governor’s Office.

The Foreign Direct Investment strategy will be completed in December 2014 and will then be integrated into the comprehensive economic development implementation plan that is being developed by the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

I would like to thank the Brookings Institute and JP Morgan Chase for their support and for the confidence they have placed in the City and our local economic development partners.

Library Update

The San Antonio Public Library is celebrating April’s National Poetry month with a variety of events including:  Poetry Open Mic Night at Westfall Branch Library today, April 17th at 4 p.m.  A book reading and discussion with San Antonio’s newly inaugurated Poet Laureate, Laure Ann Guerrero, on Tuesday, April 22nd at 6:30pm. Ms. Guerrero will read from her book “A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying” and discuss the art and craft of poetry.

Laurie Ann Guerrero was Named as San Antonio’s second poet laureate on April 1.   She is a San Antonio native and McCollum High School graduate, Guerrero first published a chapbook of poems in 2007.  She is a CantoMundo fellow, member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, and, for the last several years, a university teacher, affiliated with several local colleges.

The Library is also promoting a social media campaign called “PoeTweet” that encourages followers to share poems on Twitter in 140 characters or less.

In addition to National Poetry Month events, the Library also kicks off today a four-month art appreciation and history lecture series covering several eras of art history.

The ArtSmart series will be held every third Thursday at the Central Library’s Marie Swartz Art Resource Center

Future months will feature events on Mesopotamian Art, Egyptian Art, and, Greek Art

For more information about these and other events, I encourage everyone to visit the Library’s website at mysapl.org.

Firefighter Labor Union

We are disappointed that the Firefighter Labor Union has sued the City of San Antonio today for the third time attempting to stop the dependent healthcare verification of fire personnel and their dependents.  My responsibility is to ensure that any person receiving healthcare benefits from the City is qualified to receive such benefits funded by San Antonio taxpayers.

Dependent healthcare verifications are a nation-wide best practice of private and public employers and have already been completed for City civilian employees and police officers.

Annual dependent healthcare verifications were also recommended in February by the Retiree and Healthcare Benefits Task Force appointed by Mayor Castro and City Council last fall.

We fail to understand why the Firefighter Labor Union will not cooperate with the healthcare verification process.  What do they have to hide?

Solid Waste Management Update – Recycling Partnership

The Solid Waste Management Department has partnered with the San Antonio Spurs to promote recycling to San Antonio residents.  The partnership includes a new commercial featuring Danny Green from the Spurs explaining it easy being green

The commercial is currently running during all Spurs games playing on KENS 5, Fox Sports Southwest and the CW 35.  In addition, the commercial ran several times during the upcoming March Madness and will run during the NBA Playoffs

Also, as part of the partnership SWMD and the Spurs are promoting a recycling contest as part of the NBA Green Week. Residents and schools are asked to provide a one minute video or photo and essay explaining how they are San Antonio’s best recyclers. The winner will receive a VIP Spurs Experience and will be recognized at the Spurs game tomorrow night April 11, 2014.

Individuals interested in the contest can visit http://www.nba.come/spurs/scorewithrecycling.

Center City Development Office Update

Center City Development & Operations Department (CCDO) creates a monthly newsletter, Focus Downtown, which goes out to over 1,500 downtown workers, organizations, businesses, stakeholders, and residents, as well as community members throughout the city. The newsletter, which is transmitted electronically, highlights downtown events, development projects, and provides overall updates on downtown activity.

For example, last month’s newsletter highlighted the grand re-opening of Travis Park. the park, located in the heart of our downtown, was closed for several months to allow for the installation of significant improvements, including: electrical upgrades, irrigation system repairs, landscaping, re-sodding, a new dog park and the addition of new tables and chairs.

The Grand Re-opening attracted hundreds of people to the park as attendees participated in free family-friendly activities such as fitness classes and historic tours. Several events were held in the park on its opening weekend, drawing over a thousand people to the newly renovated park. This year, the park will host Movies by moonlight, fitness in the park, public art installations, and free cultural performances.

Other recent events covered by the newsletter include the annual book festival, the maverick music festival and Siclovia. The newsletter is also used to feature a new housing project each month, demonstrating the city’s commitment to meeting the SA2020 goal of increasing the supply of housing in our center city.  In addition finally, a list of upcoming downtown events is also included in each month’s issue, which demonstrates to the community the variety of activities we have downtown.

The newsletter was created over 6 years ago under the Downtown Operations Department and continues to be an informative resource on downtown information for the community.  CCDO also sends out a weekly street closure notice to downtown stakeholders, alerting them of upcoming street and lane closures associated with downtown construction projects and special events.  Community members can sign up to receive the monthly newsletter or the weekly street closure notice on the CCDO website at www.sanantonio.gov/ccdo.

Texas Week

Recently, I had the opportunity to serve as a guest on Texas Week, hosted by Rick Casey, on KLRN-TV. My discussion with Rick Casey focused on public safety services as a priority, the increase of healthcare costs and how to ensure public safety expenses are sustainable.

For more information regarding Healthcare & Retirement Benefits Facts please visit this website: http://www.sanantonio.gov/info

Healthcare and Retiree Benefits Task Force

Today the Express News stated in a column, the City Commissioned projections that Public Safety benefits will consume the entire General Fund budget by 2040.  The accurate fact is that the projections developed by the independent actuary retained by the Task Force indicated that if public safety costs in total continue to grow faster than General Fund revenues, they could consume 100% of the General Fund by 2040, or as early as 2024.

The Task Force was formed to study pension and healthcare costs and develop short and long-term recommendations to manage current and future expense. The Task Force recognized that Public Safety Expenses have grown faster than General Fund revenues. It has recommended that the City Council establish policies that assure Public Safety budgets are managed in balance with other City services and General Fund Revenues. Personnel costs and benefits make up 85% of the Public Safety Budget.

On the topic of healthcare, the Task Force conclusions are that uniformed healthcare benefits are richer by a large margin than civilian employees, as compared to peer cities in Texas, and compared to private employers in San Antonio. Last year, Uniform employees paid approximately 9% of their total healthcare expenses and Civilian employees paid 30%.  In Austin, both Uniform and Civilian employees paid 36% of total healthcare expenses.  The national average for employee expense is 43%.  Cities and States across the nation are addressing employee benefit costs to manage the rising cost of healthcare expenses.

Addressing the large gap in the richness of uniformed healthcare benefits as compared to others along with a policy to manage the growth of Public Safety costs as recommended by the Task Force will allow the City to maintain a healthy balance of services within the General Fund.

Healthcare and Retiree Benefits Task Force

Over the past 15 years, the City’s total Public Safety costs have grown faster than the City’s General Fund revenues.  This is a critical financial problem that needs to be addressed now to balance future budgets and to secure the City’s long-term financial stability.

Public Safety is a priority city service.  We highly respect and are grateful for our public safety officers.  Since 2006, the City has added 477 new police officer and fire fighter positions, 2 new fire stations, 7 replacement fire stations, a new public safety headquarters, a new computer aided dispatch system, and replaced more than 30 EMS units, over 30 fire engines, and more than 10 fire ladder trucks.  Since 2006, the City has eliminated a net 1,242 civilian positions resulting in fewer City positions today than in 2005.

City Budget The City’s consolidated budget of $2.3 billion is comprised of an operating budget of $1.68 billion and a capital budget of $570 million. Of the total operating budget, the General Fund is $988 million, 67% of which is allocated to police and fire expense.

A 13-member Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force was appointed by the Mayor and Council in the fall of 2013 to study healthcare and pension and provide short term and long term recommendations to reduce cost. Findings and recommendations from the Task Force include:

Public Safety Expenses The Task Force recognizes that Public Safety Expenses have grown faster than the General Fund revenues. It recommends that the City Council establish policies that assure Public Safety budgets are managed in balance with other City services and General Fund Revenues.

  • According to an independent actuary, if public safety costs continue to grow at a faster pace than general fund revenues, they could consume 100% of the total general fund by 2040 or as soon as 2024, just 10 years from now. One alternative is to increase the City’s property tax rate.  However, the needed increase would almost double the City property tax rate by 2040 from 56 cents today to over 1 dollar. The City property tax rate has not been increased in more than 20 years.

Healthcare The Task Force conclusions are that uniformed healthcare benefits are richer by a large margin than civilian employees, as compared to peer cities in Texas, and compared to private employers in San Antonio. The Task Force recommends that the uniform healthcare benefit and contribution levels be more closely aligned with civilians, other peer cities, and public and private employers.

  • San Antonio spends $19,122 per uniform employee to provide healthcare benefits. This is 2 ½ times higher than the cost of a civilian employee; and it is the highest among all major Texas cities.
  • Austin, Houston, Ft Worth and Dallas provide the same or similar healthcare plans to Uniform and Civilian employees.
  • San Antonio is the only major Texas City where Uniform employees pay no healthcare premiums for dependents and families, and deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are among the lowest.
  • Last year, Uniform employees paid approximately 9% of their total healthcare expenses and Civilian employees paid 30%.  In Austin, both Uniform and Civilian employees paid 36% of total healthcare expenses.  The national average for employee expense is 43%.

Pre-Paid Uniform Retiree Healthcare and Pension The Task Force recommends that the City continue to study Pension and Pre-paid healthcare to develop alternatives that will save the City money in the long term.

  • San Antonio is the only major Texas City that pre-funds the cost of retiree healthcare for current active employees. The City spends $27 million annually in pre-funding retiree healthcare and $75 Million annually in Pension.

Conclusion  Public Safety is a top priority of the City of San Antonio. Maintaining a reasonable healthy financial balance between public safety services and other important city services is our responsibility.

  • Uniform wages in San Antonio are highly competitive among major Texas cities; however, uniform healthcare benefits are richer by a large margin than civilian employees, peer cities in Texas and private employers in San Antonio.
  • Cities and states across the nation are addressing employee benefit costs to manage the rising cost of healthcare expenses.
  • To keep the City of San Antonio fiscally strong for the long term, change is needed.