After months of controversy, the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District voted last week to officially donate a $ 600,000 historic school building to a Hispanic-centered nonprofit education group, raising ire from community members who said the donation was a waste of taxpayer resources.

The former Bonham Prekindergarten School campus hasn’t been used as a San Marcos CISD school since the early 2000s. But for the past 12 years, it’s been rented by the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos as a center for education and outreach to the region’s Mexican-American community.

Centro, as it’s commonly called, has rented the building from the school district for $ 6,650 per year, under a lease agreement that was set to expire in 2042.

Now, with last week’s 5-1 board vote, Centro will own the building in perpetuity.

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“In its twelfth year of operation, Centro now has the possibility of forever preserving this building and owning the property it operates from,” said Gloria Salazar, Centro’s program coordinator, in an email before the vote was made.

The 13,000-square-foot former preschool building was built in 1949 to teach San Marcos’ Mexican-American children. It was a time when the idea of ​​racial integration in schools was beginning to take off with the contemporary civil rights movement. But despite communitywide protests asserting that the new building would only perpetuate segregation between Mexican-American children and other racial groups, the city moved forward with educating exclusively Hispanic children there.

The building was called Southside School until 1965, when it changed to Bonham and became one of the first Texas schools to offer bilingual education. It continued housing pupils until the early 2000s when it sat vacant for a year, and Centro began renting the building in 2009.

It was designated a Texas Historic Landmark in 2005.

San Marcos Superintendent Michael Cardona said at the March 7 San Marcos CISD meeting that the school district “no longer needs the property or the building for educational purposes.”

But the donation of the school building to Centro was not without controversy.

The building is part of a larger complex that is appraised for approximately $ 2.4 million, although the value of the two lots specifically on which the school sits is $ 600,000.

Given how quickly the city of San Marcos is growing – and given the increasing financial constraints associated with the growth that is being placed on the school district – about 100 community members spoke or wrote in to last week’s school board meeting and a meeting in September 2021 to sound off.

Many taxpayers were of the opinion that the building should not be donated.

Larkin Smith, a San Marcos resident who said he’s paid taxes in the district for “over 50 years,” said “giving away school buildings” is a highly questionable tactic for the school trustees.

“You were not voted in to discuss giving away property that belongs to the taxpayers of this community,” Smith said at the March 7 meeting.

Mitchell Hoffman, another San Marcos taxpayer whose entire family has worked for or attended schools in the district, pleaded with the trustees to not make an “emotional decision.”

“What are you elected to do? Give away district assets? ” he asked, addressing the trustees. “I don’t think so.”

But others supported the donation, given Centro’s many contributions over the years to the local Hispanic community.

Taxpayer Ida Miller said she supported the donation because Centro “supports families historically disenfranchised due to skin color, language and culture.”

The board ultimately voted 5-1 to approve the donation, with Trustee Margie Villalpando abstaining since she is one of the founding members of Centro.

District 4 Trustee Kathy Hansen was the lone dissenter, siding with voters who said the former school shouldn’t be donated.

“We’re going into our budget with a $ 7 million deficit,” she said. “These are taxpayer funds that we are donating.”

With the school board’s vote, the building will now be Centro’s home base for the foreseeable future. The nonprofit’s educational curriculum includes arts, literature, music, food and multimedia.

Annie Blanks writes for the Express-News through Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.

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