Harlandale ISD to consider closing schools due to enrollment, finances

Increased costs and a steady decline in enrollment have one of San Antonio’s premier school districts on the city’s Southside considering a drastic shakeup. Harlandale ISD Superintendent Gerardo Soto announced a school board vote to shutter some campuses in an effort to “enhance the long-term future” of the district, according to a news release issued Tuesday, March 7.

Financial difficulties, including this year’s $12 million budget deficit, coupled with declining enrollment, down more than 25% since 2015, have pushed the district to a point where they can no longer support all of their schools, the release states. Adding to the district’s woes, a decrease in yearly enrollment of 3,100 additional students is expected by 2031.

A vote on the proposal is scheduled for March 20, at Collier Elementary. Community members wishing to add their voice to the discussion can do so during a public comment period at the meeting, and also during a board workshop at STEM Early College High School on Wednesday, March 8.

What is the board proposing?

Isaiha Wishop, 5, hangs onto his nana Cordelia Jackson’s neck during a back-to-school bash at the Harlandale Alternative Center in August 2022. Harlandale Independent School District is considering a shift to a four-day school week.

Isaiha Wishop, 5, hangs onto his nana Cordelia Jackson’s neck during a back-to-school bash at the Harlandale Alternative Center in August 2022. Harlandale Independent School District is considering a shift to a four-day school week.

Josie Norris, San Antonio Express-News / Staff photographer

Harlandale School Board members plan to vote on a proposal to repurpose multiple schools while also consolidating classrooms across the district. The other option HISD says is available to them is to “declare financial exigency,” or urgent financial need, and reduce staff.

Columbia Heights Elementary School’s students would be moved to Stonewall Flanders Elementary and Collier. Columbia’s student has a target enrollment of 522, but has 311 students enrolled currently. The building would be repurposed for special programs, such as special education, STEM/GT, Bilingual, and the SOSA center.

Vestal Elementary students would be transferred to Gillette Elementary School, Carroll Bell Elementary School, and Bellaire Elementary School. Vestal enrolled 359 students this year, or 213 below its target enrollment of 572. 2022 bond money would be used to repurpose the campus as a Career and Technical Education Building and Harlandale Alternative Center. The Back building would become the AVANCE Early Childhood center.

District documents claim this would provide “more opportunities to acquire certifications in the areas of welding, dental hygienist, HVAC [sic].”

Students at Rayburn Elementary School would be transferred to Adams Elementary School and Carroll Bell. Rayburn’s enrollment was 351 this year with a target enrollment of 471. The building would be repurposed as a police department and technology building. HISD said increased safety concerns, cyber security, and more student devices have increased the need for these facilities.

Morrill Elementary students would be transferred to Adams, Gilbert Elementary School, and Wright Elementary School, and the building would become the Central Office and Professional Development Center. It had a target enrollment of 572 students and an actual enrollment of 355. The district says this will allow expansion of services targeting social, emotional, and mental wellbeing.

The Jewel Wietzel Center’s students would transition to home high school, and HOPS students would be sent to Frank Tejeda Academy. The building would become the Makerspace Doseum. The Scheh building would also be repurposed.

The proposal can be viewed on HISD’s website here.

Not the first proposal for big changes

Harlandale ISD Board member Elaine Anaya-Ortiz, shown last July, was one of two dissenting votes Tuesday against a land sale by the district.

Harlandale ISD Board member Elaine Anaya-Ortiz, shown last July, was one of two dissenting votes Tuesday against a land sale by the district.

Ronald Cortes /Contributor /

Back in January, the district proposed a four-day school schedule in an effort to retain teachers and attract candidates. They were the only district in the area to consider doing so at the time. HISD asked both staff and parents for input on the matter. In December of 2022, the board offered two potential four-day calendars after seeing “positive impact” from other Texas school districts.

At the time, Harlandale ISD cited a 2022 Texas Teacher Poll by the Charles Butt Foundation, stating teachers didn’t have enough time for making lessons plans. The poll said that over 80% of teachers would stay in the field for additional planning time and more district-wide time off for both themselves and students.

Harlandale ISD has yet to make a decision the shorter school week and didn’t provide a timeline on when the district would vote for a four-day school week.

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