Veronica Vera would like to say a big “thank you” to Chief Charles Hood and SAFD for being there to support Natalia HS Valedictorian, Daniana Vera, just like her dad would have wanted to. “Danny has been gone for 6 years now and it is so amazing for these guys to still fill in. This is a true brotherhood of firefighters!”
In the wake of the May 24 shooting massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that left 19 students and two teachers dead, administrators from the several Medina County school districts met with county commissioners to request funding for 1 additional school resource officer be assigned to every school district.
Eric Smith, president of the Natalia school board, led the presentation made during a June 2 regular session of the commissioners’ court.
“I will not throw out fancy stats or figures on school shootings in the U.S. or Uvalde,” Smith said. “I’m pretty sure each of us is aware and it makes us, including me, sick to our stomachs every time we turn on the news.”
Also speaking for the gathered administrators was Shannon Beasley, vice president of the Medina Valley school board.
“It touches us deeply and is what we as trustees and stewards of our students consider the worst nightmare,” Beasley said.
David Lynch, precinct 2 commissioner, led the meeting in the absence of County Judge Chris Schuchart. He emphasized that the SRO request had been added to the court’s agenda solely as a matter of discussion.
“This is not an action item,” he said. “We want to hear your concerns and maybe have a little dialogue.”
“We are all products of Medina County schools,” Lynch added.” Our wives are products of Medina County schools. Our children, our grandchildren are too. So, we understand the need for security and safety as a foremost priority.”
“Also we have been on the phone with Pete Flores and Andrew Murr, who said ‘We have State funding….funding that nobody ever asks for. So that may be another piece to this puzzle,” Lynch said.
He said he was sure Judge Schuchart would want to be on hand for any final decision by the commissioners.
Medina County Sheriff Randy Brown verified that the county at present has six SROs for the entire county, which are all placed at Medina Valley ISD schools. The cost to add a single new officer on board, including training and vehicle, could be nearly $130,000, he estimated. For seven, that’s a little under $1 million dollars ($910,000).
“We need to stop calling them SROs,” Brown said. “They are not school resource officers. We need police in the schools that can do the job.”
Even with immediate approval of such a hire, finding the right person to fill the role will be difficult, he said.
“If we can figure out how to do this I support you 100 percent,” Brown said. “I don’t know where the money is going to come from but our greatest treasurers are in those school buildings.”
“When I was driving back from Uvalde that night, I started checking into costs,” Sheriff Brown said. “We’ve got to do everything we can to make schools are safe as we can for everyone.”
Sheriff stated that “With all the growth in the county, it’s just unbelievable the number of calls we have.”
He noted that he would like to have 7 more deputies on staff. He also stated that in the future he would like to see deputies in schools countywide.
“I don’t need somebody in the schools that calls us. I need somebody in the school that IS us. I know a lot of school districts have approached us and would like to have a deputy on campus.”
“I guarantee you if something happens, we’ll be there. …It’s hard to say we are going to be there in 5 minutes though if we are all the way up on Hwy 16. Someday, I am going to have enough people to divide the county into 4 different quadrants,” he said in hopes that he can have deputies better positioned to help when an emergency arises.
Towards the end of his speech, Sheriff Brown commented, “We can talk and talk and talk….but we need to stop talking and do something.”
Sheriff Brown mentioned there is a COPS grant that has a deadline of June 9, but felt it may be too late for locals to apply. (see separate article)
On hand from Devine ISD were superintendent Todd Grandjean, assistant high school principal Daryl Wendel, school board president Nancy Pepper, board member Ali Buvinghausen and financial resource officer Shannon Ramirez, Harry Piles of Natalia ISD. Board members from the various districts were also present.
Superintendent Grandjean commented that Devine has instituted the Guardian program (which allows certain staff to carry a concealed weapon), and that regional training for other local districts is available.
Smith opened his presentation with a detailed breakdown of the security presently available at schools throughout the county.
“When you look at the six districts here today the largest is Medina Valley with over 7,500 children and eight different campuses, six of which have school resource officers paid for by Medina Valley ISD,” Smith said.
Hondo ISD has one police officer funded by the school district and another locally funded through the city of Hondo, he said. Devine has one SRO officer who travels between all campuses as needed, and the expense is shared by the city, with a majority covered by the school. Like Devine, Hondo is part of the Texas School Guardian Program, an armed defensive approach to active shooters on campus.
Although D’Hanis ISD also has the Guardian program, the district does not include an incorporated city and does not have a school resource officer.
Natalia ISD has one police officer from city police but funded by the district. The district cut short its school year following a Natalia student being charged with terroristic threat.
Lytle ISD has one Medina County sheriff’s deputy who is funded by the school district at a cost of $60,000 annually, Smith said.
“I was happy when I reached out to those six districts that represent Medina County public schools educating 12,000 children and employing over 2,000 staff,” Smith said. “They were in full support of why I am here.”
He noted that this was the second time he had made this request for his school district.
“Several years ago I requested that you would consider looking into possibly giving some kind of tax reduction to offset appraisals that we know you do not control but to try and offset the cost,” Smith said.
The decision at that time was not to go forward with a tax reduction scheme, he said.
“I will not criticize the decision you make in regard to our (latest) request,” Smith said. “I would just ask that you remember 51,000 residents in our county that have 12,000 relatives attending these schools.”
He added that what was being requested was not a luxury “but a necessity.” But, even at that, additional SROs “would not be an end-all solution and would not guarantee our children would not be in harm’s way.”
Following Smith’s presentation, Beasley said Medina Valley ISD has had a strong focus on school safety since 2018. However, discussing in detail security measures in place is not in the best interest of the students.
“Unfortunately, what the media portrays is often not the whole story,” Beasley said. “As any of us elected officials know often things happen that we can’t talk about.”
Commissioners emphasized that the fund balance might look like an easy source of funding when things are going good. However, circumstances can change quickly. That healthy fund balance might make the difference between personnel layoffs or funding important projects, they noted.
“We’re not saying no to anything but our fund balance and the shape that it is in is very important to the commissioners,” Lynch said. “Trying to meet your needs and desires without affecting that is something we’ll have to work through.”
A one-time expense using the fund balance is one thing, he said. However, SRO officers are an ongoing expense.
“That revenue flow is going to have to come from somewhere and it will be the taxpayers that fund that ultimately,” Lynch said.
Beyond county and district funding to initially hire new SROs, permanent funding may be available from the state. Lynch and Larry Sittre, precinct 2 commissioner, said they had been in touch with state Rep. Andrew Murr and state representative candidate Pete Flores about the issue.
“They feel that this is a state funding issue so they would like for representatives of the school districts to reach out and ask for the money,” Lynch said.
Sittre stated, “This commissioners court is probably more pro fund the police than anyone….Pete Flores sent me an article. He sent me a $100 million package that’s been in place for 2 years. In the meantime I contacted Andrew Murr this weekend. The $100 million is available. He said to give them his phone number…..Fill out the paperwork. That’s a fast start, instead of waiting for anyone to okay something in Austin, which I know is probably never gonna take place.”
In reference to last week’s newspaper, which discussed the county’s recent $2.1 million purchase of two new buildings, Sittre noted, “On the $2.1 million spending here, This has nothing to do with the budget, whatsoever. We can’t use that as budget money.”
He also noted that the county’s most recent Audit, which was presented the county a few weeks ago, presents information about county funds from the fiscal year that ended in 2021, (which was noted in the article).
In reference to state funding that Flores and Murr mentioned, Beasley replied that it was unsure if that state funding would go to the counties or directly to the districts. Smith noted that hundreds of districts in the state have no SROs whatsoever, making them the most likely candidates for early funding.
“The way we look at it what we can do today gives us the time to figure this out later,” Smith said. “Even if it is just one year (from the county) it gives us time to go after the state, go after whoever we need to and get extra funding.”
According to Sittre, the funds being targeted from the county to pay for the added SROs would require voter approval under current property tax law.
“This isn’t a one-time thing of ‘I’ll give you $100,000, $200,000 or a half million dollars and it’s over with,” Sittre said. “That money is not in the budget.”
Commisioners Nueman, Lynch and Beck all suggested having workshop or round table sessions between county and school district officials to resolve the issue.
In other action, the commissioners acted various subdivision development projects including preliminary approval of The Enclave at Potranco Oaks, unit 2, located in Precinct 2 off Potranco Road. The commissioners also approved phase three of Hunter’s Ranch subdivision located in Precinct 2 off Potranco Road.
Final approval of Hunter’s Ranch subdivision units nine and 11 off FM 1957 pending action by San Antonio officials was okayed by commissioners. Also, units one and two of the Boehme Ranch subdivision in Precinct 2 off County Road 466 received court approval.
The court voted to accept a $1 million construction bond for Valley Oaks subdivision, phase 1, in Precinct 1 off CR 241. Also approved was a replat of several lots in the Valentine Ranch subdivision, phase 1, in precinct 1 off Park Road 37.
Likewise, the commissioners gave preliminary approval to replat several lots in the San Martin Hills subdivision, unit 2, located in Precinct 1 off CR 241.
Regarding Medina County Emergency Services District No. 1 in Castroville, the commissioners voted to approved the resignation of Pamela Mathis to be replaced by Jenny Ferren.
By Anton Riecher and Kayleen Holder
Authorities are actively searching for a suspect who committed an aggravated robbery on Hwy 132 last night around 7 pm. The suspect is considered armed and dangerous.
The suspect reportedly knocked on the door and then forcibly entered the home wearing a bandana over his face, instructing the elderly homeowner to lay face down on the couch.
“The suspect then ransacked his home, before stealing his vehicle,” said Natalia Police Chief Valerie Naff.
The stolen truck is a 1996 white Toyota Tacoma with a white camper shell on top. The LP # is DJT016.
The suspect also stole welding equipment, his phone, and various items.
The robbery occurred at a home in the 2100th block of Hwy 132 in Natalia.
“The suspect was described as a thin, Hispanic male,” Chief Naff said. “The victim only saw and heard one person, the suspect did claim there was a second person with him.”
“We are asking for the public’s assistance. Please let us know if you have any information or might have security camera footage in this area,” Naff added.
If you have any information about this crime, you are urged to call the Natalia Police at 210-355-1382 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Medina County Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 REWARD for information leading to the arrest. Crime stoppers can be reached at 1-800-367-2833.
The Natalia Mustang Band spent Memorial Day remembering the sacrifices made for our country as many Natalia residents watched band members march down Constitution Avenue in Washington DC. Our Mustang Band represented Natalia with such pride. They also wore ribbons to show our deepest support for all of those in Uvalde.
Mission Devine will be beginning it’s work week next week, and invite the community to offer support.
The work week will last from June 6th through the 11th. Everyone is invited through sponsorship, partnership, or volunteering your time in whatever way you can help. Any kind of support is appreciated
If interested, visit them at missiondevine.org or contact Patrick Bourcier at 830-931-1532 and email@example.com
UVALDE, TX – Congressman Tony Gonzales (TX-23) today released the following statement after President Joe Biden’s visit to Uvalde following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School last week:
“Today, I welcomed the President of the United States to my district to grieve with the Uvalde community,” said Congressman Gonzales. “While joining in prayer and mourning with the victims’ families, we had an open, honest conversation about the realities this community is facing and will continue to face if significant investments are not made in Texas.
Improving access to in-patient behavioral and mental healthcare, strengthening inter agency communication and response time, and expanding rural broadband for tele-health are a few of the solutions I proposed today. I look forward to leading a comprehensive strategy with my colleagues in Congress, the Executive Branch, and anyone willing to work for solutions, so we can heal this community and prevent another senseless tragedy.”
Congressman Gonzales joined President Biden for a visit to Robb Elementary School, mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and meetings with first responders.
By Anton Riecher
An early draft of an outside audit covering the Medina County government for the fiscal year ending September 2021 showed an ending general fund balance of $15,625,413, an increase of $4.3 million over the previous year.
Certified Public Accountant Angela Verduzco with Pattillo, Brown & Hill, L.L.P., reported to county commissioners during their May 19 regular meeting. The final audit is due June 30.
“The assets and deferred outflows of Medina County exceeded its liabilities and deferred inflows at the close of the most recent fiscal year by $52,270,583,” the draft report states.
The county’s overall fund balance stood at $24,187,241, a decrease of $13.5 million from the previous fiscal year, Verduzco said. She attributed the decrease to certificates of obligation issued to cover capital outlay expenditures for the courthouse annex and jail projects.
Verduzco directed the commissioners attention to deficits in the balances for three funds – health unit ($36,198), juvenile probation ($48,366) and grants ($46,262).
“County anticipates revenues in future periods will eliminate these deficit fund balances, or the County will transfer funds from the General Fund to eliminate these deficits.”
The county took in $2.9 million above its anticipated revenues of $23,609,346, the report states. Expenditures were $1.2 million less than the budgeted amount of $1,388,715.
“It’s all good news there,” Verduzco said.
Income from road and bridge funds represented an increase in the fund balance for all four precincts. Precinct 1 reported $1,819,486, up $337,326, while Precinct 2 reported $2,089,412, up $654,240. Precinct 3 reported $1,018,666, up $371,577, while Precinct 4 reported $1,004,776, up $512,043.
Natalia Police Chief Valerie Naff said one student has been charged with Terroristic Threat in connection to the events that unfolded in Natalia last Friday.
“A junior high student was charged with Terroristic Threat, which is a 3rd degree felony. It’s a very serious offense,” Chief Naff said. “There was never a weapon on campus, but we have to take these threats very seriously.”
“If you ever see or hear anything, please report it directly to the school or to police, rather than posting it online or texting your friends. Not coming directly to the school or police leads to a serious delay in handling the matter.”
Superintendent Harry Piles stated, “The recent tragedy in Uvalde has reminded us of the importance of safety and security in our schools. We want to assure our families that our district has an updated emergency operations plan.
“There were rumors and concerns brought to the district’s attention that have been investigated by the district and law enforcement, and are being resolved. There was no imminent danger to the students or the staff, as the student making the comments was never on campus. I know that informing our community is essential; however, we must deal with the concern first, and then ensure that all the facts are correct instead of sharing inaccurate information too quickly. I will always strive to find a balance between the two.
“As a parent, I also understand your concern and worry for your children; with that being said, the district has listened to the community’s concerns, and to put our community at ease, the district has decided to declare today (May 27, 2022) as the last day of the 2021-2022 school year.”
Campus year-end events have been adjusted and rescheduled. Graduation will continue as scheduled.
Tuesday, May 31, 2022- Elementary Awards & Kinder Commencement in the High School Gym 5:30 PM
Wednesday, June 1, 2022- High School Awards for Seniors in the High School Gym 6:00 PM
Thursday, June 2, 2022- JH Awards in the High School Gym
6th grade @ 5:00 PM
7th grade @ 6:00 PM
8th grade @ 7:30 PM
Friday, June 3, 2022- High School Graduation Practice on the Mustang Stadium10:00 AM
Saturday, June 4, 2022- Graduation Commencement at the Mustang Stadium 8:00 PM
The district reminds citizens and students, “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.”
There is an Anonymous Alerts line found on the district website.
A three-member quorum of the Medina County Commissioners Court voted May 19 to approve the purchase of two bank buildings formerly owned by Community National Bank for $2.1 million and Hondo National Bank for $100,000.
The tentative plans discussed are to move the Medina County Tax Assessor’s office into the old Community National Bank. The other Hondo bank was offered as sort of package deal below appraised value, so the county went ahead and purchased that too, though they are unsure what that second building will be used for.
Commissioner David Lynch said “some ideas have been kicked around” but nothing has been decided on what the second bank building (HNB) will be used for. One avenue being discussed is allowing area non-profits offering services to have offices in that building
On the purchase, County Judge Chris Schuchart stated, “It’s a good deal for us and a good deal for them,”
Texas Heritage Bancshares, Inc., parent company of Hondo National Bank, and Medina Community Bancshares, Inc., parent company of Community National Bank, merged operations in 2021.
The commissioners voted to authorize Schuchart to execute the purchase contract. Schuchart said his only reservation would be to further negotiate the county’s potential liability under the proposed purchase.
Schuhart added that “part of the deal is allowing them (the bank) to use the buildings for 2 years while they are building the new one.”
By Anton Riecher and Kayleen Holder
By Anton Riecher
Many of the new requirements for accelerated instruction approved by the Texas Legislature in 2021 caused less difficulty for the Devine ISD than other school districts, high school assistant principal Steve Anderson told the Devine school board May 16.
“House Bill 4545 caught everybody by surprise but it didn’t affect us as whole lot because we’ve done a lot of this anyway,” Anderson said.
The school board agenda included an annual public hearing on the high school’s accelerated instruction program.
HB 4545, effective as of June 2021, established new requirements for accelerated instruction for students who fail to pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Any student who chooses to retake a required course is entitled to accelerated instruction as required by the new legislation.
“They kind of made it mandatory to do some acceleration for the kiddos that didn’t pass the STAAR test,” Anderson said.
At Devine High School, students are eligible for dual credit programs in which an eligible high school student enrolls in college courses and receives credit from both the college and high school. Dual credit courses for both academic and technical courses may be taught on the high school campus by an approved instructor.
“There are eleventh and twelfth graders that get the 12 hours of English, six hours of U.S. history, then government and economics that adds up to 24 hours,” Anderson said.
The district also offers College Board Advance Placement Program (AP) examinations for topics such as biology, world history and others. One major advance for the local school district is Devine High School is now a testing center for academic, career and technical education courses.
“It used to be a big headache organizing a trip to take kids to the testing center,” Anderson said. “We can actually do that here now.”
However, changes forced by HB 4545 did impact the district negatively in one specialized subject – welding.
“We don’t have dual credit for welding anymore,” Anderson said. “The college board came out with a new rule or law that basically said that all ag teachers that taught welding couldn’t do it anymore unless they had a master’s degree.”
Otherwise, the district met most of the new requirements under HB 4545, he said.
“If you basically fail the STAAR EOC (end-of-course) test then that summer or next year you’ve got to get 30 hours of acceleration for mediation, basically,” Anderson said. “We’re kind of already doing that for the most part so it wasn’t hard for us to implement.”
For example, at high school ninth graders are tested in English, biology and algebra, he said. During sophomore year the student take English II and, during the junior year, U.S. history.
“So they’ve got five tests and they have to pass those to graduate for the most part,” Anderson said. “There are some exceptions but if they fail any of those classes they’ve got to get 30 hours of mediation, which was hard last year because HB 4545 caught everybody by surprise.”
Unfortunately, English tends to be the subjects students struggle with the most, both statewide and in Devine, he said. Developing a rotation of special classes and labs to prepare students for retesting in English and the other various subjects is difficult to manage.
New arrivals at high school also have their problems qualifying under HB 4545, Anderson said.
“In the eighth grade they take four STAAR tests – science, social studies, math and reading,” he said. “We had 60 kids that came to us that failed at least one of those subjects.”
Statewide, high schools also report a high number of STAAR failures for incoming students, due largely to COVID,” Anderson said.
“In Devine, we probably had 15 of those kids fail all the tests and maybe another 15 who only failed one,” he said. “We had to find a way to remediate those kids.”
The district created five STAAR labs depending mainly on computer programs with teachers monitoring their work, he said. Failure to pass any of the STAAR testing required 30 hours of accelerated remediation.
“Basically, to get 30 hours done it takes about nine weeks based on 45-minute class periods,” Anderson said. “The state made it difficult. If you fail four subjects you are going to be in a STAAR lab all year long.”
Options for summer school classes are also in the works, he said.