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Board Approved: The Poor Pay More at STC

Updated: Oct 10, 2019

An Únete Investigation

By Jonathan Salinas

At the January 30, 2018 meeting of the South Texas College Board of Trustees, parking issues raised by students in a letter-writing campaign last October, November, and December were addressed by the board and STC president, Shirley Reed. After a fifteen minute discussion, the board decided to dismiss the concerns raised by students. A video recording of the meeting can be found at https://admin.southtexascollege.edu/president/agendas/index.html

What are the issues? Concerns central to students were actually not addressed by Reed or the board subcommittee in charge of the matter, chaired by Paul Rodriguez. Instead, the focus was put on parking spaces and whether there are enough of them on the Pecan campus in McAllen. The board concluded: (1) that the report prepared by administration was, in the words of board chair Alejo Salinas, “wonderful for its panoramic overview of parking issues,” (2) that students need to get to school sooner to find parking, and (3) the school needs to better advertise the west parking lot two miles away that utilizes buses to 0.transport students to the campus.

Ultimately, the administration and board whitewashed the issues, patted themselves on the back for explaining the parking situation so well, blamed students for the problems, and changed nothing. The board even claimed notice had been given to the students who had emailed concerns, inviting them to speak to the board during the Public Comment segment of the Jan 30 meeting. The meeting was on a Tuesday afternoon. The emails to students went out the Friday before at 4:00PM (a fact not mentioned aloud in the meeting), giving students one working day’s notice to prepare for a likely intimidating public speaking venue in front of locally powerful people.

Students feel they’ve been stonewalled and betrayed by their school leaders. Asked if students found parking problems to be an important issue on the Pecan campus, STC Student Government Association Vice President Ashley Dávila said, “Yes, of course, it’s important. But when we brought these issues up last semester, our advisors told us there was nothing we could do about it, so we should say nothing about it. We were really disappointed.”

It was once said that the rich world has a poor conscience. Among the board members, Paul Rodriguez is CEO of Valley Land Title Co, Gary Gurwitz is a senior partner at Atlas, Hall & Rodriguez, one of the oldest law firms in town, Rose Benavidez is president of Starr County Industrial Foundation, and Roy De Leon is a senior executive for BBVA Compass Bank. The school’s president, Reed, has a salary and benefits that total more than $300,000 a year, part of which includes a generous car allowance for her Mercedes SUV. She and the Board have VIP Parking just a few steps from the administration building, one of the perks of privilege. The majority of students they serve, however, are not like the children or grandchildren of board members, privileged young people who never face daily privations that challenge their financial means to live.

The most important issue students raised that the board sidestepped is that we live in a region high in poverty and taxpayers give a lot of money to the school, so why not give students free parking permits? Other community colleges in Texas give students and employees free parking, including but not limited to Del Mar College (Corpus Christi), Houston Community College, Laredo Community College, Western Texas College, Lone Star CC, Kilgore College, Collin County CC, Lee College, McLennan CC, Alvin CC, Grayson College, Brazosport CC, and Amarillo CC. None of these schools is in an area with as much poverty as we have.

STC officials cite state statutes that give public institutions of higher education permission to charge for parking or to have parking permits, but it’s up to each college to decide. Neither is required. Indeed, the Texas Education Code also states that “such institutions may realize their full potential to the benefit of the students only when financial barriers to the individual’s economic, social, and educational goals are removed.” (Chapter 61.002) The board seems unaware or unconcerned about this part of the law.

Students are instead told to visit a website to pay for it, or make a payment at the campus police station.

This situation gives students a choice to go off and pay for the permit, or have food for a few days, a tank of gas, or a little gift for their partner or child. They’ll take their chances on not getting ticketed. Administrators know many students choose not to get the permit. With that in mind, a small battalion of “Security” personnel--effectively a horde of young meter maids--is equipped with bikes and small, handheld devices that spit out parking citations.

On the back of the citation is an explanation to the offender to appeal within 15 days, or pay. Despite the stated timeline, however, Security doesn’t follow it. Due process, in other words, is not followed. In fact, it’s not unusual for a student to get four tickets and a wheel-lock within a week or two. It costs an exorbitant $350 to remove the lock, and appeals ending in no payment are rare.

One student who was rushing to meet a final project deadline last semester parked in a handicap space for ten minutes and was given a $680 citation. She broke down crying, not knowing how it would get paid, or if she could even continue college. Students can’t register for future classes until all fines are cleared.

Most students see the parking morass as a predatory, punitive system driven by the school’s desire to squeeze extra money from students, which effectively falls on the poorest and most vulnerable. If the school really cared about students, and still wanted to make some money, they could charge them for parking along with all the other nickel and dime fees tacked on tuition. The majority of students, however, agree that parking permits should be free and that the harsh ticketing stratagems should be eliminated.

All of these issues were respectfully presented to the board by students last semester. On Jan 30, they were summarily dismissed. And the heartless, money-sucking system continues targeting low-income students working towards a college degree.

The STC Board of Trustees is an elected body that makes policy decisions for the college, which are then carried-out by the administration. To find out who your Board member is, click here. Board members are elected every six years and several will be up for re-election this year (2018), and more in 2020 .

Correction made on October 10, 2019: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that South Texas College President, Shirley Reed, earned almost $1 million in salary and benefits. According to documents retrieved the Freedom of Information Act, and obtained by Únete, President Reed earns more than $300,000 a year.

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