The Kingsville Independent School District Board of Trustees approved a resolution during a special meeting held noon Friday to sell property housing the Weavers of Love soup kitchen to Kleberg County, along with a memorandum of understanding with the county for  sheriff’s deputies to serve as a school resource officer for the 2019-20 academic year.

Since 2015, the non-profit organization Weavers of Love has run a soup kitchen at the Austin School property, located at 720 E. Lee St., which they had been leasing from the KISD at $1 per year while providing their own maintenance at the building.

The school board has attempted to sell the property during the past couple of years while volunteers with the organization requested on multiple occasions that they consider options that would allow the Weavers of Love to continue operations at the site.

During the KISD board’s April 8 meeting, Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid offered $1 for Kleberg County to purchase the Austin School property to utilize for public services as well as maintain the soup kitchen and the legacy of the Weavers of Love’s founder, Sister Elizabeth Smith, “for many years to come.”

Madrid also brought up a “counteroffer by one or two of the school board members” during his presentation for the county to provide security at some of the district’s campuses in exchange for the property sale.

The board voted unanimously during that meeting to authorize the district’s superintendent and board president to begin negotiations to sell the property to Kleberg County.

The resolution to sell the Austin School property was on the agenda for the KISD board’s Sept. 23 regular meeting, along with a memorandum of understanding with Kleberg County for a sheriff’s deputy to serve as a school resource officer.

However, Board President Brian Coufal requested more time for the district’s legal counsel and administration to finalize both items before proceeding with formal action.

“I would like to do (both the resolution and the MOU) formally at the same time when everyone has the documents in front of them,” he said.

Coufal said during the Sept. 23 meeting that the district and the county have been “trying to achieve two ends at the same time” with the property sale and school resource officer.

Coufal said the Kingsville ISD has advertised the sale of the property at least twice, but never received a bid. He said the county has “a better, vested interest in what’s being offered” at the property.

As for the SRO, Coufal said per the memorandum of understanding, Kleberg County would provide a school resource officer while the KISD hires a second officer, providing salary and benefits for a one-year term beginning Oct. 1.

According to the MOU, the salary range for the SRO would be between $47,971 and $63,919.

Both items were put before the KISD board again during their Sept. 27 special meeting. At that time, Coufal said while attorneys for both the KISD and the county were still negotiating the terms of additional language to the agreement, the district’s legal counsel was “comfortable” with the board taking action on either the original or the revised MOU. 

While the board unanimously approved the resolution to sell the Austin School property, 7-0, the revised school resource officer agreement passed with a 6-1 split as Board Vice-President Brandon Greenwood voted against the MOU.

“I just want to make sure that we’re getting what we’re signing up for,” he said prior to the vote. “I don’t particularly agree with giving property away for one year of service. Does that equal? I don’t think so. That’s like giving my house away for one year of bodyguard service.”

Board Secretary Corando Garza said to Greenwood the district “can’t even sell the property for $50,000.” Trustee Steven Crites said the Austin School had been appraised at $130,000, “but it was going to cost $70,000 to tear it down and haul it away.”

In an interview on Monday, Judge Madrid said he “made it clear (to the KISD board) that these were two separate projects.”

“I know that there was some confusion thinking that they were giving us the Austin School building in an agreement that we would provide an SRO,” Madrid said. “That’s not the case.”

Madrid said with reports of bullying and school shootings incidents occurring around the state and nationwide, he and Kleberg County Sheriff Richard Kirkpatrick wanted to offer Kingsville ISD assistance with campus security.

“There’s a need to have extra security, especially in this day and age,” he said.

Madrid said the SRO agreement was made for one year rather than multiple years to allow it to serve as a “pilot program to see how it works out.”

“So we can see what works and what doesn’t, and then we’ll grow it from there,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we will be done after one year. We are committed to working with (the KISD) for the long haul.”

Per the MOU, the agreement automatically renews each year beginning Oct. 1 unless either party gives a notice of non-renewal no later than Aug. 30. Either side can also terminate the agreement, with or without cause, by providing written notice at least 60 days in advance.

As for the Austin School property, Madrid said it would continue to serve as the home for the Weavers of Love soup kitchen, as well as the Palmer Drug Abuse Program that is also housed on the site.

With the county’s purchase of the Austin School, Madrid said he can now begin seeking grants and plan improvement for the property. Future plans include a “computer resource center” for underserved children and families along with other educational services, he said.

“First and foremost, we’re going to make it a bigger, better facility,” Madrid said. “As of right now, I see it becoming an awesome public service center that we’re going to provide to our citizens.”

Both the resolution and MOU still need to go before the Kleberg County Commissioner’s Court for approval before either can be finalized.

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.

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