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20150517

Featured, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, after addressing the South Texas College Board of Trustees at the Pecan Campus in McAllen.

Photograph By STEVE TAYLOR

Legislation proposing the creation of a South Texas College extension facility in the Delta Region of Hidalgo County, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 8, is set for a Senate committee hearing on Monday, May 18, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced. Originally filed to create a branch campus of STC in the Delta Region, Canales changed the language of House Bill 382 to instead call for the creation of an extension facility in order to dramatically reduce the financial cost to the state, which significantly improves its chances of legislative passage. “By requiring an extension facility, STC would be directed by the Texas Legislature to set up a physical presence in the Delta Region, a move that can eventually lead to a branch campus,” Canales said. “What we are wanting to do is move this one step further down the line. We believe that whatever concerns the college may have about the fiscal viability of this program will be shown dramatically to be unfounded because it will quickly flourish.” According to the Texas Higher Education Agency, a branch campus is a major, secondary location of an institution offering multiple programs, usually with its own administrative structure and usually headed by a Dean. A branch campus must be established by the Legislature or approved by the Coordinating Board. He said that STC has an obligation to spread its resources to areas of Hidalgo County which have the population base and geographic location to deserve an extension facility, and eventually, a branch campus. “The Delta Region has historically been a neglected area that can see a positive change from this bill. The area needs better access to higher education to have the same opportunities (as other communities with STC campuses and sites),” Canales said. But times are changing, and for the better, in the Delta Region, further justifying predictions that STC would also grow with those communities. “If we talk about demographics and you look at companies and ask, ‘What are the demographics there?’ Well, they just opened up a Walmart Supercenter, and a new H.E.B., and those businesses conduct incredible demographic studies before they make those multi-million dollar capital investments,” he continued. Canales also spoke about ongoing plans by the state transportation leaders to connect FM 1925, known as the Monte Cristo Road project, between Edinburg and South Padre Island, a thoroughfare which will go through the Delta Region. “The Texas Department of Transportation has opted to expand what is the existing Monte Cristo Road into a highway that will go all the way to Cameron County,” Canales said. “That is why Rep. Lucio and his father, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., and Rep. René Oliveira, support this bill.” The public hearing will take place before the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, whose chairman is Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville. The meeting, which is open to the public, was at 8:30 a.m. in Room E1.028 of the Texas Capitol complex. The session is available for live viewing on the Internet, or afterwards as a video recording in its entirety, by logging on to http://www.senate.state.tx.us/bin/live.phpby , find the desire program at the bottom of that web page, and click the “play” button. The live programs are listed by their scheduled start time. Lucio is the Senate sponsor of the measure, House Bill 382, of which Canales is the primary author. Canales’ proposal also enjoys vital support from House legislators from the two South Texas counties – Hidalgo County and Starr County – which STC serves. Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, are joint authors of Canales’ HB 382. The measure, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 8, would require STC, which has campuses in McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City, to establish an extension facility in either Elsa, which is in Canales’ House District 40, or in Edcouch, which is in Longoria’s House District 35. Under the proposal, the STC Board of Trustees are directed to set up the extension facility beginning with the 2016-2017 academic year. The legislation does not authorize STC to increase its property tax rate.

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South Texas College extension facility for Delta Region, already approved by House of Representatives, scheduled for Senate committee hearing on Monday, May 18

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Legislation proposing the creation of a South Texas College extension facility in the Delta Region of Hidalgo County, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 8, is set for a Senate committee hearing on Monday, May 18, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced.

Originally filed to create a branch campus of STC in the Delta Region, Canales changed the language of House Bill 382 to instead call for the creation of an extension facility in order to dramatically reduce the financial cost to the state, which significantly improves its chances of legislative passage.

“By requiring an extension facility, STC would be directed by the Texas Legislature to set up a physical presence in the Delta Region, a move that can eventually lead to a branch campus,” Canales said. “What we are wanting to do is move this one step further down the line. We believe that whatever concerns the college may have about the fiscal viability of this program will be shown dramatically to be unfounded because it will quickly flourish.”

According to the Texas Higher Education Agency, a branch campus is a major, secondary location of an institution offering multiple programs, usually with its own administrative structure and usually headed by a Dean. A branch campus must be established by the Legislature or approved by the Coordinating Board.

He said that STC has an obligation to spread its resources to areas of Hidalgo County which have the population base and geographic location to deserve an extension facility, and eventually, a branch campus.

“The Delta Region has historically been a neglected area that can see a positive change from this bill. The area needs better access to higher education to have the same opportunities (as other communities with STC campuses and sites),” Canales said.

But times are changing, and for the better, in the Delta Region, further justifying predictions that STC would also grow with those communities.

“If we talk about demographics and you look at companies and ask, ‘What are the demographics there?’ Well, they just opened up a Walmart Supercenter, and a new H.E.B., and those businesses conduct incredible demographic studies before they make those multi-million dollar capital investments,” he continued.

Canales also spoke about ongoing plans by the state transportation leaders to connect FM 1925, known as the Monte Cristo Road project, between Edinburg and South Padre Island, a thoroughfare which will go through the Delta Region.

“The Texas Department of Transportation has opted to expand what is the existing Monte Cristo Road into a highway that will go all the way to Cameron County,” Canales said. “That is why Rep. Lucio, III and his father, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., and Rep. René Oliveira, support this bill.”

SEN. LUCIO, CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEE, TO GUIDE STC BILL THROUGH SENATE

The public hearing will take place before the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, whose chairman is Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville. The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 8:30 a.m. in Room E1.028 of the Texas Capitol complex.

The session is available for live viewing on the Internet, or afterwards as a video recording in its entirety, by logging on to http://www.senate.state.tx.us/bin/live.phpby, find the desire program at the bottom of that web page, and click the “play” button. The live programs are listed by their scheduled start time.

Lucio is the Senate sponsor of the measure, House Bill 382, of which Canales is the primary author.

Canales’ proposal also enjoys vital support from House legislators from the two South Texas counties – Hidalgo County and Starr County – which STC serves.

Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, are joint authors of Canales’ HB 382.

The measure, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday, May 8, would require STC, which has campuses in McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City, to establish an extension facility in either Elsa, which is in Canales’ House District 40, or in Edcouch, which is in Longoria’s House District 35.

Under the proposal, the STC Board of Trustees are directed to set up the extension facility beginning with the 2016-2017 academic year.

The legislation does not authorize STC to increase its property tax rate.

The Senate Intergovernmental Affairs Committee hearing on Monday comes as Rio Grande City, McAllen, Weslaco and Pharr are positioned to reap the benefits of a $159 million bond election for new construction that was narrowly approved in early November 2013 by voters in Hidalgo and Starr counties.

DELTA REGION LEADERSHIP MAKING PRESENCE FELT AT CAPITOL

When HB 382 was heard on Wednesday, April 22, by the House Higher Education Committee, a strong delegation of political and community leaders from the Delta Region made the 610-mile round trip between their home bases and Austin.

Hidalgo County Precint 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios, Hidalgo County Commissioner A.C. Cuellar, Jr., Edcouch Mayor Pro Tem Eddy González, Edcouch Alderperson Rina D. Castillo, former Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioners Joel Quintanilla, Mark Gonzáles, a House district director for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Robert “Bobby” Villarreal, Economic Development Director for Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, Nelson Salinas, Governmental Affairs Manager for the Texas Association of Businesses, and Ana Flores testified for or registered in support of HB 382.

STC President Dr. Shirley Reed attended the public hearing, and was listed as testifying on the bill, serving as a resource witness, rather than being registered for or against HB 382.

Canales also praised his legislative colleague, Longoria, who also addressed the House committee, as well as commended Hinojosa, who represents Congressional District 15 in Texas, which includes the Delta Region.

In addition to the testimony of those witnesses at the April 22 House committee hearing, Canales provided the House committee members, who include Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco,
a packet of written support favoring the legislation.

“I have provided each of you with a binder, and in that binder, it is full of resolutions of support from not only our county commissioners court and numerous cities, including Edinburg, Edcouch-Elsa, La Villa, Monte Alto,” Canales reported. “The binder also contains the hard work of U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, Rep. Longoria and myself. The congressman has also sent a letter of support. He could not be here today because he is in Washington, D.C., but he sent district director (Mark Gonzáles), who will testify today.”

Canales acknowledged the invaluable roles played by Hinojosa, who before being elected to Congress in the mid-1990s served as the founding Chairman of the STC Board of Trustees, and of Longoria, who also has deep ties to STC, and who testified for the bill before the House committee.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the hard work of Rep. Longoria, who attended STC and later served on its Board of Trustees, and who has been a tireless advocate for this cause,” Canales said. “Together the three of us have had countless community meetings with all the stakeholders.”

WIDESPREAD SUPPORT FROM KEY COUNTY LEADERS, ENTITIES

Canales emphasized that the widespread support for a STC component in the Delta Region by publicly announcing endorsements from key individuals and entities from beyond Edcouch and Elsa.

“We tried to keep the amount of witnesses tempered so that we weren’t here all night, because I guarantee you they could have lined up around the block,” Canales said. “I will tell you and I will repeat those others who are in support include Congressman Filemón Vela, Jr. (D-Brownsville), Sen Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Rep. René Oliveira (D-Brownsville), Rep J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), former University of Texas-Pan American presidents Dr. Robert Nelsen, Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, and Dr. Miguel Nevárez, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court in its entirety, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, the City of Edinburg, the City of Edcouch, the City of La Villa, the City of Elsa, Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District, Monte Alto Independent School District, Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, and the South Texas Literacy Coalition.”

As for the current STC campus in Rio Grande City, Canales pointed to that higher education campus as further proof that the Delta Region would also succeed with its own STC presence.

“There are campuses that actually reach out to Starr County in Rep. Guillén’s district. That was not originally part of STC’s master plan, but they built that campus, even though some people didn’t believe it would work,” he said. “It has worked incredibly.”

Roy de León, who serves as Chair of the seven-member STC Board of Trustees, is the only member of the STC governing board whose district includes the Delta Area.

De León’s District 7 is made up of Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, North Mercedes, Northeast Alamo, Northeast Edinburg, North Weslaco, Northeast Hidalgo County, and Hargill.

De León, who is Vice President of BBVA Compass in Mercedes, is serving in his fourth term on the STC Board of Trustees, which expires in May 2020.

SUPPORTERS BEGAN LAYING OUT GROUNDWORK IN EARLY 2014

For the past few years, Canales has been working with Congressman Hinojosa and Rep. Longoria to convince the STC leadership to establish a physical presence in Delta Region.

Longoria’s House District 35 includes Edcouch, La Villa, and Monte Alto.

Hinojosa’s Congressional District 15, which covers Brooks, Duval, Guadalupe, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Karnes, Live Oak, and Wilson counties, includes Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and Monte Alto.

Both Longoria and Hinojosa have deep ties to the STC Board of Trustees.

Hinojosa was a founding member and first Chairman of the STC Board of Trustees, before being elected to Congress, and years later, Longoria served on the STC Board of Trustees before being elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

STC, which was created in the early 1990s as a result of Senate Bill 251 by Sen. Lucio and Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen, serves Hidalgo and Starr County.

Canales, Hinojosa and Longoria first publicly brought up the need for the Delta Region branch campus when they addressed the STC Board of Trustees on Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

“We outlined a proposal that would benefit the people in the Delta Region. The presentation included statistical data from the U.S. Census Bureau highlighting population pockets within our district and their needs,” said Hinojosa. “During the (March 25) presentation, trustees heard well-formulated plans to create a STC satellite campus in the Delta region. With a college anchored in the Delta Region, students from surrounding communities such as La Blanca, San Carlos, Hargill, Faysville, Linn, San Manuel and Puerto Rico will also have the opportunity to attend a campus that is more accessible.”

The Delta Region communities are connected by East State Highway 107 between Edinburg and Weslaco.

Although Weslaco has the STC Mid-Valley Campus, located about a dozen miles away from Edcouch and Elsa, that site is land-locked with limited space to expand, Canales reflected.

“The Pecan Campus, which is the northernmost campus of STC, leaves huge areas of Hidalgo County with long commutes to attend classes,” Canales said. “A STC campus in the Delta Region would be able to expand in order to serve not only the students from the Delta Region but also from Edinburg and for future students from northern Hidalgo County, where much of our population increases will occur in the coming years.”

BENEFITS OF DELTA REGION STC FOR EDINBURG, HIDALGO COUNTY

The potential benefits to Edinburg residents also generated support from the Edinburg City Council on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

At that public meeting, the city leadership approved a proclamation calling on South Texas College to establish a site in the Delta Region as part of an ongoing legislative effort to expand higher education opportunities throughout Hidalgo County.

Canales echoed sentiments first expressed by Edinburg City Councilmember J.R. Betancourt, who noted that Delta Area residents are closer to a prison used by the federal government – the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa – than to a university or college.

“For many Delta Area residents, it can cost too much for transportation to the main STC campuses in McAllen,” Canales added. “But in the Delta Area, we have a talented and growing population which would be successful in a STC site in their home region. All we want is our fair share of the STC resources and opportunities.”

Canales’ efforts followed action by fellow lawmaker Longoria, who secured the support of the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, which also endorsed the need for a STC site and eventual campus in the Delta Area.

That county proclamation was authored by County Commissioner Precinct 4 Palacios of Edinburg and County Commissioner Precinct 1 Cuellar of Weslaco.

Hinojosa noted how other major community college systems in Texas strive to bring campuses physically closer to their citizens.

“This type of investment in higher education has proven successful in many places. Recently, Austin Community College announced it would build its 11th college campus. In some cases, these campuses are a mere three miles apart,” Hinojosa said.

He reassured STC leaders that in addition to the local property tax support already provided by Delta Region citizens for STC, area leaders are willing and able to provide additional resources.

“Never during our (March 25, 2014) presentation was there mention that money from the recent STC school bond should or would be used to fund this proposed higher education project,” Hinojosa said. “In fact, Edcouch-Elsa representatives have offered many incentives to make this proposal as inexpensive as possible.”

The congressman said the economic and educational impact of a STC campus in the Delta Region would benefit all residents of Hidalgo and Starr counties.

“An investment in higher education raises the level of educational attainment, plus it encourages businesses to expand in the Delta. If the plan to bring STC to the Delta Region is realized, I believe this will revitalize the area economically, an area that is showing economic promise,” Hinojosa said.

DETAILS OF $159 MILLION STC BOND ISSUE APPROVED IN 2013

According to STC:

South Texas College features the Pecan Campus in McAllen, Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco and Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City, which offer traditional college programs. The Nursing Allied Health Campus and the Technology Campus in McAllen provide specialized training for students entering the workforce. In addition, STC has Workforce Training Centers at the Technology Campus and the Mid-Valley and Starr County campuses.

According to STC, the November 5, 2013 bond election, which featured two propositions, will have the following impact:

Proposition 1 authorized the issuance of $159 million in bonds for construction and equipping of college buildings. It passed with a vote of 11,642 to 9,503.

The $159,028,940 million in bonds will be used to pay for the construction and equipping of 564,548 sq. ft. of new classrooms, science and health care teaching labs, and technical training facilities at all STC locations. Renovation of some existing space, parking lots, roadways and infrastructure are included.

The new funding from the bond election will be used for existing campuses, but also includes $4 million for a public safety facility in Pharr.

Proposition 2 authorized an additional 3 cents maximum increase in the tax rate for the maintenance and operation of STC to accommodate increased student enrollment and expanded facilities. It passed with a vote of 11,167 to 10,118.

The November 5, 2013 vote was the first for the college since September 2001, when voters approved $98.5 million to support continued growth and services through enlarged and improved facilities. Since then the college’s enrollment numbers have increased by more than 18,000 students to over 31,000 students in Fall 2014.

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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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