Frustrated by years of financial shortfalls, the La Joya school board may sell the Howling Trails Golf Course.
La Joya ISD lost about $155,000 on Howling Trails during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, according to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report approved by the school board in January.
The red ink wasn’t anything new for Howling Trails. La Joya ISD lost about $302,000 during the 2017-2018 fiscal year and nearly $189,000 during the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
“It was pretty much a bad investment,” said Trustee Alex Cantu.
La Joya ISD purchased the golf course, which sits on nearly 215 acres near Western Road, from Martin Valley Ranches in March 2014.
The district paid $4.9 million, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act.
To smooth the transition, La Joya ISD agreed to employ golf course workers for at least six months after the sale and honor existing memberships. The deed also included a restriction that required parts of the property to remain a golf course for at least 25 years.
Memberships and fees, however, failed to cover operating costs.
Howling Trails reported nearly $459,000 in revenue during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, according to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Expenses totaled $614,000, leaving La Joya ISD with a $155,000 loss.
Trustees want to sell the golf course, Cantu said, but the deed restriction may pose a problem for prospective buyers.
Another potential complication is the adjacent Sports and Learning Complex, which includes a planetarium, indoor pool and popular water park.
The Sports and Learning Complex generated $236,000 in revenue during the 2018-2019 fiscal year. That number plummeted to less than $12,000 during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the Sports and Learning Complex to temporarily shut down.
“We’ve always seen it as instruction,” said Trustee Espie Ochoa, when asked about the Sports and Learning Complex. “We’ve never seen it as a business.”
When the pandemic started, La Joya ISD prioritized the safety of students, faculty and community members, Ochoa said, by temporarily shutting down both Howling Trails and the Sports and Learning Complex.
Money wasn’t a factor in the decision.
“We were thinking about lives,” Ochoa said. “And not about money.”
Long-term, however, La Joya ISD is looking for options to either increase revenue or sell Howling Trails.
“Times are different now than when we initially purchased it,” Ochoa said.
While the golf course provides educational opportunities for students, the cost remains a concern.
La Joya ISD subsidizes Howling Trails and the Sports and Learning Complex with annual transfers from the general fund.
They also brought unwelcome attention to La Joya ISD in 2019, when a state senator introduced a bill to prohibit school districts from owning golf courses and water parks. The bill stalled in the Texas House.
Ochoa said the school board had discussed the golf course and a potential sale. Ideally, the district could find a buyer willing to comply with the deed restriction and provide access to La Joya ISD students.
“Those are the conversations we’re having right now,” Ochoa said.