The School Zone

Board Briefs - June 22, 2020


Executive Session

The Board met in a closed executive session during Special Meeting to discuss routine as well as other personnel matters, deliberation of real property, and to consult with its attorney. Trustees then voted unanimously (7-0) to approve routine personnel items. No other public action was taken.
Special Meeting Agenda

Introduction/Opening Remarks

Board Vice President Chris Gonzalez called the meeting to order and presided during this meeting while President Pam Goodson joined the meeting remotely. June’s regular meeting was held remotely due to COVID-19. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on March 16 suspended Open Meetings laws, with attorney general consent, to allow audio/video teleconference-based meetings. All SBISD Board members attended this meeting via audio or video conferencing links.

In her opening remarks, Superintendent Jennifer Blaine, Ed.D., talked about the COVID-19 update item, scheduled at the meeting’s end, which includes family and staff survey results, as well as stakeholder focus groups held in virtual settings. Almost 7,200 family survey responses were received; more than 2,700 staff members took part, and 192 people joined sessions through key stakeholder groups.  

Separately, Dr. Blaine noted that the Texas Tribune online news service published an article recently that said students in Texas would return to school this fall. However, no details were provided. “You were all surprised, as we were, as we are yet to hear this information [from the Texas Education Agency (TEA)],” the superintendent said. She noted that the three weekly Zoom meetings with school superintendents with TEA Commissioner Mike McGrath on this same topic had been cancelled. “We were shocked, and we are still awaiting very crucial information we need to make [district] decisions.”

Citizens Participation

SBISD General Counsel Audrey Shakra is assigned to read public comments into the meeting record due to special meeting circumstances. No public comments were received for this meeting.

Public Hearing on the Proposed Fiscal Year 2021 SBISD Budget

Associate Superintendent for Finance Christine Porter presented district information on the 2021 fiscal year budget. As of Jan. 1, 2020, revenue assumptions include a Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) estimate of a 4.35 percent increase in property value growth to about $35.9 billion. Based on new state funding created under House Bill 3, the district Maintenance & Operations (M&O) tax rate decreases by $1.35 pennies. A $15 million revenue increase is also expected.

SBISD, meanwhile, is focused on funding three priority areas: student growth-related staffing; academic priorities like student literacy; and a Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) salary study. Porter said that the district is expected over the next two years to receive $8.3 million in special Coronavirus funds through a federal allocation known as the CARES Act. The district fund balance will be nearly 30 percent of its annual budget, meeting another Board priority. The fund balance helps SBISD meet normal swings in revenues or expenditures, as well as emergency needs, if needed. Recapture payments to the state will decrease to about $37.2 million, also a result of HB3’s funding plan. The district’s debt service tax remains at $0.3045 cents.

Also of note due to HB3 changes, funding is now based on current rather than past year values, and the state now makes a final determination of SBISD’s tax rate, which should be received before the tax rate is set officially this September.

No community comment was received during the public budget hearing.
Proposed Fiscal Year 2021 SBISD Budget presentation

First Reading of Policy

Two new local policies were introduced for community review and possible later adoption. The policies involve Testing Programs and Student Welfare, Wellness and Health Services. All new policies are brought before the Trustees at least three times before a final vote. Both policies will be posted online through July 25 for review and public comment.
Policy EK (Local) Testing Programs
Policy FFA (Local) Student Welfare, Wellness and Health Services

Action Items (Separate votes taken)

Next, Trustees voted unanimously (7-0) with no discussion to approve the 2021 fiscal year budget and several separate approval requests, including the district’s compensation plan and its health insurance rates for the 2020-2021 school year. Action items include:

District of Innovation (DOI) exemptions and pathway related to Employment Practices: Probationary Contracts

Trustees voted unanimously (7-0) without discussion to approve the pathway and process for a change related to probationary contracts for some SBISD employees by implementing a DOI exemption related to the current Texas Education Code. Use of the district’s DOI status to create exemptions requires that a review and comment process be undertaken, which will be set in motion.

Consent Agenda

Trustees approved Consent Agenda items unanimously (7-0), except for two requests for exemptions from voting by Trustees Chris Gonzalez and Karen Peck. The consent agenda reflects items viewed as routine. It is voted on and approved by the Board as a whole unless a Trustee asks to remove one or more items for separate consideration and discussion.
Consent Agenda Action Items (View Full Agenda for All Items)

Response to COVID-19 Update

Superintendent Jennifer Blaine opened a presentation and lengthy Board discussion by introducing key speakers and format. In addition to Dr. Blaine, presenters included Keith Haffey, executive director of assessment and compliance, and Kristin Craft and Karen Heeth, district associate superintendents with, respectively, academics and talent and support. The group shared findings related to recent family and staff surveys on COVID-19 related topics, focus group sessions with key stakeholders, and other topics.

Overall, more than 7,100 families responded to survey requests; 2,700 staff members responded to the district’s internal survey; and 192 community members attended seven online sessions seeking related viewpoints. Dr. Blaine noted that the survey itself drew concerns about hybrid learning models where a group of students might attend school on grade-level or cohort models. A hybrid learning model “is not something we would advocate for on a regular basis,” Dr. Blaine said, but the modeling was needed for TEA restrictions or related coronavirus impacts. SBISD is expecting to hear from TEA leadership on June 23 about rules of engagement and restrictions related to fall schools reopening, Dr. Blaine said.

Keith Haffey, Ed.D., presented a comprehensive report on June 3-9 findings from a family survey. SBISD joined six area and state school districts to gain a better understanding of parental views. A few polling takeaways in SBISD: 71 percent of families are concerned or very concerned about COVID-19; 79 percent favor reopening SBISD schools like normal, or with significant health-related changes; 20 percent favor a  remote learning option until the coronavirus ends, or vaccine found and introduced. If a hybrid learning model was chosen, more families would support alternating days (56 percent) over an alternating week model with in-classroom and then home learning. Families strongly support increased school cleanings, hand sanitizing, and health alerts. More than half (56 percent) report they might keep children home if COVID-19 cases increased, however.

Associate Superintendent for Academics Kristin Craft, Ed.D., noted that stakeholder focus groups found a strong preference, if hybrid learning models were needed, to have students meet several days weekly in cohort groups (69 percent) versus a model where students meet one week on campus and then have home-based learning for the next week or so. Most staff members (59 percent) are ready to return this fall with safety protocols in place, said Associate Superintendent for Administration and Talent Karen Heeth, Ed.D. An issue for some SBISD staff is childcare, with 15 percent saying it is a main concern; in general, four in 10 district employees rely on childcare to be able to teach or work.

Superintendent Blaine followed up by addressing the hybrid learning models, based largely on a social distancing guidance for student separation. She described this as challenging for SBISD classrooms, bus transportation, staffing, child nutrition services and budgeting. Two examples: A typical 760-square feet elementary classroom might hold a teacher and 11 students using social distancing guidelines. A school buses carrying 78 students would also be limited to 11 students and a driver. Budgeting for more staff, child nutrition services, and remote learning – would increase or require significant state-level funding changes, Dr. Blaine said. TEA guidance is expected on June 23. “We are already behind like every school district,” Dr. Blaine noted referring to the new school year starting August 17 in SBISD.

A robust Board member discussion followed with many queries and areas of follow-up interest.
COVID-19 Update presentation

Superintendent Closing Remarks

Superintendent Blaine’s closing remarks reflected on the school year past, and the suspension in mid-March of traditional classroom instruction for remote learning, as well as the school reopening decision ahead. Calling the recent past “unprecedented,” Dr. Blaine noted that leadership, along with many staff members, are working around the clock to make the best decision possible. SBISD’s parents were highly generous with crisis-based student instruction, but the new school year calls for much more.

“We know we were not at our best in the spring. We know that. We own that, and we will not be that way in the fall,” Dr. Blaine said. “I’ll ask for that extension of grace and kindness when I have to make a decision and recommend it to the Board for the system to go forward in a certain way. We’re going to have to pick the best we can do, given the rules of the game.”

As a part of that decision, the superintendent promised to offer online or remote student learning for all families with individual situations or other concerns. Meanwhile, Dr. Blaine also noted that “we’re doing the best we can, but we’re not going to make everyone happy. Our kids need to be with teachers. We’re going to make that happen to the extent we can.”

On a separate note, Dr. Blaine publicly thanked Karen Wilson, associate superintendent for finance, who will retire at the end of June. She was attending her final Board meeting tonight, remotely. Among other noted accomplishments, Wilson managed the school district in Dr. Blaine’s place for more than a month after the superintendent was hospitalized unexpectedly and then in recovery at home for several weeks following required surgery. Wilson led SBISD smoothly, but quietly in the interim.

“A lot of people did not even know I was out, and that was because of Karen Wilson. Karen stepped up,” Dr. Blaine said. “We love you, and we will miss you.”