The School Zone
Board Briefs - May 18, 2020
Trustees met in a closed executive session during Special Meeting to discuss routine as well as other personnel matters, and to consult with the Board attorney. Trustees then voted unanimously (7-0) to approve routine personnel items. No other public action was taken.
Special Meeting Agenda
Introduction and Opening Remarks
Board President Pam Goodson called the meeting to order and explained special circumstances. Due to COVID-19, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on March 16 suspended, with state attorney general consent, some Open Meetings laws to allow audio or video teleconference-based meetings. All seven Board members joined the meeting via audio or video teleconference computer links.
In her opening remarks, Superintendent Jennifer Blaine, Ed.D., addressed two topics, graduation and the 2020-21 school calendar. Dr. Blaine said that SBISD’s annual graduation ceremonies would be celebrated in-person with social distancing rules and strict guidance at Tully Stadium from June 1-6. New guidelines, issued by Gov. Abbott, make outdoor graduations possible. The graduation events will open on Monday, June 1, with Memorial High and conclude Saturday, June 6, with Westchester Academy for International Studies. A special Citywide Celebration for seniors planned by Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office is planned for Friday, June 5.
On the topic of school starting date, the superintendent said that SBISD planned to adhere to the 2020-21 calendar approved by the Board, which includes an August 17 opening. That early start date is made possible by SBISD’s District of Innovation (DOI) status. Dr. Blaine made her remarks partly due to parent feedback resulting from online publication of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) proposed intersessional calendar, a year-round calendar option for districts. The district plans to begin classes August 17 unless told otherwise by federal, state or local officials due to coronavirus concerns. In addition, Dr. Blaine said, SBISD’s teachers and administrators will focus this summer on professional development and training, as well as online curriculum posting through the itslearning platform, so if SBISD had to suspend classroom instruction once again, then regular grading policy and expectations will remain in effect for all students.
SBISD General Counsel Audrey Shakra read verbally into the meeting record 23 separate comments from district residents related to meeting agenda or non-agenda items. Citizen remarks were received on the district’s T-2-4 goal for all graduates and social distancing plans. Two separate comments were made on SBISD’s calendar; the remaining remarks opposed the district’s meet/not meet grading policy which was implemented with remote learning related to sudden COVID-19 Stay Home orders.
Public Hearing on the Preliminary Fiscal Year 2021 SBISD Budget
The annual presentation on the preliminary budget was presented by Christine Porter, who has assumed the position of Associate Superintendent for Finance. She replaces Karen Wilson, retiring associated superintendent. Porter said that the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) has certified the district’s increase in property values at 4.35 percent, totaling $35.9 billion as of January 2020.
The estimate for the preliminary maintenance and operations (M&O) tax rate is $1.00298, a decrease from last year’s rate of $0.0135. The decrease is due to taxpayer relief approved in the House Bill 3 state legislation approved by Texas lawmakers last year. SBISD’s increase in tax revenue was primarily from prior year adjustment in state funding.
Porter noted that the district’s expenditure priorities are threefold: staffing related to student growth; investment in academic priorities; and ongoing implementation of Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) compensation and salary study.
Among budget details, tax revenues were relatively flat, and attributed to the Texas Legislature’s new funding system. SBISD’s estimated fund balance, at just over $112 million, is similar to the current-year fund balance and more than 30 percent of total expenditures. Such a fund balance meets a Board objective, and it is viewed as important as the new legislative session approaches and with pandemic and related unknown impacts in the next 12 to 18 months.
The district’s previously soaring recapture, or “Robin Hood,” payments to the state have fallen by more than half, but are expected to creep up in 2021 to about $37.2 million. SBISD’s debt service tax rate will remain the same at $0.3045, with a revenue increase primarily due to value growth. This rate includes a $44.9 million accelerated principal payment and anticipate third issuance of $200 million in authorized debt under the 2017 Bond.
Porter noted for informational purposes that district funding in the past was based on its previous-year taxable values. Due to legislative changes, funding is now based on current-year taxable values. Viewed within SBISD tax rate history, the year’s total tax rate of $1.30748 is a decrease from the $1.32098 total rate last year.
Also of note based on legislative changes, the state will actually direct what the M&O (maintenance and operations) rate will be based on a comparison across Texas of all property value growth. This state-level information and direction will be provided in August. Porter said that any new information provided may adjust SBISD’s tax rate, which as a result may adjust the district’s recapture rate.
A second and final public hearing on the 2021 proposed budget and tax rate is scheduled June 22 during the Board’s regular monthly meeting. The tax rate is set for final adoption by the Board in September.
No comments were received during the open public hearing period.
Preliminary Fiscal Year 2021 SBISD Budget presentation
Adoption of Local Policy
After a third reading, Trustees voted unanimously (7-0) to adopt local policy EHBI Special Programs: Adult and Community Education. New or amended policies come up before the Board at least three times before a final vote occurs. In addition, proposed new policies or policy amendments are posted online for public review and comment.
Policy EHBI (Local) Special Programs: Adult and Community Education
Charge for the SBISD Visioning for the Future Committee
After discussion at an earlier workshop meeting, Trustees approved unanimously (7-0) the charge, or the founding plan, for the SBISD Visioning for the Future Committee. The 79-member committee, composed of the SBISD superintendent, Trustees, as well as parent, community, student and staff stakeholders, will define for the next five years (2021-2026) the vision of a T-2-4 Graduate at three pivotal grade levels – 5th, 8th and 12th grades. Since 2012, the district’s single-focused strategic goal has been known as Spring Branch T-2-4. This goal reflects the district’s aim of every SBISD graduate to attain a technical certificate, military training, or a two- or four-year degree. The committee is scheduled at this time to begin its work this fall.
Charge for the SBISD Visioning for the Future Committee
Trustees approved all Consent Agenda items unanimously (7-0), except for several separate requests for personal exemption from voting on specific agenda items by Trustees Minda Caesar, Chris Gonzalez and Karen Peck. Trustees Caesar and Gonzalez, as active volunteers, did not vote on a campus SparkPark related item, and Peck did not vote on two specific contract awards due to personal or stock ownership concerns. In brief, the consent agenda reflects items considered to be routine, and is voted on by the Board and approved as a whole unless a Trustee removes one or more items for separate consideration.
Consent Agenda Action Items (View Full Agenda for All Items)
Draft Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Discussion
SBISD Associate Superintendent for Finance Karen Wilson reviewed details shared in the draft budget presentation earlier in the meeting. She noted that total district revenue was similar to last year, and described how recapture payments chase revenue – if revenue increases, then recapture will likely go up. She described the state’s new role in telling a school district what its maximum tax rate will be. In brief, she also explained SBISD’s revenue refund totaling $7.4 million over the past several years, and several other budget related items.
Trustees asked a variety of questions, including Wilson’s view on looking ahead to the next legislative session, which begins in January, and the current outlook for state education funding in the wake of a pandemic and financial stall due to Stay Home orders. Describing school chief financial officers like her as “conservative folks,” she noted that many school leaders had learned lessons from the state’s 2009-11 experiences during the Great Recession.
“We don’t know what the future holds, but we need to prepare for what the future holds knowing that there could be hard times coming in this next [legislative] biennium,” she said, then adding “one of our priorities is to continue funding House Bill 3 because we know that was not established [in the previous legislative session]”
No significant reductions are planned in SBISD at this time, she said, but said that Senior Staff is focused already on making wise adjustments if the need arises. “The most important thing for us to do is to plan and [be prepared] to meet hard times.” The district’s current fund balance meets Board goals so leaders here can take an “aggressive-conservative” position on planning and priorities. “That’s a tight rope,” she said, “but we’ve got the right team to do that.”
Superintendent Blaine repeated in closing that SBISD plans to begin the new school year on August 17, a week earlier than many area school districts, and that there is no plan to follow an intersessional, or year-round style, calendar, as the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has raised as an option for districts.
If remote learning were to re-occur in the school year ahead due to COVID-19, SBISD is also committed to maintaining its regular grading expectations rather than Meet/Not Meet grade standards.
“This pandemic situation has been difficult on everybody. Give us a hurricane, we deal with that. Give us a flood, we have a playbook for that. Give us a pandemic, we’ve not done that before,” Dr. Blaine said. A review of remote learning in the past few weeks highlights the incredible response of teachers, parents and students, she said.
“Our teachers have been amazing,” Dr. Blaine said. “We flipped the switch on our teachers, and on our parents overnight, and on our kids. And they rose to the occasion. Every single teacher in our system is eligible for some kind of award, medal or prize for that.”
In related recognition, Dr. Blaine praised the district’s two new Teachers of the Year, Crystal Fain from Stratford High and Katie McCracken of Meadow Wood Elementary. Their teaching excellence inspires everyone, the superintendent said.