The School Zone

Workshop Briefs - June 8, 2020


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, Open Meetings laws to allow telephonic or video teleconference-based meetings. Six Board members joined this meeting via audio/video teleconference computer link. Trustee Josef Klam did not attend.

In opening remarks, Superintendent Jennifer Blaine, Ed.D., provided updates on graduation ceremonies and the 2020-21 school calendar. Dr. Blaine expressed gratitude to district and high school leaders and teams involved in the successful, socially distanced outdoor graduations held June 1-6 at Tully Stadium. Outdoor graduations were made possible through guidelines issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We were fortunate to hold all five Graduations this past week, and it was really exciting to see the kids walk across the stadium stage and to provide them with that celebration. They’ve had a long year, a long semester, and they could just not be more excited,” she told Trustees. “It was a tall order to pull off, and it really looked good. If you were able to be there, it was nostalgic to be on the football field. I think our parents really liked it, and high school principals did yeoman work to pull it off in a short period of time.”

Dr. Blaine then restated that SBISD plans to adhere to the Board-approved 2020-21 school calendar with an August 17 opening for students. A family survey, which closes June 9, has also been issued to obtain a range of views on related issues. These include COVID-19 and the “comfort level” on school reopening in August; extra measures needed for student and staff safety; and preferences for instructional delivery as may be needed with coronavirus including several hybrid learning options.

As of June 8, more than 6,800 families had taken the survey. SBISD will also host several separate focus groups online in the week ahead to provide additional input on stakeholder views. Sessions range from the Superintendent’s Key Communicator Group to the Campus Teachers of the Year representatives. In all, almost 300 community, parent and educator groups have been invited to those sessions.

Citizens Participation

SBISD General Counsel Audrey Shakra read verbally into the meeting record seven separate comments from district residents related to meeting agenda or non-agenda items. Citizen remarks included many focused on the district’s school calendar and the recently issued survey on family views about plans for reopening school.

Executive Session

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’s attorney. Trustees voted 6-0 to approve routine personnel items. No other public action was taken.

Waiver Requests

Trustees voted 6-0 to approve six separate waiver requests ranging from student reading assessments to Board policy amendments, resulting from the recent suspension of in-classroom instruction, plus related programs and annual activities. These waiver requests included:
Reading Assessment for K (kindergarten) and 7th Grade, and Parent Notice
Missed School Day Waiver/Instructional Continuity Attestation
Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Testing Waiver Request
Instructional Materials Inventory Requirement Waiver for the 2019-20 School Year
Annual Financial Report (AFR) Due Date Extension Waiver
Amend Board Policy for Annual PreParticipation Evaluations for 20-21 School Year

Update: Bunker Hill Elementary School Project Design Development Phase

Associate Superintendent for Operations Travis Stanford spoke in a special presentation on the project scope and schedule, Project Advisory Team(PAT) process update, and recommendation for the Bunker Hill Elementary School replacement project. The school will be rebuilt on site as part of the 2017 Bond program approved by district voters.

SBISD’s Operations team and project managers have worked closely with the campus principal and staff, PAT and Stantec architectural/design team members. From January until May, noted Stanford, six PAT meetings were held, three face-to-face and three as virtual meetings.

Bunker Hill Elementary will be replaced by a two-story, 103,000 square feet building based on PAT values that include community and neighborhood orientation, a student-centered design, and preservation of the natural setting to the degree possible. The building design centers on the library as a building focal point, with 33 classrooms separated into lower and upper grade-levels. Natural light and open views are key themes throughout.

Stantec’s Jennifer Henrikson reported that PAT voting on interior and exterior design options was nearly unanimous across a set of team-presented rankings. Henrikson and Stantec’s staff members guided Trustees and online viewers through a deeply detailed, 31-slide PowerPoint presentation that included exterior site plan, perimeter fencing and security, traffic flows and building exterior and outdoor spaces, including a park-inspired learning plaza and community courtyards. Preliminary 3D interior and exterior views were shared. Several Trustees praised design recommendation and the new school plan as “beautiful.” A July project update will be scheduled for the Board.
Bunker Hill Elementary School replacement project design development presentation

Instructional Continuity: SBISD Academic Response to COVID-19 presentation

Dr. Blaine prefaced this presentation by restating that the district goal remains a return to school on August 17 under the Board’s approved calendar. Nevertheless, SBISD must be prepared for situations based on federal or state-issued orders that might call for different learning plans or options. For this reason, SBISD is conducting a family survey and virtual online sessions with stakeholders using a focus group format.

SBISD Associate Superintendent Kristin Craft, Ed.D., then guided Trustees through a detailed, 38-slide PowerPoint presentation. She shared survey details and feedback from more than 4,700 families who responded in May. Respondents expressed concern over their child’s learning or social and emotional well-being (71 percent) since suspension in mid-March of traditional schooling. Highly ranking themes were shared, as well as respondent views on how distance learning might be improved. Trustees were then provided student survey responses, including student views’ that distance learning was lacking in h challenge (73 percent). Related survey improvement suggestions were summarized.

Dr. Craft then shared Spring Branch ISD Commitments, a district-adopted reaffirmation of Core Values that addresses the COVID-19 situation and student learning: As we tenaciously accept the challenge of this new normal, SBISD will continue to follow the guidance of local, state and national health and government agencies with two guiding imperatives: the health, safety and well-being of our students, staff and families, and the academic growth and social-emotional development our students need and deserve and their families expect. These Commitments include supporting statements to updated Core Values phrases, ranging from Prioritize Every Child to Navigate with a Strong Moral Compass.

Next, Dr. Craft detailed the district planning process from what is known and not known. SBISD Senior Staff, serving as a steering committee, has been meeting twice a week to conduct rapid prototyping of learning models, using cross-functional teams and regular updates with regional and state educational and other leaders. Online focus group sessions are planned with more groups – SBISD Council of PTAs, District Improvement Team (DIT), Title 1 Parent Advisory and Family E3 committees, Campus Teachers of Year and the Superintendent Key Communicator Network. A Board update will be provided June 22.

Potential scenarios for the new school year were shared, all based on the planned August 17 calendar date for opening. Models include: face-to-face instruction, allowing a return with few restrictions; the hybrid learning model, allowing social distancing; and, distance learning, which provides for intervals of school closure, if needed, and for family-based decisions. “All school districts across the country are facing these same models,” Dr. Craft noted.

The hybrid learning model, which operates classrooms with student reductions for distancing, also has several options: grade-level priority (youngest students by elementary, middle or high school level), as well as cohort groupings by day rotation (face-to-face for 2 days, then 3 days distance learning) and, at secondary levels, an automatic self-monitoring option (face-to-face for 4 days, then 6 days by distance learning), also called a weekly rotation model. Finally, all available space might be leveraged across all SBISD facilities to meet social distancing needs. These scenarios were explained in detail by grade level, with schedule examples provided. In addition, half-day schooling plans are not feasible in SBISD due to transportation, child nutrition and custodial related issues, Dr. Craft said.

Trustees asked a variety of questions ranging from TEA guidance (not so far) to hybrid learning models. Concern was expressed for student social and emotional wellness and providing a learning solution for every child. Bus transportation is another concern, as social distancing on a regular bus reduces typical seating from 77 to 12 students per route. Organizational issues with bus transportation and the hybrid learning model were described as “huge.”
Spring Branch ISD Commitments document
Instructional Continuity: SBISD Academic Response to COVID-19 presentation

2020-2021 Compensation Plan and change in employee insurance contributions: Discussion

Associate Superintendent for Administration and Talent Karen Heeth explained employee compensation and insurance contributions changes reflected in the 2020-2021 plan. Employee compensation reflects a set of recommendations resulting from a Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) review shared three months ago. The associate superintendent said that the TASB proposal, if accepted, will help attract and retain employees and make SBISD salaries comparable to or exceed other school districts. Heeth reports good news on employee health insurance rates, stating that rates will remain either the same, or slightly decrease, in all but one plan category. “Amidst COVID, this was one very bright spot,” she told Trustees. In addition, the state-based insurance program will change provider to Blue Cross Blue Shield on Sept. 1.
2020-2021 Compensation Plan and Change in Employee Insurance Contributions

Discussion of proposed District of Innovation (DOI) exemption of Texas Education Code statute related to employment practices

Associate Superintendent for Administration and Talent Karen Heeth explained a recommendation to issue three-year probationary contracts to all new employees hired, including those with non-district experience meeting the five-of-the-last-eight-years standard. However, current SBISD employees who change roles inside the district would still be eligible for one-year probationary contracts. “We find that a teacher when they come to us may need more time to get to know the Spring Branch way,” Heeth said. As a District of Innovation (DOI) change, the proposal would follow a formal review process and timeline, which includes a community comment period.
Proposed District of Innovation (DOI) exemption of Texas Education Code statute
Proposed District of Innovation (DOI) new draft policy

Discussion of the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget

Associate Superintendent for Finance Karen Wilson guided Trustees through a final discussion of the proposed fiscal budget before scheduled adoption on June 22. While budget figures remain similar to those presented earlier in May, the associate superintendent focused on several items resulting from either state or national legislation.

SBISD’s reduced tax rate of more than 1 cent this year is the maximum tax rate allowed. Based on recent House Bill 3 (HB3) legislation, the district’s tax rate still requires final state verification, which is expected before SBISD sets its tax rate officially in September. A slight difference in tax rate is possible due to new state law.

Meanwhile, the district’s budget and fund balance – and possible recapture payments – might all be impacted or affected by the COVID-19 related, federal CARES Act, which includes an estimated $8.3 million payment to the district replacing the same amount in state anticipated revenue. This funding reflects national legislation intended to buffer states and local school districts from losses related to the pandemic and decline in business activities. Federal revenues will come into the district over a two-year period, Wilson noted, creating timing differences in the budget reporting schedule. “In the long run, our ending fund balance should be the same [by 2021’s end], but it’s going to look different in the middle,” she told Trustees.

Also of note related to the ongoing pandemic, Wilson said the district is now working to recover funds spent by departments on COVID-19 related expenses. Up to $5 million might be reimbursed through a FEMA qualifying process with supporting documentation.
Fiscal Year 2021 Budget

Closing Remarks

Superintendent Blaine thanked Board members, central and campus administrators, and numerous staff members for a great week of graduation ceremonies at Tully Stadium. Dr. Blaine also asked parents and families to participate before the online district survey period ends.