By Kathi Bliss
As the school year draws to a close, money comes to the forefront of discussion for the Lockhart Independent School District Board of Trustees.
Much of the time during Monday night’s regular meeting was spent discussing projections for the District’s upcoming fiscal year 2013-2014 budget, including, with focus being on whether to offer an employee pay raise, and how much that raise should be.
A presentation from District CFO Tina Knudsen revealed that the District is in a strong fiscal position to offer a 3-percent raise to employees, with a possibility of as much as a 5-percent raise for teachers. In considering the raises, the Trustees are also eyeing adjustments to some employee salaries to increase parity with other school districts in the area, in the hopes of bringing employee salaries to an average of 95 percent of the average market rate for the positions.
Much of the budget is still up in the air, pending a final action by the Texas Legislature on the State’s budget, which is the keystone to school funding. Knudsen said current projections show an increase in the State’s budget of $2.5 billion, which, if approved by the Legislature, will impact funding for every public school in the state.
In addition, she said, the Caldwell County Appraisal District is likely to raise property values on average of 2 percent, which will also create a funding increase, without the District changing their tax rates.
However, the budget still poses some points of concern, because the Federal government’s sequester cuts will impact some programs. The Trustees will also be asked how to handle an increase in employee insurance rates, and a bill passed this week by the Texas Legislature that will make potentially-expensive changes to the Teachers’ Retirement System.
The Board is slated for a special-called meeting on June 3, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. to begin the official process of reviewing the budget, as well as setting a tax rate to advertise, upon which the budget will initially be predicated.
The District will officially set next year’s tax rate in the late summer, after the Appraisal District has heard appeals on property values and certified the tax rolls.
The Trustees are also working to strike a balance between increasing student success in and out of the classrooms, and funding the programs that ensure that success.
Trustee Jessica Neyman noted the District should be looking at high-performing school districts to find out how they achieve their successes, and doing what they can to replicate those programs.
However, Trustee Tom Guyton pointed out that in many cases, those high-performing districts have a much lower rate of economically disadvantaged students, and a much higher tax base, and praised the administration and students for being able to perform as well as they do with the resources available.
In other business, the Trustees once again discussed the possibility of eliminating the recurring “Benediction” item from board agendas.
Neyman introduced the notion last month, asking at the time that the Board seek a legal opinion from their attorneys regarding whether or not the District would be open to civil liberties liability in keeping the “Benediction” item intact. Although it is common for political bodies to begin their meetings with an invocation, it is uncommon to have both an invocation and a benediction.
Last month, the Trustees voted not to seek that opinion, prompting Neyman to do research on her own, contacting both the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and the District’s legal counsel, Dorcas Greene with Walsh Anderson, to ask for verbal advice, rather than a written opinion.
Neyman reported to her colleagues that the information she received suggested the District might be at some risk in continuing the practice, but noted there is little precedent because so few school boards recognize a benediction.
Her report prompted Board President Rick Womble to contradict her. Womble said he, too, contacted Greene, but he understood her opinion to be that there was no real risk in continuing the practice of a benediction. Neyman bristled at the suggestion that she might have “begun with the end in mind.”
After heated discussion among the board, Trustee Brenda Spillman made a motion that the Board go ahead and ask for a written legal opinion, given the difference between Womble’s interpretation of legal counsel’s advice and Neyman’s. That motion failed 4-3, with support only from Spillman, Neyman and Trustee Jon Reyes.
In brief news:
A report from Deputy Superintendent Janie Wright revealed a marked increase in seniors passing their Exit-Level TAKS tests.
In the past, the District has struggled with students being prevented from walking the stage at graduation because of an inability to pass all portions of their Exit-Level TAKS tests. However, through a variety of cooperative programs with students, parents and teachers, Wright reported that there is only one member of this year’s senior class who has not yet passed all aspects of the Exit-Level TAKS.
That student, she said, is expected to return to tutoring and retesting over the summer, and is likely to earn a diploma in July.
In response to a letter that appeared recently in the Lockhart Post-Register, Trustees Juan Alvarez and Jessica Neyman brought forth agenda items allowing the Board to discuss community involvement and use of District facilities for non-school-related events.
The letter alleged District employees had refused to cooperate in allowing April’s Relay for Life event to be held at Lion Stadium, and questioned the District’s support for the communitywide event.
Superintendent Jose Parra told the Trustees he did not believe that the Relay for Life committee had ever approached District officials about the use of the stadium, but said he and his staff had already reached out to the committee and had plans in the works for cooperating with Relay for Life on facilities use for their event next year.
During this year’s budget cycle, the Board will consider raising the food allowance for junior high and high school athletes for meals while traveling to away games. At present, the District provides for $4 per student for junior high and $5 per student for high school, with an increase to around $10 per head during playoffs.
The Board recognized dozens of students, parents and campus volunteers. Among those receiving recognition for their contributions and accomplishments this year were: the mentors and volunteers at Clear Fork Elementary School, the WatchDOGs from Navarro Elementary and the LISD Finance Department, which was recognized again this year for excellence in financial reporting.
Many students, including the Bluebonnet Science Fair winners, the Bluebonnet Elementary “Million Word Readers,” the participants in the Future Chefs Regional contest, the LHS Track and Field team members who qualified for and participated in the Regional and State Track Meets, the Lion Soccer All-District picks, the LHS Visual Arts Scholastic Event competitor and the Regional Quarterfinalist Lady Lions Varsity Softball Team.
The Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees routinely meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Conference Center at Lockhart High School. The meetings are open to the public and are webcast on the District’s website, www.lockhartisd.org.