By Kathi Bliss
In a move that promises to rattle taxpayers and delight students, the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees voted on Monday evening to earmark upwards of $6 million toward various facilities improvements in the coming fiscal year.
Chief among those improvements is a paved practice facility for the Roaring Lion Band, which will allow the marching band a designated space, delineated to mirror a competition field, where the band can tune up for competitions. Currently, the band is relegated to either the baseball field or the gravel parking lot adjacent to Lion Stadium.
The new practice facility, which will double as overflow parking, is expected to be located south of the newly-paved bus loop, near the Medina Street practice fields.
“”We’re very grateful the LISD Board of Trustees approved funds for a multi-purpose practice space for our students,” Head Band Director Clay McNiell said on Tuesday. “This marks an exciting and long-needed step in the right direction for our Lockhart music program. These students have been working very hard for years and now they’ll have an ‘even playing field’ for competitions and public performances. This, combined with the new, soon-to-open Performing Arts Center at LHS, will expand new and exciting opportunities for our kids and community. I can’t wait!”
Though Trustee Steve Johnson voted against the construction of the multi-use space, the Trustees approved the purchase, estimated to cost some $390,000, on a 6-1 vote.
The sweeping purchase also includes installation of synthetic turf on the field at Lion Stadium, a measure which Johnson supported, but Trustee Becky Lockhart stood against.
The turf, according to Superintendent Susan K. Bohn, will allow the stadium field to be used in all weather, and will also offer additional opportunities for students to use the field for practice and competition, without the current concern of damaging the live grass.
“In order to properly maintain the grass, the field is only used for competition at this time,” she said in a statement last week. “Students are able to practice on the field to only a very limited extent, which places them at a competitive disadvantage. Also, when it rains, the field becomes unusable. The district proposes replacing the grass with synthetic turf which would provide a sturdier, reliable surface for a number of students groups, including football, soccer, band, cheer, dance, color guard, and others to use for practice and competition. Turf is the surface on which most of these students perform and compete the majority of the time. We want to give our students the tools they need to succeed in every way possible.”
The cost of installing turf, which the District hopes to have in place prior to the beginning of football season in August, is estimated at $900,000.
The bulk of the earmark approved on Monday will go toward a sweeping renovation of the ML Cisneros Freshman Campus, which would otherwise be left vacant as the Freshman are migrated to Lockhart High School when that campus’s renovations are complete next school year.
“In 2013, the Citizen’s Facilities Task Force proposed the ML Cisneros Campus be used for an administration office,” Bohn said. “With the movement of freshmen students to Lockhart High School in the 2017-2018 school year, the building will become vacant. Renovations will focus on supporting the use for offices and restoring the building to maintain its historic presence in the community. The age of the building (built in 1923) contributes extra renovation expenses.”
The project, which will be planned by the District’s current architects, Huckabee and Associates, will allow for Central Office, and potentially the Lockhart Pride High School to relocate to the Cisneros campus.
At that time, Bohn said, the current administration building, as well as the Pride campus, will be listed on the market for sale. The proceeds of those sales, as well as the District’s current fund balance, are expected to be sufficient to fund the improvements.
In other business, the Board discussed the current food service policy of allowing students at all campuses to “charge” tray lunches, rather than providing an “alternative lunch” to students who find themselves without lunch money.
The current policy was put in place several years ago, when the then-seated Board discovered that students were being offered only a cheese sandwich and milk, rather than a hot lunch, if they had a balance pending on their food service account.
Expressing concern that students function at their best when provided a hot lunch, the Board overrode the “alternative lunch” policy. However, it seems the current policy has raised concerns about fiscal responsibility.
In total, since the policy was instituted in 2012, Lockhart ISD has “charged off” more than $169,000 in breakfast and lunch charges.
While the lion’s share of these charges are results of students with delinquent account balances that should likely partake of the free/reduced lunch program, many are not.
“We have families, with two or three children, that have been letting these balances accrue for years,” Bohn explained to the Board. “They do it, and they continue to do it, because there is no consequence.”
Bohn said she hoped that reintroducing an “alternative lunch” policy would change the pattern of behavior, in both students and their parents.
“By providing the alternative lunch, we will continue to ensure that no student will go hungry,” said Assistant Superintendent of Administration and Operations Larry Ramirez. “At the same time, we are launching district-wide outreach to parents to help those who qualify get connected with assistance for Free and Reduced Lunch. For those who are not in need, we are reaching out to them to be responsible for balances before resuming service of hot lunch.”
The alternative lunch proposed by Administration will include a ham sandwich, and apple, and milk. Students at the elementary level will not have their tray lunches taken from them and replaced with an alternative lunch, Bohn said, but secondary students will be stopped at the point of sale and redirected to the “deli” area, where they will receive an alternative lunch.
“This has been a tremendously difficult issue for our leadership to navigate because it impacts kids in a very real and direct way,” Bohn said. “We know that children need proper nutrition to learn best, which is why we have allowed them to charge lunch trays. However, the balances have increased so much that the district is forced to take action as stewards of public funds.”
The District plans to undergo a sweeping outreach effort, which will be engaged over the period of several weeks, before instituting the alternative lunch program in late February or early March.
In brief news:
The District entered a resolution to apply to the State as a “District of Innovation,” a designation which will allow for certain changes and flexibility to current hiring and teaching policies. Deputy Superintendent Kimberly Brents said the designation would allow District policy, rather than state mandates, to drive district programming to meet the needs of Lockhart students. A committee has been appointed, and will begin meeting in the near future to set out the “District of Innovation” standards.
The Trustees were recognized by students from across the District as a part of School Board Appreciation Month.
They heard a brief update about the current construction under the $63 million bond project. All construction, according to project manager Jo Zunker, is on schedule and progressing well.
The Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees routinely meets on the fourth Monday of each month in the Lockhart Junior High School Library at 500 City Line Road. The meetings are open to the public and available for online viewing at www.lockhartisd.org.