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Superintendent addresses audience of concerned citizens; several request to speak to the Board regarding hurtful social media posts by Trustee

The Ector County ISD Board of Trustees held a workshop on the evening of June 9. A recap of the agenda is below.

 

  1. Roll Call. Tammy Hawkins and Doyle Woodall were absent.

 

  1. Verification of Compliance with Open Meeting Law.

 

  1. Muri’s opening remarks. For the last two weeks we have seen images from across the country of protests born out of anger, frustration, and resentment. Our communities of color – particularly the Black community – find themselves in a daily battle against institutional racism, economic discrepancies and educational disparity. The death of George Floyd, caught in video for the world to see, was pure disregard for a man’s life, and we share in the outrage being expressed all across our country. The fact that it was just the most recent example of brutality towards a Black man for no other reason than racial prejudice, only intensifies our anger. We believe Black lives matter.

We are experiencing some of those same realities in our own city. We have audience members here in the Board Room, others watching from different areas of our Administration Building, and many more in front of our building, peacefully protesting hurtful, insulting Facebook posts made by a member of our own board. There is no place for discrimination in our school district. We have not always done what’s right for the students of ECISD, especially children of color or those who are most disadvantaged. That is something we will change.

In January, we were all embarrassed by the report that showed a disproportionate percentage of our suspensions* are African American students.  While making up 4% of our student population, our African American students represent 48% of out-of-school suspensions*. Something is wrong!  Add to that the academic gaps for our African American, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students and we are missing the mark when it comes to serving these children’s needs. For example: in STAAR Math performance White students pass at a rate of 71%; Hispanic students 67% and Black students 54%. In Writing performance, it is 60%, 51%, and 38%. In Science performance the percentages are 79%, 67% and 56%. The only good news is we know this; we have shined a light on this problem; and we are addressing it.

Our new budget, the one our school board members will vote on next week, allocated more money and more teachers to the schools with the greatest needs. That is budgeting and staffing for equity and it is the right thing to do for students. Our new strategic plan is founded in the principal of providing equity for our kids – ensuring that every student receives the support and encouragement and the resources they need to be successful in whatever academic pursuit they choose.

After seeing that discipline report in January, school board members and district leaders established a task force to study the data, dive deep into the causes, and report back to Trustees with not only findings but solutions. That task force is scheduled to present its report in July. That report will go beyond just discipline data. We need to understand how to build relationships with children who bring their own unique perspective to our classrooms. We need to understand how their lives away from school may impact their readiness to learn. We need to provide support, materials, teachers, mentors, and time to our children who need more of each of those things. 

This is a proud and strong community. There is no challenge we cannot overcome. Together, we will give every child the opportunity to unlock their potential and pursue their passions.   

  

  1. Seven citizens requested to speak to the school board. In order: Michael Smith spoke of his outrage with recent events in our nation and he called for Doyle Woodall’s resignation from the school board. Javier Ruiz spoke to the board about the proposed budget, and his appreciation for the raises being presented for the 2020-21 school year. Chuck Isner told school board members he understands that there is no means for the board to remove Doyle Woodall but he hoped that, if Mr. Woodall remains on the board, he would use is position to promote inclusion. Armida Tarin asked Trustees, when preparing to start school in the time of COVID-19, to please consider the situation facing students in portables without immediate access to a bathroom or sinks. Michaela Anang told of her experiences first as a middle school student at Bowie Middle School, then as an employee at Bowie, and she implored district officials to take serious care in the allocation of budget dollars in order to improve the treatment of all students. Esteban Hernandez spoke of his, and many others’, deep hurt at the offensive Facebook posts made by a school board member. He told each school board member he wanted to see them publicly call for Doyle Woodall’s resignation. Miah Nelson asked district leaders to take COVID seriously, provide physical, mental, and emotional health support for all students. She also asked leaders to put together a solid, detailed back-to-school plan with contingencies for things that are certain to go wrong.

 

 

  1. Report/discussion items

 

A. Trustees discussed the 2020-21 budget, tax rates and property values. The 2019-20 budgeted revenues totaled just more than $299 million but are now projected to be a little more than $301 million. Expenditures for this year are projected to be some $22 million lower than originally budgeted mostly due to positions that were budgeted but remained vacant all year. That circumstance has allowed the District to rebuild its fund balance to about four months of expenses, which is higher than the state’s guidelines of three months. Using current financial projections and a reduced estimate of 500 new students for next year, District officials are building a budget for revenues of $307,129,000 – if our District receives all funding it is supposed to receive. District leaders will focus the additional dollars on board priorities like compensation (see below: a cost of living increase for all employees and equity adjustments for hourly employees and others); additional money for schools with higher numbers of Special Education, economically disadvantaged, and English as a Second Language students; investing in pipelines that grow our own leaders; more counselors and more support for counselors; safety and security increases; updating technology so that every student has a digital tool; and facilities improvements like roofs and air conditioners. Officials will build a balanced budget from these projections with the ability to adapt as the financial situation changes.

 

Next Tuesday, June 16, at 6:00 p.m. the school district will host a public hearing on the budget and the proposed tax rate. A school district’s tax rate is broken down into two parts: Maintenance & Operations (M&O) which provides the funding for day-to-day operations; and Interest & Sinking (I&S), also called Debt Service, which provides the funding for debt (bond) payments. The proposed rate for the coming school year is $1.0547 for M&O, $0.12322 for I&S, and $1.17792 total tax rate, which is the same as the current tax rate.

 

Trustees also received an overview of the compensation plan. The highlights:

  • Employees will receive a 2% of midpoint cost of living adjustment plus equity adjustments where applicable to bring employees to 90% of market pay;
  • Teachers librarians, and nurses (RN) will receive a $1,200 cost of living adjustment. The starting salary will be adjusted to $54,250 (which is up $2,250 from the 2019-20 salary schedule). Teachers at Steps 1-12 will receive additional adjustments to create equity with the starting pay for Step Zero. Adjustments for this group of employees constitutes approximately 51% of all salary adjustments.
  • The Board asked the administration to prioritize additional adjustments to hourly employees. Employees on these salary schedules will receive an adjustment above the 2% (ranging from 4% to 5% to the starting pay). Starting salaries will increase and adjustments will be made to current employees based on that adjustment. Adjustments for this group of employees constitutes approximately 32% of all salary adjustments.
  • In additional to salary and the noted salary adjustments, our employees receive an additional $4,560 per year in medical insurance benefits. There will be no increases to insurance premiums.

 

B. Trustees reviewed a resolution committing fund balance in accordance with GASB 54.

 

C. Muri updated the school board members on COVID-19 plans. First, he talked about the 3,500 students who are currently in virtual summer school, and the teachers providing that instruction. He said in July, we will add some face-to-face and busing for at-risk students (those who did not have a good remote learning experience in the spring). In regard to starting the new school year in August, district leaders still have a lot of questions. Guidance will come from state officials and is updated continuously. Dr. Muri asked that citizens keep taking precautions because what happens in this community this summer will go a long way to determining how we are able to return to school. Safety will be our top concern. Right now, it seems likely that a hybrid model of instruction will be the most likely plan; a mix of in-person and virtual lessons. Social distancing restrictions makes it unlikely that every kid will be in school every day, or every teacher will be in school every day. He said equity will be the leading driver in making those decisions. Research is showing math is the subject in which kids are losing the most ground because of the spring closures, and it needs more in-person instruction with teachers. Elementary students will need more in-person instruction, too. He explained that the district has created 17 design teams of administrators, principals, teachers, parents, and some students to create the detailed plans for going to back to school. The committees are working on every aspect of the school day like: busing, arriving at school, going to class, changing classes, eating breakfast and lunch, reacting to positive cases of COVID, cleaning and disinfecting, communication and more. He added we will need to be flexible in all plans because regulations are going to change. He reminded Trustees that the district also created an updated calendar that adds more instructional days, to give students more time with teachers in the coming year. The proposed calendar was sent to staff and then to parents for feedback. That feedback is being reviewed by the planning committees in forming back-to-school plans.           

 

 

  1. Action items.

 

 

  1. Trustees voted 5-0 to reorganize for the 2020-21 school year with Delma Abalos as president of the board, Tammy Hawkins as the vice president of the board, and Steve Brown as the secretary of the board.

 

 

  1. Trustees spent about 40 minutes in closed session discussing personnel issues.

 

  • Trustees voted 5-0 to approve personnel recommendations. Those hired are Ashley Osborne for the Executive Director for Talent Development, a human resources position responsible for developing professional learning for all employees. Ashley was previously the ECISD director of instructional technology and the ECISD science coordinator;
  • Josette Dobbins for the Purchasing Director. Josette comes to ECISD from the City of Midland where she has worked as the procurement systems administrator for the past eight years. She holds a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Information Technology Management.
  • Mareka Austin as the new principal at Bonham Middle School. Mareka was most recently the principal at Marsh Middle School in Castleberry ISD in Fort Worth. Her education experience includes classroom teacher, high school assistant principal and curriculum coordinator.

 

 

  1. There were no closing remarks.

 

The meeting adjourned at 8:04 p.m.

 

*Correction made: the original text was "alternative center placements", the correct disciplinary action from the report is out-of-school suspension.