The Blanco Independent School District Board of Trustees came in out of the heat on Monday and met with a lengthy agenda before them. President Matt Herden, Darrell Wagner, Kirk Felps, Troy Immel, and Tim Nance were in attendance – trustees Bernie San Miguel and Charles Riley were not able to make the meeting. Superintendent Dr. Buck Ford and district business manager Kay Fraser were also in attendance to offer advice and information to the trustees.
Plans Made for Bond, Budget, and Tax Rate Meetings
During the Superintendent’s report, Dr. Ford reported that a school board meeting has been scheduled for August 17 for the trustees to consider an order authorizing the issuance of bonds. Further, a public hearing is scheduled for August 22 to adopt the budget and tax rate.
Accountability Ratings and AYP Released
Dr. Ford announced that the state’s accountability and the federal government’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports had been released.
According to the state’s accountability ratings, Blanco Middle School is rated Recognized. Blanco Elementary, Blanco High School, and Blanco ISD are rated Academically Acceptable. The district and schools showed gains in writing and mathematics, Dr. Ford reported, and science performance showed a drop
For AYP, Blanco ISD, Blanco High School, and Blanco Elementary met AYP. Blanco Middle School missed AYP.
The middle school failed to meet the standard of 80% passing in reading and 75% in math in the Hispanic subpopulation.
Trustee Troy Immel asked how the middle school could get a Recognized rating and miss AYP.
“It does happen,” Dr. Ford said. “What has happened is that the federal government and state government have different standards.”
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) increased the standards by eliminating the Texas Projection Measure, which had been used in previous years, resulting in fewer schools and districts statewide earning the Exemplary rating. Dr. Ford reported that TEA also included additional testing results from over 119,000 receiving special education services, from 54% to 92% of special education students. The rating system additionally includes a measure for English language learners based on TAKS passing standards and progress on the Texas English language proficiency system. The academically acceptable rating was also increased for math and science, added a new commended performance indicator, and increased the rigor of annual drop out rate.
With the changes, Dr. Ford reported, the number of Exemplary-rated districts fell from 241 in 2010 to 61 this year. The number with the lowest rating, Academically Unacceptable, increased from 37 to 88.
Almost 5,600 Texas schools met AYP, or 66% of all Texas campuses. Schools and districts had to have 80% or more of their students passing reading and language arts, and 75% passing math. AYP also requires 90% attendance rate or 75% graduation rate.
“Under the federal No Child Left Behind Law,” Dr. Ford said, “the standards must reach 100% passing in reading or math assessment in 2014.”
“In 2010,” the superintendent continued, “73% of Texas students were required to pass the reading PLA test, while a 67% passing rate was needed on the math test to meet AYP. As a result, 50% of Texas school districts met AYP in 2011 compared to 78% the previous year.”
“I want to congratulate the middle school for the Recognized rating,” Dr. Ford said, turning to principal Jesse Salazar in the audience. “I also want to commend all our teachers and students for improving their performances in math and writing, which were areas that we targeted. We look forward to preparing our students for the new STAAR assessment, which will replace the TAKS test and will come online this Spring.”
Surplus School Items Up for Bid
“The district has identified surplus property which has been stored in the historical building,” Dr. Ford said. The district will dispose of the property through sealed bids, which will be accepted on approved bid forms submitted by 2pm on Friday, August 12. Dr. Ford asked that those wishing to arrange an inspection of the items contact district maintenance director Tony Petri at the administrative offices.
The district is looking to sell 12 TVs, nine window unit air conditioners, two desks, eight tables, four file cabinets, 2 overhead projects, 10 display units, four easels, one podium, and several chairs.
BISD, ACC Join with College Connection
“We have a College Connection program and a data sharing agreement with Austin Community College,” Superintendent Ford said. “We have signed an agreement with Austin Community College that will facilitate our goal to prepare our students for college.”
“Tomorrow, we’ll meet with ACC and their representatives,” High School Principal Dustin Barton said, “and we’ll map out the entire year that will allow seniors to start, whether they go to ACC or not, the process to get them to be able to enroll in ACC after they graduate. We know that not all of our students will go to ACC. In 2008, we had less than five. In 2009, we had five students continue their education with ACC. For some students, it’s a back up plan; for some students, we’re getting them enrolled and it allows us to do the process with them so that, when they graduate, they don’t have to do anything on their own.”
Barton said the school is involved with two programs–College Connection, which gets seniors enrolled for college, and Early College Start, which allows students, after sophomore year, to take classes for free if they’re offered at the high school or for $40 if they’re off-campus.
District Receives S&P Rating
As part of the process for the issuance of bonds, the district receiving a site visit from the bond rating company Standard and Poor’s. The district’s bond consultant, Jennifer Douglas, reported that S&P rated the district as AA-, which she characterizes as a very strong rating and a positive reflection on the district’s administration and board.
Fromberg Updates Board on Elementary Project
“Everything is moving right along,” architect Randy Fromberg reported. Representatives from Fromberg and Associates met with representatives from Vanguard Contractors, which the board selected as construction manager last month. Fromberg also met with departmental heads and food service workers to get more input on building design.
Fromberg reported that his group submitted exploratory demolition plans to the construction manager to expose interior parts of the building where the new construction will attach.
With plans to complete the design development drawings by September 9, Fromberg said that the process is ahead of schedule and that the plans should be done ahead of time.
“The process is moving along,” Fromberg reported. “We haven’t hit any roadblocks– nothing out of the ordinary. No asbestos in the building.”
When the board expressed surprise, Fromberg explained that schools were required to do asbestos surveys 15 to 20 years ago. Additionally, the building was constructed before World War II, when asbestos use became common.
Board Approves Construction Manager Contract
The board, at its previous meeting, approved Vanguard Contractors and the administration has since negotiated an offer with the company. The district’s attorney had reviewed the contract and was comfortable with it, said Dr. Ford.
After a motion by Wagner and a second by Nance, the board unanimously voted to approve the resolution accepting the contract.
Trustees Consider Directors to County Appraisal District
The superintendent reported that the Blanco County Appraisal District was accepting nominations for candidates for election to its Board of Directors. Blanco ISD has 1,812 votes out of 5,000 that may be cast.
“If we limit our nomination to two individuals,” Dr. Ford said, “then we can ensure we have two representatives on the Board.”
President Matt Herden told the trustees that he had made phone calls to the current members. Dr. David Behrends, who the board elected last year, told Herden that he wanted to seek nomination again. The other member, Jack Felps, told Herden he would like to resign after several decades of service to the community.
Herden made a few more phone calls and found that Lynn Boyd, the former superintendent, would be happy to serve at the wish of the board.
Herden asked if the trustees had any other suggestions for nomination.
“We’ll be well-represented by Lynn,” Kirk Felps said.
Felps moved to nominate Behrends and Boyd, with Immel seconding. The motion passed unanimously.
Student Code of Contact Updated
“The updated Student Code of Contact has been edited throughout for clarity and incorporates recent changes that have been made to other policies,” Dr. Ford reported. “It contains revisions that reflect changes related to laws passed by the 82nd Legislature.”
Changes to the code include amendments to online impersonation offenses, defining and prohibiting “cyberbullying” and “sexting,” making the breach of computer security an expellable offense, addressing synthetic compounds of controlled substances, and adding a “tire deflation device” (or “spike strip”) to the list of prohibited weapons.
“There’s not a lot of flexibility,” Dr. Ford said as most changes reflect new laws.
With a motion made by Immel and seconded by Felps, the updated code was approved.
Board Looks at Annual Reimbursement of Leave
The district, for the past few years, has paid employees at a rate of $350 annually for five unused local leave days, costing the district between $35,000 and $40,000. With the reduced state funding, Dr. Ford recommended eliminating the incentive until funds are available again.
Wagner moved to eliminate the incentive with Nance seconding. The motion was then passed.
The board also approved a revision to the salary and benefits recommendation after eliminating the attendance incentive. The revision also changes the amount of stipend money given to high school and middle school UIL coordinators and high school and middle school One Act Play sponsors, putting the amounts back at what they were last school year. Stipends for individual coaches at the lower levels were cut back.
Employees receive five local leave days and five state leave days every year, all of which are noncumulative.
Board Notified of Chapter 41 Status
Dr. Ford reported that the district had received notification of Chapter 41 status for the 2011-2012 school year. The district is required to choose options to reduce its “wealth per student.” The administration recommended using option 3, purchasing attendance credits, which the district has used previously.
“I understand that option 3 is the best thing, most efficient thing, for our district,” Herden said. Fraser concurred.
Immel asked how many credits would need to be purchased and how much money it will cost.
“This past year, we paid $130,000,” Fraser replied. “Next year, it’s going to be $300,000 but could go down. ... It’s based on a WADA of 1,514, which is an inflated amount of attendance.” The numbers are determined by pages of formulas, Fraser said.
WADA stands for “Weighted Average Daily Attendance,” the district’s ADA weighted by students in special programs. The district has been floating around a 1,500 WADA, Fraser reported.
The district is nearly out of Chapter 41 territory, at the bottom end of the range, Fraser said.
Wagner moved to approve option 3; Immel seconded. The board then approved the motion.
Board Again Considers Removing Early Property Tax Discount
The board considered the removal of the discount for early property tax payments. When taxpayers pay their property taxes in October, they get a 3% discount. The discount falls to 2% in November and 1% in December. Without the discount, the district would collect an extra $132,225 without having a tax rollback election or raising taxes. The disadvantages were that the district would lose interest on the early collections and that cash flow would be affected during the first year.
“This year,” Dr. Ford began, “the revenue shortfall from the state to Blanco ISD is $510,127. Next year, the revenue shortfall is Blanco ISD from the state is projected to be $745,241.”
“The district has taken some aggressive actions in order to cut its budget,” the superintendent continued. “We have slashed personnel costs and expenditures by 7.15% by reducing staff, instituting a hiring freeze, freezing salaries, slashing parts of the budget, cutting teacher incentives, and transferring the M&O expenses of technology and school bus requisition to the bond package.
“However, with these aggressive actions, the district will still present a budget that is $447,486 away from being balanced. The district plans to make up for this difference by accessing funds out of its fund balance.
“Local property values showed no increase. Our enrollment is showing no significant increase.”
Dr. Ford reported that he had checked with the surrounding counties. Only Boerne ISD and Comfort ISD provided the discount. Dr. Ford was unaware of any other entity in the county providing a discount; Johnson City ISD had eliminated it in the spring.
The average taxable home value in Blanco ISD is $130,505 with an average tax of $1,503. The elimination of the discount would impact that homeowner by $45 per year.
Herden pointed out that 40% of the tax base take advantage of the discount in October and that it was not raising taxes but finding every corner to help with the budget.
“I know everybody else has made sacrifices,” Herden said. “The staff has done an outstanding job on helping us with the budget. If we can’t find some way to come up with some numbers–and I know Kay is always racking her brain every day–the next alternative is probably trying to look at positions.”
“Do we cut programs or positions?” Nance asked. Immel pointed out that the shortfall increases by $200,000 next year. Wagner noted that the discount has no bearing on Chapter 41 recapture; no matter how much money the district takes in, $300,000 is still required by the state.
Fraser reported that the discount elimination would apply to this year’s taxes if the decision is made before October, when the tax bills go out.
Wagner asked if the discount would be reinstated when the economy gets better and was told that it was at the will of the board.
Herden said that removing the discount was not raising taxes, and Immel responded that it was like the government closing a loophole: the effect was the same as raising taxes.
Herden said that, while he likes the discount, the board needs to look at the fiscal matter of the district and make tough decisions.
While the $132,000 doesn’t solve the deficit, Wagner said, it does get the district $132,000 closer to a solution.
“The state has given us a shortfall of $510,000,” Dr. Ford said, “and next year it’s over $700,000. You can interpret it however you want to interpret it, but, locally, y’all figure out what to do.”
Herden asked for a motion to remove the discount with the idea that they’ll reinstate it when times are better. Wagner made the motion, Nance seconded. The motion passed unanimously with Immel announcing that his affirmative vote was “begrudgingly.”
“All of us are begrudgingly,” Herden said.
The board voted to approve the waiver of the Teacher Data Portal of the Texas Assessment Management System as the district uses DMAC, which meets and exceeds the requirements set forth by state law. Nance and Wagner moved and the board approved the waiver.
“As recommended through the board rating experience,” the superintendent said, “the district proposes a local policy regarding a debt management plan policy.” TASB provided a policy that, basically, “requires the administration to advise the board that the district complies with guidelines regarding the length of maturity of bonds issues and that the length of maturity shall not be greater than the types of facilities being financed through the bonds.” Immel moved to accept the policy with Wagner seconding. The motion passed.
The board also approved GASB 54, which provides a more structured classification in reporting the fund balance, such as non-spendable, restricted, committed, assigned, and unassigned.
Fraser reported that the district strives to maintain two and a half months of operating expenses. Too far above or below that and TEA slaps the district’s hands. The district had been doing this but GASB 54 puts it into a different format.
The district received messages from candidates seeking endorsement for the TASB District 13B Board of Directors. As the trustees did not know any of the candidates, no action was taken on an endorsement.
The trustees received the results of the Blanco ISD safety and security audit. The trustees also reviewed and approved a list of investment brokers interested in working with the district.
Open Houses Scheduled: With the school year coming up, open houses and “Meet the Teacher” nights have been scheduled. At the elementary, the open house is scheduled for Friday, August 19, from 5:30pm to 6:30pm. At the middle school, it’s Thursday, August 30, at 6pm. The high school will hold an open house on Monday, August 29, at 6pm.