During its April 7 Leander ISD Board of Trustees meeting, the Board:
- Continued budget discussions for the 2022-23 school year.
- Approved the hiring of new employees to allow the district to manage substitutes internally.
- Listened to a presentation on Student Experience, Vision and Strategic Plan.
- Discussed a plan to provide campuses with Narcan as an opioid intervention tool.
- Considered renewing LISD’s District of Innovation plan.
- Received an update from the district’s Long-Range Planning Committee.
- Maintained all existing hazardous bus routes for the 2022-23 school year.
- Adopted instructional material selections for the 2022-23 school year.
- Celebrated the success at Winkley Elementary during Spotlight on Learning.
Board Reviews Proposed Cuts, Alternative Budget Scenario
Rising property values in Williamson County provide a different financial outlook for the 2022-23 budget. Taxable values in Williamson County are expected to rise by 38% for the 2022 tax year. Despite this historic increase, the district does not realize additional revenues for operations. To address the projected deficit for 2022-2023, Chief Financial Officer Elaine Cogburn detailed $7.2 million in budget cuts identified by administration including, a decrease in funding for major maintenance projects, bringing our substitute teacher program in-house, redesigning bus routes and changes to the 3-year-old PreK program among other things. The cuts reflect a minimal impact to campuses and reductions in department operating budgets.
During its March 24 meeting, the Board approved an amendment to the budget assumptions that lowers the Interest & Sinking (I&S) tax rate 5 cents and increases the Maintenance & Operation (M&O) tax rate by the same 5 cents. The M&O fund is used for teacher salaries, programs and other operations costs. I&S can only be used to pay existing debt obligations. Under the specification of moving 5 pennies:
- The district would face a $13 million deficit
- All LISD employees would see a 2% pay increase
- Minimum hourly wage increase to $15/hour
- Nearly 2-cent property tax rate reduction
- Goal of $7 million in budget cuts
To give the Board an idea of what shifting more pennies looks like, Cogburn provided an alternative plan that included lowering the I&S by 13 pennies and increasing the M&O rate by 9 pennies. Under this scenario:
- The district would face a $5 million deficit
- All LISD employees would see a 2% pay increase
- Teachers, nurses and counselors would see an additional 1% pay increase (for a total of 3%)
- Minimum hourly wage increase to $15/hour
- 6-cent property tax rate reduction
- $4 million in budget cuts
Managing the tax rate in this way is possible due to the historic rise in property values being experienced in Williamson County. While the overall tax rate could be reduced, taking such action would require a Voter-Approval Tax Rate Election commonly known as a VATRE. The Board will ultimately decide the tax rate in August to set the stage for a November election.
“Our Team of 7 has asked a lot from the finance department to keep an adequate level of fund balance, ensure we continue to pay debt, lower the tax rate and keep forward-facing classroom positions,” Board President Trish Bode said. “I do see a way forward to be responsible with taxpayer resources while looking at ways to streamline efficiencies. We will still need to look at reductions in the future. But, this is a solid place for us to be.”
Supt. Gearing mentioned the district will move forward with plans to open Early College High School and Virtual Learning Academy in the fall.
District Will Manage Substitute Staffing Internally
In looking at ways to reduce costs, the district will end its contract with ESS for the hiring and placement of substitute teachers. The Board approved the hiring and onboarding of three positions to manage the program internally. Chief Human Resource Officer Karie Lynn McSpadden assured the Board of efforts to make this transition as smooth as possible. Human Resources has informed current substitute teachers and detailed any necessary next steps.
Superintendent Presents on Student Experience, Vision and Strategic Plan
Superintendent Bruce Gearing, Ed.D., shared a presentation to the Board about the path forward for #1LISD students through the experience the district provides aligned with our Vision and Strategic Plan. Over the past two and a half years, as the district revised its guiding documents, Dr. Gearing explained the importance of examining existing culture and how it formulates what we want for “each student individually” as we “produce the most sought after creators of our future world” as mentioned in the district’s vision statement. Gearing alongside other district leaders visited Mesquite ISD where the district is utilizing a digital tool called AYO.
“Through creating effective student profiles, we can identify and gather data in one place, ensuring safety and security that’s also portable and grows and changes with our kids,” Supt. Gearing said. “It’s designed to help our adults create better relationships with our students, empowering our staff to work with students to create goals and build personal learning plans. This is not something we’re subjecting our kids to, but supporting them as they do it for themselves, so they become the lifelong learners we want them to be.”
Dr. Gearing assured the Board this was a preliminary examination into creating individualized learning plans. Conversations will continue as the concept takes shape.
Opioid Abuse Prevention & Intervention Discussed
Leander ISD is implementing a plan to provide unassigned opioid antagonist medication on every school campus. In light of the opioid crisis that’s impacting our nation’s teenagers, LISD is taking a two-pronged approach of prevention education and intervention to address the issue. The district is partnering with a local physician that will provide a standing order that will allow campus nurses and trained staff to administer Narcan during an opioid emergency event. When administered this opioid antagonist medication known as naloxone (Narcan) acts immediately to stop the effects of the opioid. Through a grant program with a Texas based organization, the district hopes to have Narcan available at all of its campuses by the beginning of the school year.
Regarding prevention education, students K-8th-grade receive lessons in drug use prevention. However, the Board shared interest in seeing that education expanded into high schools.
Taking Steps Toward Renewing District of Innovation Plan
Leander ISD is considering renewing its plan as a District of Innovation. Under the plan, the district has flexibility designing its academic calendar. While there are other exemptions allowed as a DoI, the district only intends to use the designation for its academic calendar. LISD Board of Trustees adopted our current DoI plan in 2018 which may not exceed 5 years. Chief of Staff Laurelyn Artebury, Ed.D., explained the renewal process and proposed timeline.
Long-Range Planning Committee
The Board received an update from the district’s Long-Range Planning Committee. Tasked with creating a 10-year long-term plan to help address future needs, the committee made up of administrators and board members has met four times since the beginning of the year. Their area of focus surrounded purpose and guidelines of maximizing facility utilization.
Existing Hazardous Bus Routes Will Remain Intact for 2022-23
The Board approved the district’s hazardous bus routes plan for the following school year. At the March 24 meeting staff made its recommendation, which does not add or take away from existing hazardous routes.
State law requires school districts to provide bus service to students living more than 2 miles of their assigned schools. In Leander ISD, families living closer than 2 miles are in the “Not Eligible for Transportation Zone,” or NETZone. Students in the NETZone are only provided bus service if their route to school is rated as hazardous.
Board Adopts Instructional Material Selections for 2022-23 School Year
Following district staff’s presentation on instructional material selections for the 2022-23 school year, the Board approved recommendations for the purchasing of new instructional materials for K-12 Health & PE, 6th Grade Social Studies, Advanced Placement Environmental Science, Marketing, Nutrition & Dietetics and Kinesiology I & II. The purchase amount totals $539,132, roughly $300,000 less than allocated.
Spotlight on Learning: Winkley Elementary
Winkley Elementary’s vision is to “Empower master learners as purpose rich leaders with curiosity and courage for our intercultural world”. Led by Student Council Spirit Leader Anissa Montes, the fifth-grader moderated a showcase of bringing Winkley vision to life. Through Universal Design for Learning guidelines, students showed how they achieve mindfulness, student leadership opportunities, creating personalized digital profiles that align with the district’s graduate profile and student voice and choice in student-led book clubs.