Leander ISD Trustees reviewed the district’s COVID response and planning for January, began a discussion on budget development for the 2021–22 school year, updated the district policy regarding grading point average and class rank calculation at their Dec. 17 meeting.
Board approves committee’s suggested changes to GPA, class rank calculations
Board members approved changes to the method used to calculate weighted GPA and the reporting of class rank beginning with the class of 2025 (students entering grade nine in the 2021–22 school year). The intent of the change is to allow students to select courses and pathways of study based on their individual interests and personal pathways of study.
A committee of Leander ISD students, parents, teachers, counselors, campus and district administrators, and board members met over the course of several months to review current GPA and rank policy and make suggestions for changes. The three main themes which emerged from the committee meetings were:
- Student Choice
- Focus on the Whole Child
- Well-rounded Graduates
“The Board has spent and will continue to focus considerable time on how the district engages and empowers our students,” Board President Trish Bode said, “This move is another positive step to encourage students to select courses and pathways of study based on their individual interests and personal goals.”
A student’s weighted GPA will be used to calculate class rank. Courses included in the calculation of the weighted GPA will be from the following areas:
- Up to eight semesters in English/language arts;
- Up to eight semesters in mathematics;
- Up to eight semesters in science;
- Up to eight semesters in social studies; and
- Up to four semesters in languages other than English (LOTE).
Trustees approve extended leave, increased substitute coverage effort to support staff
With the expectation that COVID-19 will continue to impact the district after Winter Break, Trustees granted Superintendent Bruce Gearing the authority to extend and administer additional COVID leave for the rest of the school year. This extends the 10 days of EPSL leave for all employees, as well as Texas Teacher Fellows, who have not previously used the 10 days, through June 30, 2021.
The Board’s direct support of teachers and staff, with $800 stipends in December paychecks, includes the launch of ESS for increased substitute coverage starting in January and the urging for the inclusion of school staff as “frontline workers” as vaccines become available. In addition, the district is:
- Pausing COVID notifications to families during winter break and will update the COVID dashboard the week of Jan. 4, 2021.
- Continuing contact tracing through Dec. 22, resuming the week of Jan. 4, 2021.
- Staying the course, staying open; schools may go virtual for an extended period of time on a case-by-case basis as circumstances dictate.
- Continuing the “gold standard” of 14-day quarantine procedures into January.
This 10 days of paid leave can be used if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, is required to quarantine due to exposure to another person who has tested positive for COVID-19 or to care for a family member that has tested positive for COVID-19 or a minor child who is required to quarantine due to exposure to another person who tested positive for COVID-19.
Board reviews history of budgeting, bond committee to consider 2021 bond offering
Trustees are planting seeds for the 2021-22 school year budget despite uncertainty surrounding its soil.
Chief Financial Officer Elaine Cogburn led a discussion around establishing budget parameters and assumptions, including:
- Student enrollment – Enrollment in 2020–21 dropped below 2019–20, and the district’s demographer forecasts 2021–22 enrollment to catch up, totaling more than 3,000 new students.
- Property values/tax collections – What impact will COVID-19 have on taxable values and collections?
- Employee raises/benefits – What, if any, compensation adjustments can the district afford after not increasing pay in 2020–21?
- Staffing – What, if any, new positions should the district add to reduce class sizes and increase special education staff?
- Tax Rate – Can the district add a golden penny for its tax rate?
Conversation centered around the Board’s possible establishment of a budget parameter around setting a budget deficit target. Cogburn presented data from previous budget cycles that showed the district depositing money back into fund balance (the district’s savings account) in nine of the last 10 years despite continuously setting deficit budgets (i.e., a budget where expenses are greater than revenues).
Cogburn, who is entering her second year serving as the district’s finance leader, presented recommendations for adjusting the district’s budgeting practices, making budget cuts to minimize the impact to student programs, and stabilizing revenue by using one or two “disaster pennies” which allows districts to either add to the tax rate or swap the rate from debt service to operational budget.
“I want us to get to a place where… we’re adding to fund balance a little bit each year and that little bit more is basically as much as is required to cover the growth that continues to occur in Leander ISD,” Trustee Aaron Johnson said. “So we continue to plant a little extra money in that fund each year to fund the growth that needs to occur in that fund and match the growth in the district.”
District considers next steps to formally consider bond election
Funding for new schools ends with the 29th elementary school, scheduled to open in 2022. As the district faces a potential need for seven additional schools between 2023–2026, Chief Facilities Officer Jimmy Disler presented a timeline to call a bond election for November 2021.
Wrapped up in the discussion for a future bond election included calls to address underutilized schools and the creation of school choice programs to alleviate overcrowding in other schools. Trustees will continue discussing a potential bond initiative, including the possible formation of a citizen’s steering committee, during the Jan. 14 meeting.