At its Jan. 13 meeting, the Leander ISD Board of Trustees approved COVID leave days for staff, reviewed the district’s suggested 2022-23 academic calendar, and took the next step in creating an Early College High School program.
Board approves COVID extended leave for staff
For the second time, Trustees unanimously approved additional leave days for all employees due to COVID-19. The resolution will give the five additional days retroactively from Jan. 3, 2022 through June 30, 2022 to any employee who tests positive for the virus.
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, they are encouraged to isolate for five calendar days from the onset of symptoms. Employees can return after five days if symptoms have resolved or are improving, and they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication.
Employees who previously used COVID leave days, which expired on Dec. 31, 2021, will be eligible for these 5 days due to the Omicron variant.
“We’ve all felt the impact that the Omicron variant has had on our campuses and our community,” Board President Trish Bode said. “This item was the first item on the agenda for a reason. It allowed us to express our support as a Board for our dedicated staff that is working so hard to keep our schools open and places of exceptional learning during these challenging times.”
2022-23 Academic Calendar comes into focus
Staff presented the 2022–23 calendar draft for Board discussion and consideration. The Board could opt to formally approve the calendar at its Jan. 27 meeting. Key features of the calendar include:
- First day of school is Wednesday, August 17, 2022 (one week later than 2021-22)
- Last day of school is Friday, May 26, 2023 (before Memorial Day)
- Two dedicated teacher workdays incorporated into the schedule before school starts
- Continuous Improvement Conference: Oct. 10-11
- Student early release days for teacher work time: Dec. 16, May 26
- Staff development days during the school year will balance new learning w/ teacher planning and collaboration time: Sept. 26, Nov. 8, Jan. 2, Feb. 20, March 20
Trustees asked questions about using minutes or tweaking the proposed calendar to create an additional professional development day in April 2023. The administration could do that by using excess minutes or by moving a day from earlier in the calendar. Trustees also asked the administration to bring two years of calendars mirroring each other for the calendar discussion at the next Board meeting.
During the process of putting together the 2022–23 academic calendar, we conducted community surveys, consulted with principals and held community listening sessions in November and early December.
Community feedback signaled continued support for:
- building in time for professional learning, trainings, teacher planning and collaboration;
- ending school by Memorial Day;
- starting school a week later than in 2021 to align with other Central Texas districts;
- a short first week of school;
- sticking with current holiday schedules;
- additional breaks in the fall; and
- early release before winter break and last day of school
Trustees consider next steps to address growth
The district will take steps to consider districtwide attendance zoning changes for the 2023-24 school year, but not the plans created in the zoning exercise from December 2021. The first step will be establishing criteria to guide the discussion. Those criteria determine the focal points for zoning decisions, including:
- Relieve overcrowding, reduce class size, reduce student-to-teacher ratio.
- Proximity to school, keeping neighborhoods together.
- Minimizing change without rezoning students multiple times.
- Keeping feeder patterns as pure as possible (elementary schools to middle schools to high schools).
- Building efficiency.
- Leave existing programs at the campuses they are located.
“This is going to be a conversation that’s ongoing,” said Board Vice President Gloria Gonzalez-Dholakia, Ph.D. “We know that in the high-growth areas there will be re-zoning (as we open new schools). I would like us to consider parameters for those high-growth areas so that we’re not moving the same students multiple times. We talked about that at the last rezoning and we created some rules around that last time, so just continuing that process.”
- know your neighborhood code,
- understand our current zoning process, and
- review the latest demographic report to see how neighborhoods are growing or declining.
Based on the amount of time needed for planning and considering addressing crowded schools through rezoning, the district anticipates pushing off our next bond election until May 2023.
Trustees begin planning for the next budget cycle with approval of 2022-23 budget parameters and discussions on Texas School Finance
Chief Financial Officer Elaine Cogburn led a comprehensive review of state school funding, including what triggers recapture and how an increase in the Maintenance & Operations (M&O) tax rate generates additional funding for operations. The conversation centered on:
- the mechanisms of school finance in Texas under HB3,
- the district’s movement towards paying into the state’s system of recapture (Chapter 49) of excess funds as property values continue to rise, and
- the need to hold an Attendance Credit Election.
According to the state funding formula, as the district’s property values grow, the district produces what the state refers to as “excess local revenues”. When the district’s property values generate too much “excess local revenues” the district must send the excess to the state via recapture. Depending on property value growth for 2022, this requirement to pay recapture could occur as soon as the next school year. Those funds would be paid back to the state out of the M&O budget. In order to supplement the lost revenue and continue to fund salaries, teachers, and programs, the district could look to a Voter Approval Tax Rate Election (VATRE) election to keep the tax rate the same while generating more money for operations.
Trustees approved the budget assumptions and parameters that will be used as a starting point in building the 2022-2023 budget, including:
- Student enrollment of 43,720; moderate growth model
- Average daily attendance rate of 95% (reduced from 96%)
- Property value growth based on 18%
- 2% pay increase for staff and $5 million for pay adjustments
- Campus per-student allocations are maintained
- Funds to open Elementary 29 in 2022–23
- $6 million for major maintenance projects
- M&O tax rate of $.8546 and I&S (Interest and Sinking) tax rate of $.4650
- Budget parameter of 4% (level of deficit approval)
State revenues are calculated under HB3 provisions, and enrollment numbers are based on PASA’s 2022-2023 moderate growth scenario.
District to apply for Early College High School designation
Leander ISD will launch an Early College High School (ECHS) for the 2022-23 school year, serving an inaugural class of 125 students. District leadership will apply to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the ECHS designation by the end of the month and applications for the upcoming school year will be made available to current eighth graders this spring.
The ECHS initiative is an open-enrollment program that blends college and high school coursework, enabling students to earn up to two years of college credit (60 hours), tuition-free, while enrolled in high school.
Leander ISD has been on a journey towards more student choice since the 2018–19 school year with the development of the Program Advisory Committee (PAC). Leander ISD in collaboration with Austin Community College (ACC) has been working to review the ECHS blueprint, create systems to implement an Early College High School in Leander ISD, and is now ready to submit for official Early College High School designation. Informational and planning sessions with middle schools will commence later this spring.
Introducing Carol Ann North Elementary School
Following the recommendation of the school naming committee, Trustees voted to name the district’s newest elementary school after Carol Ann North, a former kindergarten teacher at Block House Creek and Knowles elementary schools.
Carol’s legacy goes above and beyond being a teacher, as she was a champion of foundational literacy and impacted thousands of children in a remarkable 22-year career in Leander ISD.
Carol Ann North ES is located in the Bryson subdivision of Leander and will open its doors to students this August.
Board extends Superintendent Gearing’s contract
The Board voted to extend Superintendent Gearing’s contract for three more years. The Board typically reviews the Superintendent’s contract annually and made minimal changes last year.
“This year the Board focused on the stability of leadership,” said Board President Trish Bode. “During a time of disruption and uncertainty, stability of leadership has a positive and profound impact on student achievement and the learning environment.”
The Superintendent’s evaluation was completed in the fall of 2021.