By Greg Ritchie
CROCKETT – Crockett Independent School District (CISD) met Monday, Aug. 21 for their first meeting after the students and teachers have returned to classes, in order to work on school budgets and the school tax rate, as well as honor the district’s big winners from the Texas FFA convention.
The meeting started with a brief public hearing regarding the proposed tax rates for the district, along with establishing a calendar for the CISD school board to contemplate and complete the budget for the coming year. CISD Business Manager Tamra Scroggins presented the board with the district’s proposed budget and walked them through the information. The district’s proposed effective tax rate was announced as $0.8792, which represents a decrease of almost 20 cents over the current rate. Many taxpayers could also reap benefits from recent changes in Texas law designed to help property owners which will go to the voters for approval in November.
The district’s enrollment to kick off the year was announced as 1,157 students, with that number expected to increase somewhat, especially between now and Labor Day. This is an important number for school districts, as their state funding is based on their ADA (average daily attendance) and schools must estimate their yearly attendance to make their budget, hoping the number increases or at least stays the same, so further budget adjustments will not be needed as the year goes on.
Texas is only one of four states where school districts must base their funding and budgets on average daily attendance and not actual enrollment, complicating the job of budgeting as students can transfer in or out of a district or miss school during the year for any number of reasons.
The school budget under consideration will increase overall by about 5% for the coming year, which includes the establishment of the CISD Police Department, along with a 4% increase in pay for teachers. CISD is putting heavy emphasis on classroom success in the proposed budget with roughly half of the expenses dedicated to classrooms, including personnel, materials and everything needed to instruct the kids, with about 5% of the budget set aside for extracurricular activities such as UIL, band and athletics.
The meeting was attended by CISD FFA students and parents to be recognized for their achievements at the recent state convention in Dallas this summer where the kids’ hard work paid off in a big way with a number of awards. Ruth Perez, Crockett FFA President presented the Golden Horizon Award which she said, “The Crockett FFA received this for outstanding accomplishments in the competitions we participated in. This award goes to the chapters in the top 10 of their divisions.”
The students presented their many awards and received applause from the CISD board and attendees and took a moment to get personal congratulations from the board members and to take some pictures with the proud and smiling students holding all of their hard-won FFA accolades.
CISD Superintendent John Emerich updated the board on the district’s ongoing construction projects, noting most of the existing ag building is complete, including the shop classes. There were some brief delays out of the district’s control, although Emerich noted several other projects are nearing completion.
“The cosmetology lab is further along than we expected and the technology portion should be completed within a month or so,” Emerich noted. “We’re almost completely done with the renovations at the Early Learning Center. The heat has been brutal and we lost a few air conditioning units, one complete unit and other issues on other units that needed to be replaced – just like in our homes, they are working overtime to keep our buildings cool in these 105-degree temperatures. I want to thank our local companies for being involved in taking care of these issues for us.”
Emerich announced there will be an official presentation of the recently acquired forklift for the district, with an assist from Texas Workforce Commission and the Crockett Economic Industrial Development Corporation to be held Oct. 12 at 4 p.m. with an open invitation to the ceremony to be attended by the school board, Crockett city council, Houston County officials and others.
Emerich and CISD Assistant Superintendent Brian Aiken presented an update regarding the district’s accountability rating set to be released by Texas Education Agency in late September, along with the changing criteria which has many districts concerned about where the grades may come in this year.
“The accountability system is based around improving student performance, eliminating achievement gaps and preparing students for post-secondary success…that is the intent,” Aiken explained.
School districts will receive grades based on the 2022-2023 school year, which is the first year in a new cycle of criteria, causing confusion over what exactly is being considered for the grades and how to compare the grades to previous years, since the program has changed.
“One thing I want to point out,” Emerich cautioned, “The officials tell us we cannot compare this year’s grades to last year’s, then they proceed to explain how to hypothetically compare the grades for the two years. We don’t understand, it doesn’t make any sense – can we compare them or not?”
This caused one board member to say, “I don’t think they understand what they are saying.”
Aiken pointed out it will be difficult to compare whatever grade the district receives since the criteria has changed along with several definitions and criteria for measuring CISD’s progress.
“I feel bad about this new system, because we are pushing our staff. We are doing things that are really stretching them and they are responding to that very well, but when they see these results, it might be like a punch to the gut,” Emerich lamented. “As much as we are doing, they may not see the results as quickly as we would like – due to the new tests, new grading system and making big changes instead of in increments as in the past. We are on the path we need to be and I don’t think there is anything we need to change, although it may not be reflected overnight.”
Several board members agreed it seems the moving targets brought on by the changing criteria might be part of an incentive by the state to cause lower grades to local school districts to force through charter schools in the state. Emerich told the board he has heard from other districts who feel the same way, noting by this time each year schools would have already received their grades, with the district only receiving individual student scores last week, when these normally come through during the summer, allowing the district to make individual plans for students by the start of classes.
The board went on to approve the tax roll, adopt the proposed tax rate for the district and approve the district and campus parent involvement policies for 2023-2024.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]