SISD on the ball with budget shortfalls

The Sweetwater Independent School District (SISD) Board of Trustees met for its monthly meeting on Wednesday evening, July 20, 2011, at the Administration Building.Several issues regarding the upcoming school year were discussed which will affect both students and employees of the district. One such matter was the school lunch program, in which approval was given to raise prices ten more cents at each campus. With food costs continually on the rise and though prices were raised last year, the issue needed to be addressed once again. But instead of a major push, the recommendation was to raise the cost at slow increments. A majority of students will be affected by the dime addition, but numbers show that each child would pay around $18 more per year.Also affecting students will be some changes and clarifications in the Student Code of Conduct for 2011-2012. While social media will be further discussed at next month’s meeting, the continuing evolution of technology in the schools was among the changes.Online impersonation and expulsion regarding technology — such as hacking and computer security breaches and its consequences were laid out in the code, as well as coursework within the DAEP (Discipline Alternative Education Program). Bullying, aggravated robbery and corporal punishment were also highlighted and clarified.In addition, classroom disruptions, fights and disorderly conduct were discussed, in that citations will no longer be issued for students in the sixth grade or below. Alternative consequences are still to be determined, and the amendments and additions were approved.On the other hand, employees will also be impacted by changes and additions made in the 2011-2012 Employee Handbook, which were also approved by the board. Each employee will be presented with the newly updated handbook, in which they must adhere to its standards. Matters dealing with teacher certifications and licenses — in which the teacher is held responsible for, and technology resources such as electronic media were included in the discussions.Also, the maltreatment — defined as “abuse or neglect” in the handbook — of children was talked about, in which moral character and the reporting of child abuse fell into the category. Another issue was on charitable donations, which are encouraged yet not mandated by the district.Furthermore, topics which will affect local policies were dealt with by the board, such as Policy Update 90 which includes a variety of matters. An abridged version was offered for the board to peruse with one hot topic being STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) testing, the new state standardized test.The end of course exam will now count as 15% of a student’s final grade, but further discussion will clarify such concerns on how it will be credited, retests — which would possibly impact a students grade point average (GPA), and testing requirements for all students, including special education students.Technology issues also arose with this policy, including student-owned technology that is confiscated from improper use, digital signatures and the use of district technology outside the school. Even the potential use of YouTube for teachers was evaluated.More topics in the policy were in regard to specifications in disability discrimination toward participation in extracurricular events and service animals. Employee issues — several which coincide with the Employee Handbook — were also noted, like conduct and termination. Board members were also included in the policy updates with issues like access to records, training and meetings.The board approved the changes and updates to Policy Update 90, which will now appear on an electronic copy, as well as a hard copy which is available for viewing.In addition, some clarifications and amendments were made on an issue that was presented at a previous meeting regarding probationary, term and other contracts for employees. The three aspects were reevaluated and approved the updated changes.Also, in the discussion of delinquent tax lot bids, one bid was received which did not meet the minimum requirement. However, as the property proves to be a special situation, an exception was made in which the board accepted and approved the offer.Approval was also given for the consent agenda, which includes the minutes of the June 20 meeting, the financial statements and bills for the month of June and the investment statement. One such matter which no action was made was in the first of several budget workshops regarding the budget shortfall as a result of lower state funding. Revenue changes show losses of about $870,000 and some grants toward summer school and tutorials along with technology were lost. Some of the stimulus money, including for special education, will be used entirely by the end of August.A list was presented to the board showing savings made by the district, who made changes all around in an effort to not compromise programs. The consolidation of Hobbs to the Colorado City location, the new grade leveling set up within the elementary schools, and reductions and merging of staff and faculty to absorb costs were among the major changes, which result in a savings of a bit over $1 million.Other financial increases made within the district will have an impact, and while the modifications will be tight they will be possible. Nevertheless, the board found some relief in that compared to projections earlier in the year, the district will fare better than expected. Two resignations and one reassignment was listed in professional personnel changes, and one resignation and one new hire was noted for paraprofessionals in the Superintendent’s Report. Tax collections were also reported at $6,703,645.45, equaling 101.32% and standing well over the 96% average goal.The preliminary report was given on the FIRST Rating, a financial report card on the district citing 22 indicators to be met. One such indicator which was lower than usual led the district to earn the second-highest ranking, whereas the district has consistently gained the top honor. They will appeal in order to obtain the highest rating.A brief redistricting update was also given, in that the process is continuing and information is still being gathered. Early indicators might prompt a change in date for school board elections, but the hope is to have the entire process completed before the fall season.