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EduLege 8-5-2019

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EduLege Update

Volume VII, Number 43
August 5, 2019
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

When $11 billion doesn’t go as far as it once did…

The Texas Legislature pumped an additional $11.6 billion into public education and school property tax relief this year, but where did all that money go?

In some instances, it amounts to a significant increase for local school districts. In others, it doesn’t.

In many cases, Texas teachers, who thought they'd be big winners with big pay raises, may find that when they return to the classroom this month, their paychecks haven’t increased by all that much.

When school funding in House Bill 3 was passed back in May, initial estimates offered by the legislature aren’t adding up for many school districts. Superintendents, financial officers and school boards are worried that a faulty calculation, or frequent spending, could be catastrophic for their district’s budget in future years.

Georgetown, for example, is projecting $5.9 million in new state money in the upcoming school year, much less than the $10.3 million that the state estimated. And it will shell out about $9 million in recapture payments, which the state takes from wealthier school districts to subsidize poorer ones—not the $3.5 million the state estimated in May.

According to state estimates, Cypress-Fairbanks was expecting $30 million in additional state funds for the upcoming school year, but the school board approved a district budget that projected just $14 million more.

“There are still things we don't know,” said Amanda Brownson with the Texas Association of School Business Officials. “And there's a fair amount of anxiety in the world about that.”

Remember—not all of that $11.6 billion went to public education.

About two-fifths of it—or $5.1 billion—went to tax cuts, dropping property tax rates across Texas by an average of 8 cents per $100 valuation next year and close to 13 cents in 2021.

The remainder of the state's new funding—or $6.5 billion—did go to schools for the next two years.

The state's basic per-pupil allotment will increase from $5,180 to $6,160, one of the largest hikes in decades. The law also expanded pre-kindergarten to full day for low-income students and increased state funding for dual language, dyslexia services and college and career readiness.

“This one law does more to advance education in Texas than any law I've seen passed in my adult life in the state of Texas,” Governor Abbott said when he signed HB 3 into law back in June.

Still, with 1,200 districts and charter school operators across the state, billions can get stretched thin pretty quickly.

And given the new or revised funding formulas, the additional amount that schools receive varies widely among districts, ranging from tens of millions for some to a few thousand dollars for others.

Approximately one-third of the state's school districts and charters won't receive more than $450,000 in additional state formula funding for the 2019-2020 school year, according to legislative estimates.

* * *

According to the new law, school districts and charters must use 30 percent of their new formula funding to increase salaries for non-administrative staff. Of that amount, 75 percent must go to teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians—prioritizing compensation for classroom teachers with five or more years of experience.

The remaining 25 percent of the 30 percent is to be earmarked for other employees, such as support staff, excluding those in administration.

It's far less than what many teachers were expecting.

Lieutenant Governor Patrick promised all teachers a $5,000 across-the-board raise after his re-election last November, and the state Senate passed a bill and a budget in the spring that would have offered the same. But the concept didn't survive conference committee negotiations with the Texas House.

As a result, school districts that have finalized their pay raises “have been all over the place,” said Rob D'Amico, communications director for the Texas Federation of Teachers.

Two districts in the Houston area recently made waves in announcing their salary plans.

In order to stay competitive with surrounding districts, the Sheldon School District has implemented 10-15 percent salary increases for teachers, with a minimum increase of $6,000.

And the Barbers Hill School District, east of Houston, raised its starting teacher salary to $60,000, becoming the first district in the state to reach that mark, according to Superintendent Greg Poole.

Most districts have been much more conservative. 

Plano, which is projecting a deficit budget in 2019-2020, will offer a 2.5-percent pay raise to teachers with fewer than six years of experience and a three-percent increase to those with six or more years.

Richardson teachers will receive a salary increase starting at 3.5 percent, climbing to five percent, based on experience.

Both districts raised their starting salary for first-year teachers to $54,000.
In Central Texas, the Round Rock School District will spend all $24 million in additional aid that it will receive from HB 3 in raises, in part to increase starting teacher salaries from $46,000 to $49,300.

School districts and charters must report to the legislature by December 1, 2020 on how they implemented the employee pay raises.

* * *

The Texas Education Agency is continuing to update its HB 3 webpage, which includes an overview of the complex school finance bill, budgeting resources, topics of interest, guidance, videos and correspondence.

The web video series, “HB3 in 30,” is designed to provide overviews and detailed explanations of specific provisions of the bill as well as information on how TEA is working to implement applicable changes.

The agency has also created a dedicated email helpline for questions regarding HB 3 and its implementation: HB3info@tea.texas.gov.

Despite the state’s resistance…

A federal appeals court has ruled that the state of Texas must report to a federal judge its progress towards relieving the “crushing” workloads of Child Protective Services caseworkers, who track foster children.

U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi and her court-appointed monitors also must sign off on the state protective-services agency’s plans to reduce workloads of residential child-care licensing investigators and inspectors, the appellate judges also said.

And, the state must ensure that foster group homes have 24/7 “awake-night supervision” by an adult, as Judge Jack has insisted, according to a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the number of kids in such homes can’t be limited by Judge Jack, said the appeals court ruled.

Nor should the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services be required to buy an expensive computer system or immediately jettison a stop-gap arrangement for making monthly checks on remotely-placed kids, said a unanimous opinion by Judge Edith Brown Clement of Louisiana.

More than three months after the 5th Circuit Court heard oral arguments in the lawsuit, it responded to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s complaint that Judge Jack went too far in recasting her remedy order in a long-running, class-action lawsuit over the state’s foster care programs.

Texas has spent at least $9.7 million fighting the suit. Plaintiffs' lawyers, some of whom have sued numerous states for running shoddy systems of foster care, have said they've never encountered more massive resistance than in Texas.

Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, one of two New York-based advocacy groups that brought the lawsuit, called the 39-page ruling by the appeals court “a strong decision.”

“We are disappointed, of course, with things the majority disallowed, such as the computer system. But overall, they continue to uphold a decree that is going to have a substantial impact on how foster care services are provided,” Ms. Lowry said.

A ‘sticky’ situation…

State Representative Jonathan ‘Sticky’ Stickland, R-Bedford, won’t seek re-election in 2020.

In a message posted on Facebook, the four-term House member wrote, “After much prayerful consideration and reflection, I have determined it is not the Lord’s will for me to seek reelection. Instead, I intend to dedicate more time to my family, my church and my business.”

First elected in 2012, Representative Stickland’s won re-election in 2018 by just a 2.4 percent margin, in an overwhelmingly conservative legislative district.

Earlier this year, he rejected bipartisan Senate Bill 10 to expand mental health services for students. That bill was eventually brought back to life as an amendment to another school safety measure and was signed into law by Governor Abbott.

Strickland was also the only legislator in either the House or Senate to vote against final passage of both House Bill 3, the comprehensive school finance bill, and Senate Bill 12, which helped to shore up the pension fund for retired teachers.

While Representative Stickland rejected various bills pertaining to transgender students, vaccinations and gun rights, he passed one bill in eight years this session—the legislation that bans Texas cities from operating “red light” traffic cameras.

Four were fooled. Then he got caught…

Immediately following the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School, a man who said his name was David Briscoe—and who claimed to have witnessed the carnage as a substitute English teacher at the campus on that fateful day—recounted his “story” for the news media: Time, the Wall Street Journal, the Austin American-Statesman and CNN.

Then in April, nearly a year after the shooting, he told a strikingly similar story to the Texas Tribune. But after investigating some of Mr. Briscoe’s claims, the Tribune did not publish his account of the shooting—because it appears his entire story was an elaborate hoax.

David Briscoe was never there.

Lindsey Campbell, a spokeswoman for Santa Fe School District, says that it had no record of anyone named David Briscoe ever being employed by the district in any capacity and that the district is confident no one by that name was on campus the day of the shooting last year.

“This situation illustrates how easily misinformation can be created and circulated, especially when the amount of detailed information available is limited due to the still ongoing investigation,” Santa Fe Superintendent Leigh Wall said.

Public records show that Mr. Briscoe had a home address in Florida at the time of the shooting; there’s no record of him living in Texas at any time.

After being contacted by the Tribune, all four news organizations that quoted him have removed any reference of David Briscoe from their stories.

Media experts say that it’s not uncommon for people to emerge after a high-profile disaster pretending to be a victim—often for financial gain, but sometimes simply for attention.

“Social media makes it easier for everybody to be fooled by people—regular people, journalists and politicians,” said Gina Chen, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism. “People pretend to be other people for various reasons, sometimes nefarious and sometimes not.”

Mr. Briscoe is believed to be living in Florida, but is no longer responding to media inquiries. Kudos to the Texas Tribune!

He changed Friday nights forever…

Part of late Dallas billionaire H. Ross Perot’s lasting legacy is the clear-cut rule about Texas high school sports: If a student can’t pass class, they can’t play.

The law, with its catchy “No Pass, No Play” nickname, has been in place since 1984. When first signed by Governor Mark White, many Texas coaches and team boosters worried that their best players—most notably in football—would be sidelined and troubled students would drop out of school.

The resulting firestorm helped lead to Governor White’s re-election defeat in 1986. Although softened a bit to help students get back on the field quicker if their grades improve, the law is still in place.

Mr. Perot, who died last month of leukemia at the age of 89, was appointed by Governor White in 1983 to lead an initiative to improve Texas public education. The result was a series of proposals to reduce class sizes, create teacher merit pay raises and establish a high school basic skills graduation test.

But in the land of Friday Night Lights, where coaches were often paid more than principals, and the excesses of high school football saw some wealthy schools charter airliners to state championship games, it was No Pass, No Play that sparked the biggest uproar.

Charles Breithaupt, who is now Executive Director of the University Interscholastic League, was a high school basketball coach in 1984. He said coaches resented the diminutive big city businessman with the high, squeaky voice telling them what to do.
Governor White implored state legislators to leave No Pass, No Play intact when he was booted from office.

“Let’s be real: Anyone who can study a playbook can study a textbook. Americans didn’t get to the moon on a quarterback sneak,” he said.

Even former critics now believe that No Pass, No Play is serving Texas students well.

“Perot, his heart was in the right place,” Mr. Breithaupt now says. “He was trying to raise the standard of education in the state ... It was best for Texas in the long run.”

Medical clearance to play the flute…

High school physical exams are no longer just for students who are playing football, basketball or other sports.

Now, Texas students will also need a physical before they can play the flute, or other marching band instrument.

The University Interscholastic League has imposed a new rule, mandating that high school and middle school students must be medically cleared by doctors before they can participate in marching band activities.

All band students entering the first and third years of high school are now required to see a doctor before they can participate.

In the second and fourth years of high school, students are required to have a medical history form signed by a doctor or physician’s assistant.

"Our biggest concern is dehydration in the heat. If you get too far behind in your fluids, you can have dizziness, fainting, cramping and in extreme cases you can have heat exhaustion or heat stroke," Austin cardiologist Michael Liu of Texas Children's Specialty Center said, in support of the new UIL policy.

Some—but certainly not all—Texas school districts already require physicals for band students. The Houston School District has required physicals since 2015.

Play ball…

After nearly two hours of discussion in executive session, which in itself raises some questions about the legality of the decision, the Baird School Board voted 6-1 to approve a move from playing 11-man football to six-man.

The Bair Bears will make the switch immediately, and because they are changing between the University Interscholastic League’s biennial realignments, the team will play an 'outlaw' schedule in 2019, with no district or postseason games.

"Ultimately the decision was made because we felt it was in best interest of all of our kids and our program going forward," Baird Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Joel Baker said after the meeting.

Baird was one of the smallest high schools in the state to suit-up for 11-man football, and Baker says a dwindling student enrollment, and a lack of competitive games has diminished the size of his squad.

The Bears went 4-6 in 2018 and lost their five district games by an average of 38 points per contest. Baird has not won a playoff game in a decade.

Baker expects to have a 10-game six-man schedule in place by the time the 2019 season begins in a couple of weeks.

Lights. Camera. Action… (Lots of action!)

The El Campo School District has fired a substitute teacher after she apparently filmed scenes for a pornographic video in a high school classroom.

Investigators found that multiple videos were recorded at El Campo High School and uploaded to a pornographic website.

However, the El Campo Police Department and the Wharton County District Attorney, after investigating the allegation, both say that there is no evidence that any crime was actually committed. No students or school staff were involved in the video shoot, and the only video that shows another person in it was clearly shot off-campus, El Campo Police Chief Terry Stanphill said.

Public lewdness is the only charge that could fit the offense, Chief Stanphill said, but the evidence to support such a charge is questionable.

Still, the district calls the matter an “improper criminal incident,” and says that the female substitute teacher, who has not otherwise been identified, has been fired.
Although law enforcement authorities say that there is no evidence of a crime, the district says that it “is seeking legal advice on this specific incident.”

We lost one of the best…

Grand Prairie tragically lost its long-time superintendent, Dr. Susan Simpson Hull, earlier this summer, when she died of injuries in a motorcycle crash, while on vacation in Arizona.

The crash occurred on Interstate 40 near the town of Twin Arrows, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Superintendent Hull, who was driving the motorcycle, was taken by ambulance to Flagstaff Medical Center, where she died. No other vehicles or people were involved.

Dr. Hull had been Grand Prairie superintendent for 12 years. She had a total of 39 years of experience in education, serving as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent in five school districts. In 2005, Hull was named as the Texas Superintendent of the Year.

Dr. Hull and her husband had four children and four grandchildren.
Grand Prairie School Board President Burke Hall called Dr. Hull’s death a “significant loss” for the district.

“Over the past 12 years, Dr. Hull has made a significant impact on GPISD and helped establish our reputation around the globe. She also made a lasting difference in school children around Texas through her advocacy and creativity. She will be sorely missed,” president Hall said.

Dr. Hull earned both her bachelor and master’s degrees at East Texas State University; attended the University of Texas at Tyler for her superintendent certification; and earned her Ph.D. in Educational Administration from Texas A&M University in 2003.

 

The Texas School Public Relations Association provides EduLege as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin Independent School District, compiles and writes EduLege. Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @welch_andy.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.