Decatur School Board continues discussion of possible bond issue

Bond talk once again took up the majority of the time at Monday’s Decatur school board meeting, as trustees continue to look at the district’s needs.

Superintendent Rod Townsend gave the board a presentation on what he sees as needs for the district. He divided them into two groups. “Package one,” as he described it, were definite needs for the district. “Package two” were items that might be considered more “wants” than “needs.”

It was clear what was the most pressing item in Townsend’s eye.

“The district is going to have to do something with transportation in the near future, so there’s about $2.5 million in transportation that will be the driving force behind this bond issue,” he said.

Transportation needs could include 25 buses as well as other, smaller vehicles.

In addition to transportation, technology items were in Package One. Items identified for a possible bond issue would address the district’s needs for the next 10 years, including refreshing its computers.

Security needs are also on the list, including card readers for all facilities that don’t currently use the technology.

“It would allow us to lock every door there and be able to track everyone coming and going and allow us to keep only the front doors open for traffic coming in and out,” Townsend said.

Only teachers would have cards, not students, Townsend said.

Security upgrades would also include more cameras outdoors and in parking areas, as well as inside buildings.

Townsend said each campus was examined to determine its facility needs. A few of the needs by campus included:

RANN ELEMENTARY – energy-efficient motion sensors for lights

CARSON ELEMENTARY – motion sensors and additional parking in front of the building to ease traffic issues

6TH GRADE CAMPUS – motion sensors, new roof and gutters

MULTIPURPOSE BUILDING – new dishwasher, public address system

MCCARROLL 7TH/8TH GRADE CAMPUS – motion sensors, repainting hallways, fixing plumbing issues, resurfacing tennis courts, restroom remodel and repair

SUPPORT SERVICES BUILDING – new roof, new air conditioning system, new windows, new exterior doors, parking lot expansion, freezer, training room, landscaping, repairing brick walls

HIGH SCHOOL – two additional tennis courts, tennis concession stand and restrooms, resurfacing high school track, adding fencing and parking areas

BASEBALL/SOFTBALL FIELD – new press boxes, restrooms

THOMPSON STREET TRACK – restrooms/concession stands, resurfacing track

DISTRICTWIDE – repave, seal and paint parking lots; field turf at high school track.

WISH LIST INCLUDES TURF

“Package two” items included a gym for Rann Elementary as well as upgrades to the sixth grade practice field, bleacher awnings and roll-up doors for batting cages at the baseball/softball facility, general infrastructure upgrades for technology, field turf at Eagle Stadium and an indoor multipurpose practice facility at the high school.

The decision of whether to call the bond election, and what to include, is still up to the school board.

“It seems to me that some bond is going to be in order even if it is just for transportation, if that is what the board ultimately decided,” board President Kevin Haney said. “If we are going to do some of these other things, I think some priority needs to be given to them … If Feb. 27 is the deadline for calling a bond, we really need to make a decision in January.”

The board decided to hold a workshop to discuss the issue at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3.

In other business the board:

  • learned that student enrollment has reached 3,010, the highest it has been all year;
  • heard an update on the new agriculture facility, which is expected to be completed next month;
  • learned that all teachers at all campuses meet the 100 percent highly qualified requirement as part of the No Child Left Behind Act;
  • honored the Decatur High School girls cross country team and the FFA Quiz team for their recent success at competitions; and
  • honored Young Elementary kindergarten teacher Donae Raymundo as educator of the month and Rann Elementary’s Michelle Hornback as support staff employee of the month.

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Bond price tag could top $8 million

The Decatur School Board Monday continued discussions about a possible bond issue to address the needs of the district.

They now have a possible price tag to go with it: just over $8 million.

Superintendent Rod Townsend said that is an estimate of needs in four different areas: transportation, technology, security and facilities.

The biggest need appears to be in transportation, which features an aging bus fleet. When the district decided to bring transportation in-house instead of contracting it out in 2005, Decatur purchased 25 buses at a cost of nearly $1.6 million. Those buses are now nearly 10 years old, and some have as many as 186,000 miles on them.

Enrollment growth since 2005 has also required the district to add five regular education routes and one special education route.

“Something will have to be done,” Townsend said. “A decision will need to be made in the next one or two years.”

His suggestion is to purchase 25 buses, plus a couple of other vehicles at an estimated cost of $2.75 million.

Technology upgrades could cost an estimated $2.3 million, Townsend said. That would include upgrading computer labs at all three elementary schools. He said the upgrades are needed because the state is moving toward online assessments.

Other technology upgrades would include infrastructure, such as replacing fiber-optic cables that are nearly 15 years old.

Security enhancements could cost an estimated $1.2 million. That would include card-reader entry on every campus and extra surveillance cameras at the high school and a couple of other parking lots around the district.

Facility upgrades, which could carry a price tag of around $1.8 million, include:

  • a parking lot at Carson Elementary
  • lighting sensors at all campuses
  • cafeteria upgrades
  • resurfacing tennis courts at the middle school
  • districtwide freezer for food services
  • HVAC at the special services building
  • addressing parking lot issues at the seventh and eighth grade campus
  • adding two tennis courts at high school
  • recarpeting at Rann, Carson, the sixth and seventh and eighth grade campuses
  • repainting hallways
  • replacing sewer lines at the middle school
  • a new roof for the middle school
  • replacing HVAC, exterior doors and windows at the support services building

Board members have until Feb. 27 to call a bond election next spring, but Townsend said a decision needs to be reached by December or January.

In other business, the board:

  • learned the district had received the “superior achievement” designation with the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST). The district has received the highest rating each year since the system was started nearly a decade ago.
  • approved a bid for two Chevy Cruze vehicles from James Wood Motors. The cars will be used for transporting teachers to training, coaches to games and small numbers of students to competitions.
  • received an update on the new agriculture facility project, which is a little behind schedule. The project is now expected to be completed in early to mid-December.
  • honored Debbie Shaw from Rann Elementary as educator of the month and Camaron Garrett as support staff employee of the month. Decatur High School choir students were also recognized.

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Decatur School Board reviews needs, ponders bond

Voters in the Decatur school district might be asked to approve a bond issue next spring.

Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend gave a presentation to the board at Monday’s meeting outlining the district’s most pressing needs.

Under transportation, Townsend listed the need for about 25 buses at an estimated cost of $2.5 million – about $250,000 a year moving forward.

After several years in a row of budget tightening, with revenues and expenditures running about even, the money just isn’t there, board president Kevin Haney explained.

“With the buses, we’ve reached the end of their useful life, and we have to start putting more money into them,” he said. “That’s probably the most pressing thing is the age of our bus fleet. If we don’t have enough money rolling in to the general fund to pay the cost of those, we have to look into either raising the M&O rate or issuing bonds and raising the I&S rate to pay for that.”

The M&O, or maintenance and operations, tax rate is used to fund the day-to-day operations of the district. Because Decatur ISD is considered a property wealthy, or Chapter 41, district, funds put into this part of the budget are subject to recapture.

The I&S, or interest and sinking, portion of the tax rate is used to pay off debt. These funds are not subject to recapture by the state.

Townsend explained how raising the rate on either side would work when applied to the current year’s budget.

“If you do a TRE, tax ratification election, and you get a five-cent increase, you put it on M&O side, and you are going to generate some money,” he said. “It’s going to be about a million dollar increase, but you are going to end up paying about $491,000 of that back to the state. You’ll only be able to keep about $630,000 of it.

“If you take that same nickel and add it to the I&S side, it will raise about $1.9 million and you get to keep all of it.”

To increase the I&S tax rate would require a bond election.

Buses were one of several items “we feel we need but are going to be hard to pay for out of regular fund balance,” Townsend said. Other items include security upgrades at the middle school and high school. The high school upgrades could be quite expensive, Townsend warned.

“There’s about 44 exterior doors that at any point in time every one of them are open,” he said. “To go in there and put automatic locks and card swipe systems and then have a plan in place for students to come and go throughout the day, we will have to have some designated entry and exit points to be able to do that. It will be expensive, but how do you put a price on security if it keeps our kids safe?”

The security upgrades will also require technology upgrades, primarily in infrastructure.

Repairs to some of the older facilities in the district are another need. Townsend specifically mentioned air conditioning at the support services building and an old roof at the middle school that need to be addressed.

Because discussions are still in the early stages, a firm price for all the needs is not known, but Townsend presented an estimate of $10 million to give the board an idea of how much a bond issue might cost.

Using that figure, with a 12-year payout, the board would need to increase the I&S tax rate five cents to pay for the bond issue. Townsend pointed out a couple of times during the discussion that the board decreased the tax rate by a penny for the 2014-2015 school year.

With an average home worth around $117,000 in the district, taxpayers would see an average increase of $51.29 a year.

The next available election date would be May 9, meaning the board has until Feb. 27, 2015, to decide if it wants to call for a vote.

“I don’t think we have any choice,” board member Wade Watson said. “Unless everyone wants to start volunteering to bring every kid to school, we’ve got to have buses.”

Townsend said he could have more specific price estimates by the next school board meeting.

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Council Previews for Saturday, September 13, 2014

BUDGET, AIRPORT IMPROVEMENTS GET CITY’S FOCUS - The Bridgeport City Council will adopt its 2014-2015 tax rate of $0.5875 per $100 valuation at its meeting Tuesday, 7 p.m. Sept. 16 at 900 Thompson Street. The council will also discuss a uniform rental agreement with G&K Services and consider an agreement with TxDOT’s aviation division for improvements and repairs to the Bridgeport Municipal Airport.

DUGOUTS, AG BARNS ON AGENDA - The Bridgeport ISD will meet 7:30 p.m. Monday night at 2107 15th Street. At the meeting, the board is expected to discuss baseball dugouts, agricultural science barns and electronic message boards for each campus.

CRIME LAB, RESIGNATION ON COMMISSIONERS’ AGENDA – Wise County Commissioners face a lengthy agenda when they meet at 9 a.m. Monday on the third floor of the courthouse in Decatur, among them a request from Sheriff David Walker to acquire a building to be used as a future crime lab, and a “notification letter” received from Election Administrator Lanny Noble “for his resignation.” Other agenda items include bids on property sold in the recent “struck off property” auction, a final plat for Montecito Estates, cleaning out county road right-of-way to improve public safety and a discussion of conditions that might call for renewing the county’s burn ban. The meeting is open to the public.

DECATUR SCHOOL BOARD MEETS MONDAY – Decatur ISD administrators will provide the school board with their district and campus improvement plans at Monday’s meeting. The consent agenda includes the usual monthly items as well as approval of out-of-state travel for the National FFA Convention. The superintendent’s communications include a report on resignations/new hires, principals’ reports, directors’ reports, enrollment report, the high school ag project center and bond election. The meeting will take place at the DISD Administration Building, 307 S. Cates with a closed session at 6 p.m. followed by the open session at 7.

CHICO SCHOOL BOARD MEETS MONDAY – The Chico School Board will consider the Dads for Dragons program at Chico Elementary School at Monday’s meeting. In addition to the routine monthly items, the board will consider the sale of real estate, designation of 4-H activities as extracurricular school events and Extension agents as adjunct staff members, and district goals for the 2014-2015 school year. A work session with WRA Architects will take place following the board meeting in the elementary library. The regular meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in Room 150 of Chico Elementary School, 1120 Park Road.

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Decatur budget includes money for vehicles, ag barn

If the 2014-2015 Decatur school budget looked a lot like the 2013-2014 budget, that was by design.

“When you take salaries out of the budget and take recapture out, and look at day-to-day expenses, there’s almost no difference from last year to this year. The budget is almost exactly the same,” said DISD Deputy Superintendent Gary Micinski, who handles the district’s finances.

The school board adopted a balanced general fund budget of $29,452,207 at a special meeting Wednesday. That’s a decrease of $76,144 from last year’s budget.

The general fund budget includes 71 percent for labor and benefits, 11 percent for recapture, 9 percent for contracted services and utilities, 6 percent for supplies, 2 percent for travel and fees and 1 percent for capital expenditures.

Capital expenditures is one area that has increased over last year, from $10,000 to $401,000. The 2014-2015 budget include two vehicles for instructional services, another vehicle for maintenance, a bus – and money to help pay for the new agriculture facility currently under construction.

The budget also includes an overall average salary increase of 2.5 percent for teachers, nurses and counselors.

The total budget including the food service fund and debt service is $36,495,034.

After adopting the budget, board members also adopted a total tax rate of $1.29 per $100 valuation. That includes $1.04 for maintenance and operations and 25 cents for debt payment. The tax rate represents a penny decrease from the 2013-2014 tax rate.

No one from the public attended or spoke at the public hearing on the budget and tax rate.

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GPA policy change affects Decatur freshmen, sophomores

Decatur school officials hope changes in the way grade point averages are calculated will put less emphasis on grades and more emphasis on preparing students for life after high school.

That goes for incoming sophomores as well as freshmen, following action taken Monday by the Decatur school board.

Changes to the GPA policy were made in March, to affect classes beginning with incoming freshmen. The six-point scale will be eliminated, and only advanced courses such as pre-AP, AP and dual-credit courses will carry a potential five points. Core classes – English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language – will be on the four-point scale.

Incoming juniors and seniors will continue to use the previous GPA policy.

Last month, the board discussed the possibility of applying the new GPA policy to incoming sophomores as well. Notifications were sent to sophomore parents over the past month to inform them of the possible changes and to get feedback.

Judi Bell, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said she had received only one phone call from a parent asking for more explanation.

“What we want parents to understand more than anything else is we are trying to broaden the choices for that sophomore class,” Bell said. “We really feel like this is a better GPA system that allows students to pursue the electives they want.

“It seems to be a detriment (under the old system) if they had to take a 4-point class, and it would actually bring down their GPA if they were trying for all the advanced classes,” she added. “This way, they can try an elective, take things they might not otherwise take without penalty to their GPA.”

The changes are taking place as schools across the state implement the required changes to graduation plans outlined in House Bill 5. Gone (at least beginning with the incoming freshmen) are the minimum, recommended and distinguished plans. Students will now be required to take the foundation plan. They will also be able to earn an endorsement on one of five “pathways” designed to help students take courses to prepare them for a college or a career.

Under the new GPA policy, grades earned for courses not calculated into the GPA will still be listed on the student’s transcript, meaning colleges will still be able to see those grades.

One hope with the policy change is that students will be encouraged to take tougher classes.

“At some point, the kids have to understand they have to look past today,” board president Kevin Haney said. “They’ve got to look at those electives, even if they are harder, it’s going to prepare them for either college or going into a work environment as opposed to taking some class that is easy. They need to challenge themselves.”

Board member Diana Mosley repeated concerns she had expressed at an earlier meeting about eliminating the six-point scale for AP courses. She said students who put forth the effort for the rigorous course should still be rewarded with the higher grading scale.

High school counselor Neal Hall told the board the school is prepared for schedule changes due to the new policy, adding that it’s not uncommon to deal with schedule changes in the summer and beginning of school.

The board voted 5-1 to apply the new GPA policy to sophomores as well as freshmen. Mosley cast the opposing vote.

PERFORMANCE INDEX SUMMARY

Bell also gave a presentation on the preliminary Performance Index Summary, which has replaced the AEIS data in the state’s school accountability system. She explained that the performance indicators are grouped into four indexes:

  • student achievement (STAAR results),
  • student progress,
  • closing performance gaps, and
  • postsecondary readiness.

She cautioned board members that comparing this year’s results to last year’s was like comparing “apples to oranges” since the scoring system is different.

All DISD campuses received a “met standard” rating except for McCarroll’s sixth grade campus, which was rated “improvement required.”

Bell explained that the campus missed meeting the standard by one point in the scoring system. She said six students were not counted in the rating since their scores from last year could not be located as a point of comparison on the student progress index.

Bell said those students likely transferred into the district and were entered into the system by a different name or some other coding error. Of the six, four passed the STAAR test.

The district will attempt to correct those errors and appeal the rating in hopes of bringing the campus up to the “met standard” level.

The school board also recognized the district’s three school resource officers – Zachary Berrier, Kevin Flake and Richard Hale – as support staff employees of the month.

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GPA policy change back on Decatur School Board agenda

The Decatur School Board Monday is expected to make a decision on applying a new grade point average policy to incoming sophomores as well as freshman.

Changes in the way GPA is calculated were approved in the spring, with the understanding that the changes would begin with this year’s incoming freshman.

However, at last month’s meeting, the board discussed the possibility of applying the changes to sophomores as well. They delayed action on the item in order to get the information out to, and feedback from, parents of sophomore students.

In other business, the board will hear a report on the preliminary school accountability ratings recently released by the Texas Education Agency.

One campus, McCarroll Middle School’s 6th grade campus, was the only school in the district to receive an “improvement required” rating. The district is considering appealing that rating. All other schools in the district, and the district as a whole, received the “met standard” rating.

The public portion of the school board meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the DISD Administration Building, 307 S. Cates.

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Decatur proposes new GPA rules for sophomores

Incoming Decatur High School sophomores may find themselves under the new grade-point average rules the school board recently approved for freshmen.

Back in March, trustees approved changes in the way grade-point averages are calculated. The six-point scale will be eliminated, and only advanced courses such as pre-AP, AP and dual-credit courses will carry a potential five points. Core classes – English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language – will be on the four-point scale.

The changes are designed to give students more flexibility in their schedules and allow them to take courses based on their interests rather than just to boost their GPA, administrators said in March.

Under the old system, students entered a dual credit and an AP course on a five-point scale. If a student successfully completed the AP exam, he or she was bumped up to the six-point scale.

When the changes were approved in March, the change applied only to incoming freshman rather than students who have already started taking high school courses under the old GPA system.

Incoming juniors and seniors will continue to use the old GPA calculations, but Monday, the board considered applying the new GPA calculation to sophomores as well as incoming freshmen.

“The real advantage I see, from a curriculum standpoint, is we are going to have some sophomores who may want to get into pathways for graduation, and if they do, they are more likely to do it when they have this (new) GPA calculation in place instead of the other one where they are playing the game, choosing the courses to get the best GPA rather than pursuing their passions through those pathways,” said Judi Bell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The pathways she referenced stems from a new education law taking effect this fall. House Bill 5 laid out five different endorsements – or pathways – for schools to offer. Those include:

  • STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),
  • public services,
  • business and industry,
  • arts and humanities, and
  • multidisciplinary studies.

Schools are required to offer at least one of those endorsements.

Bell explained that last year’s freshmen courses will be calculated on the old scale while this year’s sophomores will move to the new scale, creating a sort of hybrid calculation system for that class.

High school counselor Neal Hall said the GPA change might cause a few students to make schedule changes for the coming year, but he expects it won’t affect the scheduling of the majority of students.

With school scheduled to start in a month, board member Diane Mosley said she wanted to make sure parents of incoming sophomores were given information about the changes and allowed to give feedback.

“I’d like to give the community an opportunity, especially the parents of the sophomores, to be informed of those changes,” she said. ” … They are three years away from graduation and have already made some decisions. I’d like to get that out to the community before we make some decisions.”

Other board members said they liked the proposal and were ready to move forward.

“I’m fine going ahead with it,” trustee Jeff Elder said. “There will always be negatives along the way no matter what we do. … This is going to smooth some things out. It’s going to take some gamesmanship out of it. It’s going to make it easier for parents to figure it out. Plus, I’ve talked to a lot of people already, parents and teachers both, and everyone’s been really in favor of it.”

Ultimately, the board decided to have administrators write up a new policy on the new grade point average calculations applying to incoming sophomores and bring it back for board approval in a few weeks. In the meantime, the school will notify the parents of incoming sophomores in order to get their feedback.

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Weight room improvements approved by Decatur School Board

The girls’ weight room at Decatur High School will soon receive an upgrade.

The school board Monday approved spending nearly $37,000 for the project, which will include taking out a wall to expand the room, the purchase of new equipment and installation of a rubber floor. The weight room is located on the south side of the gym, underneath the visitors stands.

Superintendent Rod Townsend explained why the upgrades are needed.

“The girls’ weight room was never furnished like it should have been when the high school was built (in 2006),” he said. “It just had some old, dilapidated equipment that was put in there. It served its purpose, but right now we have a problem getting people scheduled, getting girls scheduled. They have to go to the fieldhouse to lift weights.”

Townsend said district maintenance employees could remove the drywall and make the necessary ceiling repairs.

Half the money from the project will come from current budget funds, while the other half will come from the construction fund balance.

BOARD REORGANIZATION

Each May following the election, the school board votes on new officers for the year. All of the officers were re-elected: Kevin Haney as president, Jeff Alling as vice president and Jeff Elder as secretary.

At the beginning of the meeting, Alling and newly-elected board member Jim Lamirand were issued the oath of office.

CAREER AND TECHNOLOGY REPORT

Townsend gave a presentation on the status of the high school’s career and technology program, which he said has been growing in recent years.

“It’s not just about animals,” Townsend said. “It’s about a lot of different things. Currently, we have about 360-370 kids taking part in our career and tech program. I don’t think there is a program up there that has that many involved in it as career and tech. It’s growing, and I think there are some good things to come.”

He pointed out that in the current year, 214 students had earned industry-recognized certifications such as ASE (Automotive Service Excellence), OPAC (Office Proficiency Assessment Certification), floral design, beef quality and master gardener. Another 74 certifications have been issued from Weatherford College, including gas metal arc welding and welding safety tools equipment.

LUNCH PRICE ADJUSTMENTS

As part of the consent agenda that drew no board discussion, changes were approved to the pricing of school lunches.

Current lunch prices are $2.35 at the elementary, $2.60 at the middle school and $2.80 at the high school. The new pricing structure will include only two tiers: $2.50 for the elementary school and $2.75 at the secondary levels (middle and high schools). That represents a 15-cent increase at the elementary and middle school level and a 5-cent decrease at the high school level.

Recognitions and honors

The following students, teachers and groups were recognized at the meeting:

  • Carson Elementary teacher Danielle Scroggins as DISD educator of the month;
  • Alicia Flick, office secretary at McCarroll Middle School, as support staff employee of the month;
  • valedictorian Laura Nicholson and salutatorian Katie Isham;
  • members of the Superintendent Student Advisory Council;
  • state golf qualifiers Drew Jones;
  • boys state track meet qualifiers.

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Alling, Lamirand elected to school board

Decatur School Board incumbent Jeff Alling cruised to re-election while a three-person-race to replace board member Alan White was a bit closer.

Alling won his third term in place 4 with 72 percent of the vote. His opponent, Charles Ross, received 28 percent.

Decatur Voter Turnout

Jim Lamirand claimed place 3 with 54 percent of the vote. His closest opponent, Ricky Stutt, got just shy of 42 percent while Peter Rivera received 4 percent.

Voter turnout was light. Slightly fewer than 4 percent of registered voters in the school district cast a ballot in the election.

Alling said he was happy to be re-elected to a job he truly enjoys, and he offered some advice to his opponent.

“Charles Ross is my friend, and I think he ought to keep running,” Alling said.

He said he also looked forward to working with new member Lamirand, who he said he’s known for awhile. He offered him some advice as well.

“My advice is to go to school board school,” he said. “You learn a lot there. But the best advice is to be patient and keep the interest of the teachers and kids at heart.”

New place 3 trustee Lamirand said he’s looking forward to getting to work on school business.

“I’m really excited to get on board with it and learn. I think this is going to be fun,” he said.

Stutt, who came up 45 votes short of election, said he is concerned the school district does not offer enough variety of career and technology programs at the high school.

“Programs like building trades and criminal justice and programs that work alongside of Weatherford College in the medical industry,” Stutt said as an example, adding, “DISD has very little to offer the young ladies of our district.

“I think more turned out in support of the idea ‘everyone is going to college,’ and ‘get a scholarship through athletics.’ That thinking has changed at the state and national level.”

White did not seek re-election this year, retiring after 15 years on the board.

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Bids for Decatur ag facility exceed estimate

Prices for the construction of a new agriculture facility at Decatur High School might be higher than the school district expected.

Only two bids were received for the project, and the low bid was $943,700 from J&D Dodd. Superintendent Rod Townsend had said during previous meetings he estimated the cost would be around $700,000 to $800,000.

While the numbers were disappointing, Townsend said it might be possible to bring the costs down, although he declined to guess by how much.

“I talked to the architect (Monday) and asked him about getting some of these prices down,” Townsend said. “… He feels like there are some ways to get some of the numbers down. As far as how much, he was not willing to say that.

“His recommendation was to work with the low bidder and go through some value engineering and try to get our target costs to where we wanted it to be. If that didn’t work, then obviously we’d have to go back to the drawing board and completely re-bid it.”

Board President Kevin Haney was also disappointed in the cost, but he said he would like to find a way to move forward.

“We need this project,” he said. “We need to get it done, but we need to be as good a steward as we can with the money we have and try to reduce the price if we have an opportunity to do that.”

Townsend said the district has a few funding options. First, there’s $90,000 in insurance money as a result of a storage barn that was destroyed during an ice storm this past winter.

There’s also approximately $225,000 in state funding for career and technology programs over the next two years that could be applied to the new facility. If the price remains at $943,700, that would leave the remaining $628,700 to be paid for through fund balance.

But the board hopes to get that down to around $850,000. They agreed to allow Townsend to work with the architect and the low bidder to reduce the cost. The board will hold a special meeting in two weeks to reconsider the project.

In order to have the facility built in time for the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, work would need to begin soon since the project is expected to take 120 to 180 days.

During the public forum portion of the meeting, Dwayne Hicks spoke as a representative for the Decatur FFA Alumni group, which had several members in attendance. He said the agriculture program not only teaches students about agriculture, but also leadership and life skills. The group wanted the board to know how important they feel the project and the program are to the students.

“We’ve got a great ag program going,” Hicks said. “The three ag teachers are doing a great job. … The kids are excited, but the barn is full. Enrollment is up. You walk through there in the fall before the major shows, and there is no room for any more animals.

“That’s a reason to build this facility, but I understand there is also the chance to build another classroom or have an arena in there to hold our own contests. It all comes down to the chance to affect many young people’s lives by giving them the skills suited for everyday life, real life experiences they can take and use forever.”

Ricky Stutt also spoke during the public forum. He said while he supports the ag program, he wondered if the reason so many students were taking ag classes was because they didn’t have more options in the career and technology area.

“I taught for almost 20 years, and a lot of time you had kids in there who didn’t have any other place to go,” he said. “And my concern is why are they all focused on [that], and what else do we have for them to do?

“What do we have specifically for girls, like a CNA program, which is relatively cheap?” he added. “Criminal justice is something else that’s pretty cheap. Drafting, computer automated drafting, building trades, all that stuff we need to look at and consider. These all draw the CTE (career and technology education) funding, just like the ag program.”

In other business, the board:

  • OK’d a policy to prohibit school employees or members of the public on school property from using electronic cigarettes or electronic vaporizing devices. Students are already prohibited from using these devices.
  • approved the instructional materials allotment and certified that the material meets at least 50 percent of the elements of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
  • honored the Decatur High School Flamenco dance group, seventh grader Madison Scroggins as the district spelling bee winner and members of the middle school and high school Destination Imagination teams who recently competed in the state meet.
  • honored Kim Warren of Young Elementary as educator of the month and Monica Scarlett of Decatur High School as support staff employee of the month.

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School district shows its appreciation for White

School district shows its appreciation for White

Outgoing Decatur school board member Alan White was honored Wednesday for 15 years of service to the school district.

An appreciation luncheon drew past and present superintendents, principals and staff to the new administration building, located in the renovated former high school building on Cates Street.

Ringing Endorsement

RINGING ENDORSEMENT – Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend presented outgoing school trustee Alan White with a school bell to honor his 15 years of service on the board. Submitted photo

Superintendent Rod Townsend said he appreciated the fact White was always interested in doing what was best for the kids.

“It may not always be the most popular decision to be made, but if it was going to be what was best for kids, he would always support that,” Townsend said. “Mr. White, I appreciate the leadership you’ve given this district over the past 15 years and certainly the leadership you’ve provided me over the last four years.”

Board President Kevin Haney, who has served the past eight years with White, said his fellow trustee had accumulated a wealth of knowledge over the years.

“Alan’s been a real resource for the board and for me in particular as things come up that happened in the past and (explained) why the district has made certain decisions,” Haney said. ” … He’s talked about times the board has had to make decisions about whether they were going to go down to the bank and borrow some money to meet payroll – a little leaner times than what we are experiencing right now.

“A lot of good things have been happening in the district recently. I’m glad he’s been a part of that.”

Townsend presented White with a school bell as a token of appreciation before turning the floor over to him.

White became emotional as he thanked those in attendance, which included his wife, his sixth grade teacher and current pastors.

“I appreciate my wife Cheryl,” he said. “She allowed me to convince her to go to TASB (Texas Association of School Boards) training in San Antonio every summer, which is a great place to spend your summer vacation.”

White said it was “like a hall of fame” of superintendents he got to work with at Decatur, and he thanked the staff for always answering his questions.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in 15 years, (building) Carson Elementary, the high school, Young Elementary, multipurpose building, redoing this place. You can always feel good when you feel like you are leaving something better than you found it, and I’m blessed to feel that way,” he said.

About 45 people attended the luncheon, which was held in an enclosed breezeway-type area between the administration and support services building.

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E-cigs, ag center on agenda

The Decatur school board will talk about electronic cigarettes and the proposed DISD agriculture project center when it meets Monday at the administration building at 307 South Cates.

Those two items are on the agenda along with employment recommendations, including the contracts of Shelly Laaser, director of child nutrition, and Merl Pryor, director of maintenance.

The board will also take action on textbooks and honor an educator and support staff employee of the month before moving to its consent agenda, which includes budget amendments and several purchases over $25,000, including an emergency generator for the technology building, data center equipment and MacBook cases for students and teachers.

Reports from various departments will come to the board, along with resignations and new employees, policy updates, a discussion on summer school and extended-year services, canvassing the May 10 election and educational program changes for pre-K and the middle school.

The board will also get an update on the recently-remodeled administration building.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. with roll call, and the agenda calls for a closed session as the first item after that. Otherwise, the meeting is open to the public.

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Time for a new bushel of Apples; Decatur school board approves $1.1 million for laptop replacements

Technology took center stage in a couple of ways at Monday’s Decatur school board meeting.

The board approved spending up to $1.1 million to replace 925 student laptops at the high school and 105 teacher laptops there and at the middle school, as part of the district’s technology plan.

The discussions were a little hard to hear at times as board members’ microphones seemed to cut in and out throughout the meeting – the first to be held in the new boardroom, located in the renovated administration facility at 307 S. Cates.

Secondary teachers were issued Apple MacBook laptops beginning in 2009, and each high school student was issued a laptop in 2010. The time has come to replace the devices, said technology director Troy Bagwell.

“The laptops we have won’t last another year,” Bagwell said in response to a question about the possibility of getting another year out of the computers. “We’re having a hard time finding replacement parts.”

The replacement is part of the timeline approved by the board in 2008. The purchase of the replacement laptops will come from money remaining from the $5.4 million technology bond package approved by voters in 2008. Apple provided the district with a quote of $1,072,251.76 for the new devices.

Bagwell said the district will have about $398,000 in bond funds still available after the purchase rather than the $387,000 he predicted six years ago.

“We’re right on track with what we predicted when we first adopted the first plans for the elementary technology in the schools right after the bond passed,” he said.

Superintendent Rod Townsend said DISD was willing to consider other forms of technology, such as iPads, but the majority of teachers wanted to stay with laptops for at least one more cycle.

In a separate agenda item, the board agreed to allow the district to give this year’s graduating seniors the option to purchase the laptop they have used for the past four years. All other laptops will be sold through a third party for $125 per used laptop – returning an estimated $108,750 to the district.

Townsend said the school will sell them for $100 more than what they would receive from an outside buyer. Bagwell said the extra charge will cover the cost of wiping the hard drives clean and restoring them to the best possible condition, even if it means making repairs or even replacing parts.

The computers would not be under any warranty.

The option to buy the laptops would only be available to graduating seniors the years the computers are refreshed, Townsend said.

As for the boardroom microphones – the same ones used in the former administration office – no replacement appears to be necessary. District maintenance director Merl Pryor said setting adjustments will be made to fix the issue before the next meeting.

GPA CHANGES APPROVED

The board also approved changes to the way grade-point averages are calculated at the high school. The six-point scale will be eliminated, and only advanced courses such as pre-AP, AP and dual-credit courses will carry a potential five points. Core classes – English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language – will be on the four-point scale.

The changes are designed to give students more flexibility in their schedules and allow them to take courses based more on their interests, rather than the courses that will help their GPA the most, high school principal Jason Cochran said.

Currently, students enter a dual credit and an AP course on a five-point scale. If a student successfully completes the AP exam, he or she will be bumped up to the six-point scale.

Board member Diana Mosley expressed concern that since AP courses would no longer carry the six-point potential, student enrollment in the program could drop.

“I don’t want to see the AP program go away,” she said. “That is a nationally-recognized program. I hope that it is really sold to the students because they (AP and dual credit) are two totally different types of programs.”

She also said students who successfully complete the AP test should be rewarded for their hard work with a six-point potential.

Judi Bell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said she hopes the changes will actually encourage more students to take the AP exam. Students currently take the test to see if they would qualify for the six-point scale, but more students might be willing to attempt the test if less emphasis is put on class ranking.

The GPA changes would apply only to students entering as freshmen this fall. For current eighth graders who are about to complete algebra I or Spanish, those course grades will not apply toward their high school grade point average since the changes were made after they had begun the course.

The board voted 6-1 for the changes, with Mosley casting the lone opposing vote.

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Golf team donates to family who lost home

Monday marked a new beginning, of sorts, for the Decatur school board as it met for the first time in its new boardroom.

But another new beginning proved to be the emotional highlight of the evening.

The Decatur High School golf team presented a $5,000 check to Candice Taylor and her two daughters, Courtney and Sterling. The Taylors’ home near New Fairview was destroyed by fire Jan. 28.

More Than Par for the Course

MORE THAN PAR FOR THE COURSE – Accepting a $5,000 check from the Decatur Golf Team Monday were (front, from left) Courtney, Sterling and Candice Taylor. Dwayne Garrett (left) represented the Garrett family who made the donation to the golf team’s fundraiser. Golf coach Fernando Escobar (second from left) was joined by members of the team (from left) Cade Lamirand, Kale Bronniman, Drew Jones, Clay Gillispie, Bryce Elder, Hayden Bennett, Addison Nation and Dawson Thompson. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Golf coach Fernando Escobar fought back tears as he explained why the golf team had decided to help the family.

“The Taylor family just went through a pretty tough time in their life,” he said. ” … Courtney Taylor is a junior at Decatur High School. Right now she has a lot on her mind. We’re hoping this will put her mind at ease and ease her worries as well.”

Sterling is a sixth-grader at McCarroll Middle School.

The donation was made possible when the team auctioned off a driver at its recent golf tournament. The driver was donated to the golf booster club by a community member who wishes to remain anonymous. The live auction was won by a donation from the Garrett family – represented Monday by Dwayne Garrett.

He explained that Grayson Garrett, son of Willie Garrett, was killed in an accident at their Lake Bridgeport home two-and-a-half years ago. The family started the Grayson Garrett Memorial Fund to help others in need in the community. The family raises money through an annual golf tournament.

The three members of the Taylor family gave hugs to Garrett, team members and Escobar at the conclusion of the presentation.

In other business, the school board:

  • approved changes to the GPA formula for the high school and up to $1.1 million for the replacement of laptops (see related story in this issue);
  • amended their order of election in order to hold early voting and election day voting for the May 10 election at the Decatur administration building;
  • honored high school student Katy Rowden for her success at the state swim meet, high school teacher Kanetha Hicks as educator of the month and bus driver John Tally as support staff employee of the month; and
  • learned during the reports portion of the meeting that cost estimates for a new agriculture facility should be available to board members by April’s meeting.

The school board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the administration building to hire a new athletic director/head football coach.

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School considers changing class ranking formula

Elective classes could soon be excluded from determining a student’s grade point average at Decatur High School.

The DISD school board next week will consider major changes to the way a student’s grade point average is calculated. The changes are designed to “level the playing field,” according to Judi Bell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The high school currently uses a 4-,5- and 6-point grading scale. The system encourages students, particularly those who are trying to finish in the top 10 percent, to take the 6-point courses while discouraging them from taking the 4-point courses.

“It got to the point where students weren’t picking classes based on what they really wanted to take, they were taking things based on how they could move up one or two class rankings,” Bell said.

The current GPA system places the same emphasis on advanced core academic classes as it does on some electives. For instance, courses like yearbook II and acappella choir honors have the same weight as pre-AP courses in physics and calculus.

Also, the school offers multiple weighted classes in fine arts compared to only one in animal science and none for athletics – putting students who don’t choose fine arts at a disadvantage.

Bell and high school principal Jason Cochran are proposing that the 6-point scale be eliminated, and only advanced courses such as pre-AP, AP and dual credit courses carry a potential five points. Core classes – English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language – will be on the four-point scale, Cochran said.

Students would still get credit for electives, and it would be on their transcripts for colleges or universities to see, but the grades would not be calculated in a student’s GPA.

The proposed changes come at a time when school districts across the state are reviewing their policies and course offerings to bring them in line with the requirements of House Bill 5, passed by the Texas Legislature last spring. One of those requirements is the elimination of the current graduation options available to students: the minimum, recommended and distinguished plans.

Those options have been replaced with the foundation plan, which includes:

  • four credits of English language arts;
  • three credits each of math, science and social studies;
  • two credits of languages other than English;
  • one credit each of physical education and fine arts, and
  • five credits of electives.

In addition to that plan, students may earn an endorsement by earning four credits each in math and science, two additional elective credits and curriculum requirements for the endorsement, which are still being determined by the State Board of Education. A student must earn 26 credits to graduate.

House Bill 5 laid out five different endorsements, or pathways, for schools to offer. Those endorsements include:

  • STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),
  • public services,
  • business and industry,
  • arts and humanities, and
  • multidisciplinary studies.

Schools are required to offer at least one of those endorsements. If a school only offers one endorsement, it must be the multidisciplinary plan. Bell said Decatur will start by offering the multidisciplinary plan for students entering ninth grade in the fall.

Cochran said House Bill 5 allowed school districts to review the way classes are weighted and how to make it more equitable and fair for students.

“Seeing that opportunity, we’ve looked at every course we offer, every pathway a kid could take, and said, ‘Does predetermining a pathway predetermine your class rank?’ You don’t want that scenario at all,” he said.

Instead, the pathways set in place by House Bill 5 are designed to allow students to “pursue their passion,” Bell said.

Cochran said the proposal they came up with should better prepare students for life after high school.

“Every kid may not be going to college, but every kid deserves the opportunity at Decatur High School to say, ‘I have the choice,'” Cochran said. “‘I’ve been appropriately trained, I’ve had these opportunities, now I get the choice to go left or right.

“‘I’m not forced down a path. I’m not forced into the workforce; I’m not forced into the university, but I’ve proven myself college AND career ready.’ Too often we focus on college OR career readiness. We owe it to the kids to have that option.”

The school board is expected to vote on the proposed changes at its meeting Monday, March 17, at the administration building’s new location, 307 S. Cates St. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. with a closed session, followed by open session. The public is welcome.

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Parents want closed-campus lunch at high school

Parents want closed-campus lunch at high school

Three parents who spoke at Monday’s Decatur School Board meeting want the district to change its open-campus lunch policy at the high school.

Closing Time

CLOSING TIME? – Decatur High School students leave for lunch Tuesday. A group of parents asked school board members Monday to consider closing the campus for lunch, citing concerns about student safety. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

All three parents, who are also district-level directors with the school, urged the board to change to a closed-campus lunch beginning with next year’s freshmen. They suggested current high school students be allowed to leave campus at lunch.

Meradith Culpepper has two children in the district, including one who will enter high school next year. She said her main concern was the safety of the students. She pointed out that the district has numerous safety and security practices in place – such as a computer system that can scan a driver’s license to show if someone is allowed on a campus, school resource officers, employees trained in health and safety procedures and AEDs located throughout the district.

Those safety measures can’t help a student when he or she is off campus.

“Every day at lunchtime we allow literally hundreds of inexperienced drivers to speed through town or rush onto major highways to quickly eat lunch or perhaps do what you cannot do on campus in time to get back in their seat for their next class, all within a 45-minute time frame,” she said.

Culpepper described how she was at the high school last year when a student who had returned to campus after lunch used his vehicle to ram another vehicle in the parking lot. She said that incident and others are the reason many people will avoid being anywhere near the high school during lunch period.

So far, no serious injuries have resulted from a lunchtime wreck, but Culpepper said other schools have had to deal with more tragic outcomes.

“When doing research on a few districts who had open-campus lunch, it saddened me to read of all of the student deaths that occurred during campus lunch periods,” she said. “I ask you, do you want to be the board faced with the decision these boards faced following such tragedies?

“Please do not let a tragic event be the reason you close the campus. Do the right thing, and keep it from happening.”

Troy Bagwell said Decatur High School’s open-campus tradition is one that in a few years “will not be missed.”

He said he takes full responsibility for his children’s behavior and trusts administrators and teachers with his children while they are at school. But like Culpepper, he is concerned that a large number of students have no oversight during the lunch period.

“I have personally witnessed several disturbing actions by students as they are leaving DHS for lunch,” he said. “Last Monday, the day with the freezing drizzle, I was driving to the high school on Summit Drive as students were leaving for lunch. One truck was barreling down the street with all the other cars, and a kid was hanging out the passenger door, sitting on the window sill scraping the ice and just laughing all the way down the hill. There were many things wrong with that picture.”

At other times, Bagwell said students have made obscene gestures or nearly hit him while trying to rush back to the school.

Shelley Laaser spoke as the parent of two students in the district, including one who will be in high school next year. As a registered dietitian and the district’s director of child nutrition, she offered another concern in addition to student safety.

“I had a concern regarding the healthiness of our children and the food they are eating at fast-food restaurants or, just as bothersome, those who are not eating,” Laaser said. “You must take into consideration that about half of our district’s population is on free or reduced meal benefits.”

Laaser said she called the Region 11 Education Service Center to see how many other 3A school districts in the 10-county region offer off-campus lunch. She found that only one other school allowed students to leave campus to eat lunch: Kennedale. When she called the child nutrition director at Kennedale, Laaser said she was told that their school board had just decided to close the campus beginning next school year.

“While the lunch closure was first introduced due to curriculum concerns, (Kennedale) later investigated the financial impact it would have on the district and revealed that a projected revenue increase of over $150,000 would flow through their particular child nutrition program,” she said. “The profits from that program had to be reinvested in their federal child nutrition program. For many districts, that means adding serving lines, serving higher quality food and other improvements.”

Laaser said that if the board decided to close the campus at lunch, leading to a higher volume of students eating in the cafeteria, she would be committed to making it a success.

“I can tell you that feeding our students in the space that we have, in a reasonable time frame, is most certainly feasible,” she said.

Because the item was not listed on Monday’s agenda, the school board could not discuss or take action on the request at this time.

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Decatur School Board approves admin contracts, meets Monday

The Decatur School Board met Wednesday and will meet again Monday.

Last Wednesday’s meeting included an agenda with only two action items. Following a closed session, the board approved one-year extensions for all administrators, principals and directors.

The board also approved a budget amendment to pay for damage sustained by a district storage facility during a recent ice storm.

Monday’s agenda includes calling a trustee election, possible changes in class weights and GPA formula due to House Bill 5 requirements, a consent agenda that includes the 2014-2015 school calendar and a superintendent’s report that will feature updates on items such as the high school ag project center, technology and the central office transition.

The meeting will be at the DISD Administration Building beginning with a closed session at 6 p.m. followed by an open session.

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