Charter contract changes approved

Modifications to the charter performance contract with Ector Success Academy Network and asking the human resources department to prepare a form to send to superintendent search firms were approved by the Ector County Independent School District Board of Trustees.

The meeting was a work study session, but these two elements, along with approval of a board policy regarding partnership charters, were action items. The policy also was approved.

Other things on the agenda were for discussion.

ECISD has eight campuses on improvement required status under state accountability regulations. Ector Middle School, Noel and Zavala elementary are in their fifth year. If the campuses don’t come off the list, they will face closure or the Texas Education Commissioner will appoint a board of managers over the whole district.

Pending approval of the contract by the Texas Education Agency, Ector Success Academy Network is the nonprofit that will run Ector Middle School.

According to the TEA communications department, ECISD has received approval for the partnership contingent upon some technical modifications to the performance contract. The district must provide those modifications by July 2.

The agreement, which would take effect in July, could potentially be for 10 years, but if quick success is not achieved they could be out in two years. TEA’s sanctions would be stayed for those two years.

The board on Tuesday also approved having the district human resources department prepare a form to request proposals from superintendent search firms. Superintendent Tom Crowe has announced that he is retiring effective Dec. 22.

Board members discussed various search firm possibilities in Texas. Trustee Delma Abalos and Secretary Donna Smith said they would like a nationwide search and the rest of the board agreed.

Carol Gregg, board president, said there is a limited pool of superintendents nationwide.

“Superintendents don’t grow on trees,” Gregg said.

The panel also discussed a request to approve the 2018-19 budget.The school board is legally required to approve three separate budgets — general fund, food service and debt service, the board recap said.

The proposed general fund budget is $269.06 million — a $26 million increase. It does not include any raises for employees, but it does include the retention incentive for positions that qualify for one.

The board is expected to vote on the budget at its 6 p.m. June 26 meeting.

However, that includes potential revenue of more than $11.4 million if a tax ratification election passes.

That election could be held in September, but has not yet been called by the board.

Estimated increases in tax collections, foundation school funding and state revenue add up to approximately $14.8 million in addition funding, the recap said.

Those gains will be offset by increases in expenses for staffing changes such as hiring teachers and aides for increasing enrollment. An estimated 1,000 more students are projected for next year which would bring in $3.8 million.

Also included in the increase is the Ector Middle School initiative ($1.3 million); an increase in campus and student allotments to pre-cut levels ($2.39 million); an increase in estimated Teacher Retirement System benefit costs of $1.195 million; an increase in property insurance premiums of $705,000; an increase in estimated health insurance and workers comp costs of $715,000; and increased operational needs ($534,000).

The projected increases in revenue also fall short of replacing the more than $30 million that has been cut or not spent. There have been no staff raises for the past two years due to the drop in appraised property values, the recap said.

The board also discussed a request for approval of a resolution authorizing the issuance of $20 million in maintenance tax notes to help ECISD through its months of low tax collections. Chief Financial Officer David Harwell said the money would be paid back to Frost Bank by March 2019.

The district has done this previously. An alternative would be using money held in long-term investments to help with cash flow concerns, but the interest paid on the tax notes could be less than the interest gained on the long-term investments, the recap said.

The $20 million represents about one month of operating costs, the recap said.

In the public comment section of the meeting, Texas Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, asked the board if there was anything he could do for them since the legislative session starts in January 2019.

Landgraf said he knows there are a number of challenges ECISD and other districts are facing.

Landgraf said he voted for the law will take over school districts if they do not come off the improvement required list after five years. He said the law was not implemented as intended and it points to a larger problem of an assault on local control.

Gregg said the law doesn’t seem to address the problem and doesn’t have any impact on fixing the problem.

She added that getting an outside entity to partner with the district is difficult and complex.

Landgraf said he wrote a letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath in support of the Ector charter concept.

He added that he also filed bills that were not supported to repeal recapture in its current form and high-stakes testing. Under recapture, or Robin Hood as it’s commonly known, property wealthy school districts give some of their funds to poorer districts.

In other business:

  • Trustees discussed the reorganization of the board’s officers — president, vice president and secretary. Board members will vote for new officers at the June 26 meeting.