By Gary Emmert, Correspondent
The regular meeting of the Belton ISD Board of Trustees was anything but regular on Monday evening. There were updates on projects, including the construction of Lake Belton High School. Proclamations, presentations, and recognitions were presented to well-deserving recipients for extraordinary accomplishments. There was discussion of past events and reports, which sparked conversation and thoughts of tomorrow. Those in attendance were even entertained with a preview of the theatre department’s upcoming creepy and mysterious musical. But the spotlight of the evening focused on the recommendation and subsequent approval of the district’s new attendance boundaries.
Before any student can cross through the thresholds of their future school under the new boundaries, construction and tech infrastructure upgrades of new and existing structures must first be complete. And with that said, the 2017 Bonds Projects Update rep, Kurt Schwerdtfeger, presented updates and photos of Charter Oak Elementary and Lake Belton High. “We’re about 80 days from being substantially completed with (The Charter Oak) project,” according to Schwerdtfeger. Dr. Andrew Berning, president of the Renaissance Institute, updated the board on the current network, ongoing upgrade initiatives, and a strategic path going forward. His focus was on the utilization of e-rate or education rate, an FCC program, which provides discounts to schools and libraries. This could potentially reduce telecommunication and Internet access costs by up to 60 percent.
Accolades and presentations were handed out by a variety of prominent members of the community. City Manager Sam Listi presented Sue Ford, the board president, with a check in the amount $22,605.67 to the ISD’s crossing guard program. Mayor Marion Grayson proclaimed January 14, 2019 as “Magic Belles Day” in honor of the group’s achievements this past year, which include their participation in the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. The trustees also recognized winners of the Henry T. Waskow VFW Post 4008 Patriots Pen Essay Winner and Edgar Miranda, an 8th math and algebra teacher at Lake Belton Middle School, was named the Temple Rotary Educator of the Month. McCoy’s Building Supply of Belton was named the Big Red Community Partner for their help with the theatre department’s upcoming musical.
Last but not least, January is School Board Appreciation Month and this year’s theme is “Planting Seeds of Success.” Each trustee was recognized with a mosaic tile stepping stone, a watercolor floral painting, and a copy of Elly MacKay’s picture book, “If You Hold a Seed.” The book will be available in every elementary school’s library and will be the first book to go on the shelves of Charter Oak Elementary School. “As committed volunteers with a passion for public education, each of you serves our taxpayers and students through your commitment to the district’s mission. You provide vision and leadership in your roles, and as advocates, ensure that students are challenged to excel and reach the highest levels of achievement and success,” said Dr. Susan Kincannon.
Reports and past performances of the district were discussed. Dr. Deanna Lovesmith presented the Public Hearing Regarding the 2017-18 Annual Report. She emphasized that while attendance, graduation and dropout rates are higher than the state and region averages, they continue to be a district priority. There were also no reports of violent or criminal instances.
The Superintendent’s Report was kicked off by a performance by the fine arts and theatre department, who gave the audience a preview of their upcoming Addams Family musical. They will also be featured and perform next Tuesday and Thursday on KWTX and KCEN’s morning news programs respectively.
Following the performance, Dr. Kincannon discussed the upcoming 86th Texas Legislature. “School finance and property tax reform will be key issues,” said Kincannon. She noted that the House Public Education Committee had changed from 11 to 13 members, while the Senate will continue to have 11 members.
The education issues that will be addressed include accountability and assessment, school finance and vouchers, conversations about professional ethics, charter school partnerships, and instructional material and technology. She further stated that they “don’t anticipate any changes with the A-F grading,” but added “they certainly need some changes, in my opinion, to address the complexity of the system and its correlation with poverty.
School safety will also be a topic of debate,” Kincannon said “but we don’t know yet where that will lead in terms of requirements from the state or any funding to implement any kinds of new requirements. We will keep an open mind, we’ll contribute when and where we can, and we’ll continue to stay connected to our elected officials who understand who understand our needs here locally.” Kincannon noted that Representative Hugh Shine holds a weekly superintendent’s call, and ended her report by saying: “We look forward to continuing our strong relationship with him this session, were off and rolling.”
The Campus Culture Spotlight, presented by Dr. Rachelle Warren, was spotlighted by the compassionate response to Miller Heights’ recent tragedy.
“Student support included a safe room, which was staffed by two counselors and stocked with a variety of activities and materials to help students manage their grief,” said Warren. She added, “Each teacher had a prepared statement to set the tone of the day.” The greatest amount of support came from the most unlikely of source, the Golden Rule Therapy Dogs. “The students and staff physically relaxed at the sight of the dogs,” said Warren. This unusual source of comfort helped everyone cope with the tragedy.
Following the Campus Culture Spotlight, Dr. Kincannon presented the new district attendance proposal, addressing the three attendance maps together. “We ultimately are recommending that students residing in Southwest Elementary be zoned for South Belton Middle School and Miller Heights students would go to Belton Middle School, said Kincannon. Issues regarding that recommendation involved students residing in “The Hook” going to the south. Maps were presented to the trustees as well as the boardroom’s screens.
The Trustees addressed issues regarding the proposed boundaries.
“I think the thing about the transfer policy that is going to be different for us going forward will be the high school kids because of UIL eligibility concerns,” said Ty Taggart. Dr. Kincannon assured him that the district would consider UIL eligibility rules when acting on transfer requests.
Dr. Rosie Montgomery added, “I just want to commend you guys for all the steps that you took to make sure that everybody had an opportunity for input. But I think that it is something that maybe didn’t get highlighted is that sometimes a point that may be near and dear to your heart when you work everything out, that’s not the number one issue. What doesn’t get stated is that you guys as an administration, you continue to take in account what each school will need and what each student will need.”
Trustee Chris Flor asked for further explanation regarding the decision to split.
“The Hook,” as opposed to sending all students to Sparta. If you think about the elementary schools in Belton ISD, we have our smallest capacity facilities in the south. We could push kids further south. That would do some things that we don’t want to be doing, such as portable buildings. It is primarily a capacity issue at this point,” said Kincannon.
It was widely agreed by the board that the work done by Templeton Demographics as well as the prior meetings and public forums left them comfortable to render a decision Monday evening.
“A lot of hearts were involved in this here and this was not anything that was done lightly and is something that was very thorough,” said Sue Jordan. A motion to approve the proposed new boundaries was approved by a vote of 6-1, with Flor voting against.
Transitioning to the transfer process, Dr. Kincannon addressed transfers in general and the implementation of the new attendance boundaries. Considerations for transfers included availability of space, hardships, special programs, and student discipline and attendance history. Students who move out of the boundaries would be allowed to finish that semester. Applications for transfer have to be made each school year. Letters will be sent out January 25 to each parent in the district to verify enrollment of their elementary school children. This is to ensure that student to teacher ratios are met in accordance with state guidelines. Out of district transfer rates are based on the average of other schools in the area, with PK-8 being $750, 9-12 at $1,000, and a second child at $400. Transportation is not provided for any transfer students. The Belton ISD website has a FAQ page that addresses many questions and is updated regularly.
“Safety and the well-being of our students is our highest priority,” said Kincannon as she began her Safety and Security briefing. Highlighted by five elements; Facilities, Human Resources and Partnerships, Communication, Training, and Students. She recognized the work of Charlotte Smith, the Director of Nursing, for her efforts in the training conducted. The efforts of the faculty and staff to ensure the safety of the students continue to be a priority and constantly evolving.
Dr. Robert Muller presented the proposal for the 2019-20 school calendar, which included 173 student days and 187 staff days. The first day being the 19th of August and graduation would be the 28th of May. Spring break would be from the 9th to 13th of May, in conjunction with the majority of schools in the area. The motion to approve the proposal was voted in favor unanimously.
Finally, the consideration to set trustee elections in Areas 1, 3, and 5, as well as a special election to fill unexpired term in Area 2 for Saturday, May 4 was approved unanimously. Board President Sue Jordan expressed her intent to run again as well as encouraged the other trustee to do so as well, emphasizing the importance of continuity during this transition and the other members seemed to be in agreement.