By Devin Corbitt, The Belton Journal
The Belton Independent School District Board of Trustees took a special time out of their meeting on Monday to say goodbye to Trustee Dr. Rosie Montgomery.
“Dr. Rosie Montgomery has served on this board for the last five years and given her heart to us, this team, this board and this district, and we want to take a moment to say thank you,” Board President Randy Pittenger said. “It’s hard to break up a team that’s been working a lot of hours together. But I appreciate your decision.”
Montgomery’s seat was up for re-election this year, and after initially putting in her ballot, she withdrew herself from the race in order to spend more time volunteering directly with children in the district.
“You are a great example of a lifelong learner, and I think that’s a very important part of being on the school board. It generates thought, and I think you do a great job of asking wonderful questions,” Secretary Mike Cowan said. “What I’m going to miss most about Rosie is that she is a true champion for the education of those that need it the most. You’re always looking out for the interests and education of special education, in particular, and those that are less fortunate.”
Because Montgomery withdrew her ballot, the board currently has an open seat. Rather than spending the money on a special election, the board has decided to appoint someone to fill the position for a year and then open the seat in next year’s elections for the remaining two years of the term.
“It is the board’s intent to accept applications (from) anybody who would like to be considered for nomination,” Pittenger said.
Pittenger’s seat was also up for re-election this year. He ran unopposed and was therefore sworn in on Monday night. After his swearing-in, Trustee Sue Jordan moved to reappoint Pittenger as President, Penny Digby as Vice President and Cowan and Secretary.
Before bidding Montgomery farewell, the board members recognized the previous month’s outstanding students. The first group of these were three seniors who earned associate’s degrees through the Temple Bioscience Institute: Marissa DeLeon, Emily Lin and Dezzarae Luera.
Sports was next on the agenda, as the boys and girls tennis teams were applauded for their second place wins at the district tournament. In the track and field arena, Bekah Alcozer placed second in discus for 6A Region II, while William Watson took home the gold in the 300-meter hurdles. Both will compete in the state meet May 14-16. Rounding out athletics were the four soccer players who were named to all-state teams. Ryan Diaz was selected as a first team all-state forward, Blake Odell
a second team all-state forward, and Courtney Dippel as a first team all-state goalkeeper. Brandan Coulter received an all-state honorable mention as a defender.
On the fine arts stage for the night were the high school varsity choirs. The girls, boys and mixed choirs received superior ratings for concert and sight-reading at the UIL regional contest in April, earning them a sweepstakes award. Not to be outdone, the high school varsity wind ensemble also earned a sweepstakes award at their regional contest. The future also looks bright for the wind ensembles, as the varsity wind ensembles from Lake Belton Middle School (LBMS), North Belton Middle School (NBMS) and South Belton Middle School (SBMS) received sweepstakes awards at their regional contest, as well.
The district announced the selection of two Grow Your Own Scholarship recipients. The scholarship assists BISD students or teachers who plan to receive a bilingual teacher certification. Grace Garcia and Javier Ayala Jr., both seniors at Belton High School, were chosen this year. Both will begin their educations at Temple College before transferring to Texas A&M Central Texas.
To round out the recognitions, the Temple Rotary Club selected Michelle Delongchamps as the Rotary Educator of the Month. Delongchamps teaches first grade at Chisholm Trail Elementary School, where she also serves as grade level leader and strives to bring creative events to the school as a whole.
The board then held a public hearing to discuss federal programs. Last year, the district received $1,845,081 in federal funds, and they are currently planning for the 2015-2016 school year funding opportunities. To learn more about federal funding, contact Celia Ray at email@example.com.
The month’s consent agenda included an extension of the interlocal agreement with Killeen ISD for graduation videos. The $4,000 initial cost will be covered by post-graduation sale of the videos. The agenda was approved unanimously.
Dr. Susan Kincannon’s Superintendent’s Report began with a graduation update.
“On June 4, we will be graduating over 700 seniors in two ceremonies, and that’s exciting,” Kincannon said.
Belton New Tech High School @ Waskow’s first graduating class will walk the stage on June 4 at 2:30 p.m. in the Bell County Expo Center. The ceremony will be held in the arena to ensure room for all guests who wish to attend. Since New Tech does not have class officers, the highest-ranking members of the New Tech National Honor Society and Key Club have been asked to speak at the ceremony in place of class officers.
Belton High School graduates will walk on June 4 at 8 p.m. in the Bell County Expo Center. The BHS ceremony will require tickets for entry; students were given nine tickets each.
The first STAAR testing results came in this month, in regards to Grades 5 and 8 reading tests. Both grades exceeded state passing rate averages and the percentage of students rated as advanced.
The Track and Field Project to replace the track and turf at BHS is now 19 days behind schedule due to the rainy weather. The Ag Barn, on the other hand, is nearly complete. Students should install the livestock pens this week, and the completion of the roads is dependent upon the weather. Weather permitting, the dedication of the barn will be held next Thursday.
The district accepted 23 resignations this month, as well as 12 new hires. The new hires include Amanda Necessary to the role Director of Career and Technology Studies and Deena Cornblum as the Director of Literacy.
The board then heard an update on the Belton Early Childhood School (BECS), which has seen tremendous success in its first year as a stand-alone campus for prekindergarten students.
“I would like to thank Dr. Kincannon for her vision of pre-k in Belton ISD, but I also want to say thank you to the board for continuing to provide full-day pre-k with only half-day funding,” Denise Whitley, Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction, said. “The renovations have tremendously assisted the campus by providing an environment that is aesthetically pleasing and helps support the learning environment for our little people.”
The campus was designed to be more than just a place where children go to learn their colors and letters. Instead, BECS is a holistic learning environment, featuring everything from experiential learning labs where children get to perform experiments and hands-on learning to a play-based counseling structure to real-world learning field trips.
The presentation then segued into expanding pre-k at BECS to students who do not qualify for state-funded tuition. The tuition-supported program would allow 50 additional students to attend pre-k; however, these students will have to pay a tuition of $4,250, equating to $425 for the 10-month period.
“We believe all children have the right to a quality education at the earliest age possible, and for us, that’s the 4-year-old program,” Deanna Lovesmith Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said. “Currently, the state funds for half-day tuition, and they only fund that tuition for students that qualify. We believe there’s another population of students that don’t meet any of those requirements but that would definitely benefit from high-quality instruction in a full-day pre-k program.”
The tuition program at BECS will first be opened to children of BISD employees. After the deadline, the remaining spots will then be opened to anyone within the district. The program was passed unanimously.
During the presentation, Pittenger noted that Sen. Troy Fraser and Rep. Molly White both voted against legislation that will increase funding for pre-k programs in public schools, legislation chosen by Governor Greg Abbott as a number one priorty. Although Fraser’s office did not reply to Pittenger’s inquiries about the decision, White’s Chief-of-Staff gave Pittenger her reasoning.
“I want to share with you a little bit of the response I got from Hannah Bell, Molly White’s Chief-of-Staff. Among her reasons given for Molly voting against this are ‘four-year-olds need to be at home with their mothers’ (and) ‘this will provide a daycare system funded by the state,’” Pittenger said. “I think it’s important for us to know that those we have elected to represent us don’t share our values. Choose who you will, but I think it’s important for us to know the rationale they’re giving for voting against the governor’s primary, number one, emergency item.”
The next item on the agenda was a presentation of the Community and Student Engagement Final Ratings from Dr. Merl Brandon, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services and Administration.
The process began in February to assess each campus’ performance for the 2014-2015 school year using a series of criteria. Ratings were determined by boards at each campus made up of parents, teachers and community members.
“You can see an (overall) improvement in fine arts, dropout prevention and gifted and talented,” Brandon said. “I have to commend the campuses and principals: even though you can pick (your ratings), they’re tough on their self and their campus.”
The report will be sent to the state as-is.
Kincannon then gave a report on the close outs of Chisholm Trail Elementary School and North Belton Middle School construction with Baird/Williams Construction (BWC). According to Kincannon, the district was alerted to overbilling by BWC in another Texas school district, so BISD began an audit of BWC’s bills for the construction of High Point Elementary in December 2013.
In July 2014, the audit concluded that BWC had, indeed, overbilled BISD for High Point Elementary, so the district decided to audit Chisholm Trail and NBMS’s construction costs, as well. In April 2015, a revised audit concluded that BWC had overbilled more than $1.2 million for the two projects. As a result of the ensuing settlement agreement, BISD saved a little over $3 million for the three schools, which were part of the 2012 bond program.
“I think everyone is very happy with the facilities that were built. The prices were great prices at the time we built the schools, so I don’t think anyone’s disappointed with the buildings or quality of the schools,” Trustee Jason Carothers said.
“We have quality school facilities that were well designed and well constructed, and for that we are very thankful,” Pittenger said. “We have excellent facilities at fair prices, and I think we can feel good about the process, even though it’s been an exhausting process.”
For more information, please see “2012 BISD bond program…” on page A1.
To wrap up the evening, the board discussed the long-range planning options. The general consensus was that no one knew exactly what path would be best, and the trustees look forward to the final planning meeting of the school year on May 26.
“This is complicated; there’s no easy answer,” Pittenger said. “That’s why we’re asking for input. We need more.”
Trustee Amanda Winkler stressed the involvement of parents with elementary-age children because those children will be most directly affected by the decisions made now.
“As an elementary parent, if I weren’t involved in the community, I wouldn’t even know that we’re struggling with this issue. Parents that are moving in, people that are coming to our district don’t even have a clue that we don’t know what direction we’re taking, so I think it’s important that they know we need their input,” Winkler said. “Being an elementary parent is tough. You don’t know how to be involved until you become a high school parent, and then it’s too late.”
The BISD Board of Trustees will reconvene June 15 at the Administration Building, 400 N. Wall Street.