The Waxahachie ISD Board of Trustees diligently worked through several highly discussed topics of community concern during a workshop and regular session Monday evening.
The rezoning-appeal process, additional school safety measures and a change to the meal-charge policy were among the most debated of the agenda items.
The latter issue was the LONE action item of the three, as most of the other discussions took place during the planned workshop before the regular monthly meeting. Those items, or policy changes to address them, will be presented during a regular session at a later date.
The early focus of the Waxahachie ISD Board of Trustees workshop centered on enrollment for the upcoming school year and the rezoning appeal process. It quickly shifted to school safety and the results of a district-issued questionnaire.
Shelle Blaylock, assistant superintendent of leadership and academics, informed the board that just over 400 students would be enrolled in Wilemon Elementary, which is the district’s new STEAM academy. The number includes those students zoned to school, as well as those who applied from other areas of the district.
Though no opt-out option is currently available for students within the Wilemon zone, Mike Morgan, director of student and campus services, stated only one family had requested a transfer. The request was not granted.
Morgan later stated “about 90 percent” of requests to transfer schools are denied. He noted those who are employees, have children with special needs or after school needs are among the ones considered.
Morgan explained there are “common sense things that we should look at [for transfers], but right now I don’t have the discretion to say otherwise.”
Morgan then used four unique issues related to the recent rezoning that pose unique circumstances. Though common sense says otherwise, he has denied all four requests due to the current policy.
The first instance involves a family with two kindergarten-aged children who will attend the dual-language program at Wedgeworth, while a fifth-grade student will attend Shackelford. The other three families are all within one or two blocks of Marvin Elementary but zoned for schools outside of the current walking distance.
When asked by trustee Joe Langley, Morgan noted that some of those who have had appeals denied are within less than 300 yards from the desired campus.
Morgan stated, “One of the things that I took pride in when I first took this position was that, when we could, we would help.”
Blaylock also noted there would be about 200 more students in Coleman Junior High (old high school) than the other two junior highs, mostly due to the transfer of students who belong to in-district employees. Blalock stated the higher enrollment is due to some of those employees now working for Coleman while the others are employed by Global High School, which will be across the street next year in the old ninth grade academy.
Waxahachie ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Glenn added, “The employees' kids are the ones who really throw off our numbers more than anything.”
Trustee Melissa Starnater questioned the local policy that allows for students of district-employed grandparents to choose which school they attend. The policy was officially approved in March but has been un-informally in place for some time, stated Glenn and Auvenshine.
“It predates my time,” stated Glenn, who agreed it should be looked into.
Morgan noted about 10-12 students are moved each year due to the request of a district-employed grandparent.
“There is a difference between convenience and hardship,” trustee John Rodgers added. “[…] I fully trust Mike when it comes to determining between convenience and hardship.”
Morgan asked the board to consider establishing an appeal committee to address such instances. Board president Dusty Autrey echoed the sentiment and asked the board to consider an appeal policy or steps to develop a committee and have the proposition ready for a future board meeting.
WORKSHOP: SCHOOL SAFETY
“Truly, there is no one uniform ‘Guardian Program’ plan,” explained Lee Auvenshine, deputy superintendent of human resources and legal services, to the trustees in regards to the local policy adopted by the board in March.
He then informed the group they are authorized to establish protocols and procedures for any teacher or faculty member who is accepted into the district’s Guardian Program. The trustees are now tasked with developing the parameters of the program.
Ferris ISD, for instance, allows the superintendent to hand pick the participants, who then obtain a license to carry and are analyzed by a physiologist in Waxahachie. The faculty and staff members undergo a 560-question test often given to police candidates and are subject to a three-day-training that includes active-shooter simulations.
As previously reported by the Daily Light, approximately 170 of the over 1,000 school districts across Texas have implemented the Guardian Program.
Auvenshine also informed the trustees that Gov. Greg Abbott made additional modifications to the Marshall Plan following his address to the state last week. Among those modifications is the option for districts to employ level-three security officers, which means the individual would be allowed to openly carry a firearm on the person while on campuses.
Waxahachie ISD currently has level-two security officers.
Auvenshine then briefly discussed the results of a district-issued school-safety questionnaire that revealed over 63 percent percent of the 872 community respondents to be in favor of metal detectors at entrances throughout the district. It also found 56.8 percent of the 872 returned forms to be against clear backpacks.
Board president Dusty Autrey stated he did not think it would not make sense for the district to deploy metal detectors without armed level-three security. He then asked the board for their thoughts on the comment.
Trustee John Rodgers noted he has spoken with Rep. John Wray about the options available for level-three officers. Wray, who is spearheading several bills to address school safety at the state level, informed Rodgers one choice for the district would be to re-commission any security officers who had previously served as peace officers and graduated from a law enforcement academy.
Rodgers then informed the board that he had spoken to Ellis County Sheriff Chuck Edge. The sheriff agreed to commission three of the currently qualified WISD security officers that previously served as commissioned peace officers if desired by the district.
Edge also noted one more security officer could be added to the list if he is not elected constable — indicating a conflict of interest if he is elected — and that two more security officers are close to being commissioned. If those two complete the required training, Edge informed Rodgers, he would be OK commissioning those officers, as well.
Rodgers told the board he will ask Edge to attend the board’s next workshop, which will focus on school safety.
Cylde Melick, assistant superintendent of facilities, informed the trustees that his office suggests utilizing the construction-manager-at-risk method to build North Grove Elementary.
Glenn agreed and explained the method would allow for any set-maximum costs to remain the set price.
The superintendent referenced the concrete fiasco Mckinney ISD is currently experiencing with its $69.9 million football stadium. The CMAR deals with all issues that arise to meet the maximum rate. Whereas the construction manager-agent forces the district to act as the project manager and assume all liability.
WISD utilized the construction manager-agent for the high school project, but over 70 percent of districts across the state choose the CMAR option, Melick explained.
Melick also briefly detailed the new agri-science facility that will be located just behind the western two football practice fields on the campus of the new high school.
Editor’s note: The trustees unanimously approved Corgan Architects to design the agriculture-science facility at the cost of $5,000 during the regular meeting. Melick stated the cost was significantly lower than the other sealed bid.
BOARD MEETING: CHARGE POLICY
The most-discussed agenda item during the regular session of the Waxahachie ISD Board of Trustees on Monday evening involved the district's meal-charge policy for students.
“The meal-charge policy does not affect the student who qualifies for free or reduced meals,” stated Ryan Khahlden, assistant superintendent of business and finance. He added if the student or family is already receiving food assistance from the government that they are automatically enrolled in the child nutrition program.
He also noted the state requires the school district to allow for a charge-based system so that the nutrition staff can attempt to contact the family. He also stated the District Advisory Team recommended to set the maximum-charge limit at $10 before cutting off the regularly provided meal.
After the student reaches the cutoff, he or she will receive a cheese sandwich, a full cup of fruit, vegetable, milk or water at “about $1.50 cost” for each meal to the district.
The child nutrition program will not be responsible for more than $10 per student, regardless of the overdrawn amount, as WISD will continue to cover the remainder of the debt.
When asked by trustee Kim Kriegel as to why the meal charges exploded to $14,000 this school year, Khalden stated it was because families realized the “loophole” and would be served despite a delinquent balance.
He added most of the debt — according to nutrition staff — was from students of WISD faculty and staff. He also informed Kriegel the end-of-year debt was around $15,000, which will be covered by the district and not the child nutrition program.
Schoolfield stated his fifth-grade daughter was twice overdrawn by about $40 over the last school year and was not contacted by the school district until around or after spring break.
The motion to approve the updated meal-charge policy, which set the charge limit at $10 before a student receives a cheese sandwich tray, passed 6-1. Kriegel voted in opposition.
After the meeting, Kriegel explained her vote against, stating, “The true issue to me is the kids that we have who are food-insecure. We sent out 400 backpacks to the elementary and junior high levels last year and Students in Need sent over $2,500 in food to the high school and high school of choice to address the food-insecure students. That shows that we have students who need help and students cannot learn if they do not have food. We have to take care of our students who are food-insecure.”
BOARD MEETING: ‘ROBIN HOOD’
Waxahachie will be a Chapter 41 district next year.
“When your wealth gets above any one of three levels,” Kahlden explained, “you are what is know as 'Robin Hood.'”
The estimated amount of repayment to the state will increase from $0 to around $200,000—250,000, which he labeled a “drop in the bucket.”
Kahlden then detailed to the board options to help reduce the repayment total.
The first two include consolidating students or land with another school, which are not overly popular choices. He noted two other options that are typically considered by other districts.
The first is to “buy attendance credits” — either randomly through the state or by partnering with another district, such as Avalon ISD — and then teach those students within WISD. Or, the board can choose to consolidate tax bases with another district.
He stated his office would ask the trustees to utilize option three — purchase attendance credits from the state — at a future board meeting.
This item was informational and did not require a vote.