WISD board hears survey results

District formulates plan to spend ESSER III funds; outgoing superintendent praised

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
Dr. Bonny Cain

How will the Waxahachie ISD board of trustees spend an estimated $8.9 million funding windfall over the next three years? The board heard the results of a community survey and a preliminary outline on how to utilize ESSER III funds during Monday night’s regular monthly meeting.

WISD chief financial officer Ryan Kahlden reported to the board that the district received 995 responses in the survey, and the four areas identified as highest needs are retention of staff, technology, addressing learning loss, and mental health interventions and support.

Kahlden said the superintendent’s cabinet met to formulate a plan to address these four areas and came up with a preliminary budget, allocating $1.6 million in stipends for all staff, $600,000 in mental health, $2.5 million for technology; and $4.2 million to address learning loss, which will be further developed.

These funds were made available to states as block grants as part of the American Rescue Plan, which was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law on March 11 by President Joe Biden.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III (ESSER III) grant, which is a part of the American Rescue Plan, requires states to distribute discretionary funds to target evidence-based practices for learning accelerations, summer enrichment, and after school programming. The grant period is open through the end of September 2023.

Monday night’s board meeting was likely the last under outgoing superintendent Dr. Bonny Cain, who announced her return to retirement in May. The board is currently in the process of interviewing candidates for her replacement.

Board president Dusty Autrey praised Cain for her service over the last three years. “I know it hasn’t always been rosy, but I believe that you led us through some of the most difficult times in public education and I just want to let you know that I appreciate that,” Autrey said.

Cain said it has been a pleasure serving as WISD superintendent.

“I will miss the board and this district,” she said. “When I first got here, it was like stepping back in time. The community is so sweet and they’re so caring. The homecoming parade and everything that defines us is so supportive of the kids. It made me want to come and it made me want to stay.“

Other items

• WISD athletic director Greg Reed eulogized former WISD trustee and board president Mark Price, who passed away July 5 after a two-year battle with stage-4 cancer. Price was active in public service, serving 12 years on the school board, the last three as president, and also serving as Ellis County Treasurer from 1992 to 2002. The board honored Price with a moment of silence.

• Numerous students and directors in the WHS performing arts department were honored for their accomplishments in state competition.

• WISD nurse coordinator Melissa Bousquet honored Dr. Peggy Linguist for helping to coordinate the school’s health care program. Dr. Linguist is stepping down.

• The board approved a change to the policy in hiring contract personnel, allowing the superintendent to make hiring decisions below campus principals without school board approval. Deputy superintendent Lee Auvenshine said the change will expedite hirings and keep WISD competitive in attracting quality professional applicants.

• District chief human resources officer Monica James presented a report on the district’s hiring process. James said it starts with the posting of the position internally and externally by request of the hiring administrator. Positions are posted for up to 10 days but could be posted for only three days if the district needs to fill the position quickly, she said.

• The board discussed the donation of land to the city of Waxahachie occupied by Lee Penn Park facilities. Auvenshine said WISD owns the majority of the land there, and even owns the land that the park’s swimming pool, walking and running trail and ballfields are on. The land would revert back to the district if the city doesn’t use the land for park purposes, Auvenshine said. The donation wouldn’t be closed until the fall.

• Consent agenda items approved included previous meeting minutes; acceptance of various reports; the meal charge policy for the 2021-2022 school year; a purchase order increase of $4,421 with School Specialty; the purchase of approximately 174 acres of land on or near Old Italy Road; the sale of approximately 4.25 acres of undeveloped land near Waxahachie High School to Ellis County; the approval of out-of-state travel for WHS Drama Department students to travel to New York City; and a 3-year beverage contract with Keurig Dr Pepper.

• Four items were pulled from the consent agenda and discussed separately before approval. A resolution was approved declaring 14 hazardous walking areas within school zones and targeting these areas for additional funding. A contract was approved with TransCen4 to facilitate a long-range planning process; a $71,000 contract with Branching Minds for intervention support in junior high was approved; and the board agreed to offer an alternative medical insurance plan for employees through Allegiance/UBC.

• The board approved a change in standard operating procedures, removing a provision.