We are already in the middle of the third week of school, and it is hard to believe our athletes, cheerleaders, drill team, and band members have been at school more than a month practicing, playing, and performing. It is amazing to watch the number of activities that our young people participate in across the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District in addition to their daily core classes. Having a son at the high school, I see the long hours our students put in to their extracurricular activities and the time spent in the evening tackling homework and projects.
We currently have approximately 20 more students enrolled in school this year than last year. As you may recall, I have shared previously that our demographic study indicates that BCISD will experience modest growth at just over 300 students in the next 10 years. We are watching our enrollment carefully along with the enrollment trend of Liberty Hill ISD. Its rapid growth will eventually spill over into BCISD, and we need to be prepared.
Planning for the future means forecasting budget projections, tax rate projections, and enrollment projections. The Board of Trustees was proud to be able to lower the tax rate by 4 cents in 2017 and another 2 cents in 2018 while still maintaining future bonding capacity. The Board of Trustees is also proud to have the second lowest tax rate among school districts in the Hill Country and the lowest tax rate for BCISD in decades. Strong financial planning has also resulted in the district having $1.4 million above its fund balance target of three months of operating expenses ($6.9 million). In the near future, if the district needed to make building renovations/repairs or add an additional classroom wing at Bertram Elementary School to address future growth, it would be in a position to pass a bond and lower the tax rate at the same time. Not every district has that level of flexibility available to it, and that is due to outstanding planning on the part of the Board of Trustees.
Last year, because of the district’s commitment to continuous improvement, we invited more than 40 internal and external stakeholders to participate in a comprehensive strategic planning process. The committee’s focus was developing goals, objectives, and strategies as part of a three-year strategic plan toward improving all aspects of BCISD. In its first year of implementation, the plan is ensuring we keep our focus on doing everything in our ability to make sure our students are achieving at the highest levels and are future ready. Campus improvement plans are in addition to the strategic plan and outline very specific actions to address improving student achievement across the district as measured by STAAR and our own local metrics. The Board of Trustees heard a report last week that lasted approximately an hour outlining many of those specific actions.
As I have shared, we are not satisfied with the letter grade of C that the district received as part of the state’s A-F Accountability System. When a district is two points away from earning a B, the reality is that every student and test question matter. For example: Did you know there were six questions on the 2018 third-grade STAAR math test that 55 percent or less of the students in the state of Texas answered correctly? If that many students struggled on those questions, does that still make those questions valid? When you consider the fact that 15 BCISD third-graders were just one more correct answer from passing the STAAR test, those six questions make a big difference.
We recognize that we cannot change the test or the accountability system, so we are hard at work making sure we are providing quality instruction, filling in gaps for students, and providing targeted interventions so students are successful on the STAAR and more important, prepared for the future.
Finally, BCISD has a long history of outstanding volunteers who have provided hands-on assistance at our schools. The Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) program was started in 2018 to formalize volunteer opportunities across the district. The VIPS objective is to impact student achievement in a positive way, whether directly or indirectly.
Our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds. They may be members of a group that has adopted a school; grandparents of children in school; or individuals who want to give back to the community. Volunteers can read to students, tutor in a particular subject area, work in the library, or assist with special events. There is almost no end to opportunities in VIPS. The process to volunteer is as simple as completing a background check and letting us know how you want to help. A link to the volunteer application can be found at burnetcisd.net under the Community tab.