Local control, school funding legislative concerns for MFISD
During a regular meeting of the Marble Falls Independent School District Board of Trustees on Monday, Sept. 19, Superintendent Chris Allen asked for guidance from the board on several key issues the district plans to submit as priorities to the 88th Texas Legislature.
Legislative priorities are essentially declarations made by independent school districts across the state to advocate for policies that will benefit educators within their districts.
In the past, MFISD has relied on the guidance of the Texas Association of School Administrators and other entities when drafting its priorities.
After several previous state legislatures passed bills directly impacting Texas teachers, Allen opted to bring the priorities in front of the board to see if trustees would be open to a more specific list of issues and grievances.
“I’m bringing this before the board to entertain a discussion to accomplish two things,” Allen said during the meeting. “One is for the board to give me administrative direction on whether they would like me to bring legislative priorities for us to approve in October, or at least review in October and approve in November, and, if so, to give me a little bit of direction on the things (trustees) like and the things (trustees) don’t like.”
One of the biggest issues Allen cited is the Texas Legislature’s handling of local control as it pertains to school districts.
“Local control is important, not just because it’s one of the foundations of what it is to work in Texas schools,” he said. “They are called independent school districts for a reason. I would challenge us to think about the area of things that we still maintain independence and ask yourself if that’s even an appropriate name anymore.”
Local control is a powerful tool in responding to the diverse needs of students within the community, Allen said.
“The state has an unabashed desire to see everyone go to some version of extended school year, year-round school calendar,” he said. “There are some benefits to that educationally. I wouldn’t argue that with anyone.”
However, because Marble Falls’ economy relies on summer travel and tourism and the employment of young people during the summer, year-round school would not suit the needs of MFISD students and the community, illustrating the importance of local control, Allen pointed out.
“We should be the one that makes that decision based on what our community wants, not necessarily what’s going on in Austin, because no two communities are the same,” he said.
Another example Allen used to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of state control of public schools was services for emergent bilinguals, or English language learners.
“Should we be thinking about services for (emergent bilinguals) the same way they do in other parts of the state?” he asked. “We have an increasingly growing (emergent bilingual) population at a bit of an exponential rate. We need to think about education for these people differently than they do in Eanes (ISD) for example, who has an extremely small percentage of emergent bilinguals.”
Eanes is a rich school district in the city of Westlake, a western suburb of Austin.
Board member Gary Boshears agreed with Allen’s opinion of the current trajectory of the Legislature and added that he’d like to see reforms of standardized assessments of students.
“I’ve affectionally referred to the last two legislative sessions as the ‘war on local control.’” he said.
School finance reform also emerged as key issue that Allen and the board would like addressed in the upcoming legislative session. This year alone, the district sent nearly $17 million to the state in recapture funds, which will be distributed to poorer school districts.
The fastest way to decrease the amount of recapture would be to increase the basic allotment of school funding, Allen said.
“It should be offensive to anyone who thinks about the needs of students and not about revenue streams for the state that we’re giving 30 percent of our budget back to the state in the form of recapture when we have 70 percent of our students who are considered low socioeconomic,” he said. “If you just think about the pure math of that, that should be offensive.”
After Allen spoke, board President Kevin Naumann alluded to a future plan to send district representatives to the Texas Capitol to speak about these issues.
“This is a start, but nobody is going to listen to our resolution that we pass next month,” he said. “Maybe the next stop is going down to the Capitol and visiting with some people about championing some things for Marble Falls in the next session.”
Allen fears inaction could have serious consequences if elected officials aren’t held liable for their actions toward educators in the current political climate.
“We need to make sure people are held accountable for the way this profession (teachers) has been treated for at least the last two and a half years,” he said.
The next regular meeting of the MFISD Board of Trustees is at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, in the administration building at 1800 Colt Circle. At the meeting, the board will further discuss legislative priorities while possibly approving a resolution.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
- MFISD accepted a donation of $18,000 from the Marble Falls Athletics Booster Club to renovate weight rooms at the middle and high school campuses. The renovated weight rooms will be used by all students in grades sixth through 12th.
- Assistant Superintendent Jeff Gasaway reviewed a recruitment program the district deployed this summer with the help of Marble Falls resident and local real estate agent Natalie Hoover. Through the program, dozens of new teachers were housed in unoccupied vacation homes while aided in their searches for permanent housing.
- An interlocal agreement between MFISD and the city of Marble Falls was discussed that could pave the way for the city to use school facilities for youth programs such as basketball and volleyball.
- Another agreement between the city and the district was discussed that could lead to the district gaining two school resource officers at a discount rate offered by the city.