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Superintendent Message (May 23, 2016)

Blue Ribbon Task Force and Tier 1 acceptances

May 23, 2016

Dear SAISD Staff,

I want to wish you a good last two weeks of school. It has been energizing for me this year to watch the growing momentum of what we are trying to accomplish together.

Last week, the Board of Trustees added to that momentum when it approved launching a community-based Blue Ribbon Task Force to analyze the District’s capital and operating needs. Fiscal Management is one of our five pillars of excellence. We have bold goals for our District and to achieve them we must consider partnering with our taxpayers to leverage resources and address our most critical needs.

The Texas Supreme Court’s unfavorable school funding ruling earlier this month reinforced for us that, to get equitable funding in this state’s public schools, we need the community because it does not appear we can be successful at the state level.

The 16-member task force met last week for the first time to begin reviewing District priorities for facilities and academic programs. Its work kicked off with a tour of Tafolla Middle School and will include tours of other high-need campuses this month. The group is expected to meet through July, with recommendations expected in early August.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force will consider a voter-approved bond election and/or a tax ratification election (TRE) as potential sources of revenue. A community-funded poll was conducted to gauge support, and the results for both were favorable. Passage of a bond election would provide funding for extensive renovations to aging school buildings. A successful TRE would allow us to increase our maintenance and operations tax rate above $1.04 to fund programmatic needs that enhance student learning.

We have assessed school conditions and prioritized buildings. The Priority 1 category has 13 facilities with infrastructure that is more than 40 years old. That list includes several high schools. While those schools received new career and technical education buildings, their main buildings did not receive upgrades. We will be looking at additional facility needs, as well as technology to ensure that our classrooms are equipped for 21st-century teaching and learning.

Our goal is to ensure every SAISD school and classroom has an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning and that includes having properly functioning air and heat and access to technology so that when our students graduate they have the digital literacy and fluency they will need to thrive in college and beyond.

As you know, we are nearing completion of our last bond program, a $515 million package that voters approved in 2010.  It included major renovations to 22 schools, as well as safety and security upgrades across the District and enhanced career education facilities at all high schools. The overall bond program is on track to come in just under budget and has been financed by a property tax rate that has, through effective financial management, been consistently lower than what was originally projected.

All Bond 2010 projects should be completed by the end of the summer, except for Highlands HS, whose spring 2017 completion date was by design. We intentionally extended construction at that school to allow for a phased-in approach that would minimize disruption to students and staff.

I am grateful to have come into a district where the community is very generous and supportive of our schools, as evidenced by the passage of Bond 2010. The bond did a lot to improve a number of SAISD schools, but even with the bond, we have many needs and buildings that have not been addressed.

I want to wrap up with a couple of highlights. On May 13, Young Women’s Leadership Academy Principal Delia McLerran won a coveted H-E-B Excellence in Education Award, beating out other top middle and high school principals in Texas for a Principal Award in the Secondary Principal category. We are proud to have Mrs. McLerran leading our all-girls school and commend her for her commitment to excellence.

Also, graduation ceremonies begin June 3, and we are looking forward to congratulating all of our graduates. As you know, college attendance, including getting more students into Tier 1 universities, is one of our 5-Year Goals.

I shared some of our Tier 1 acceptance numbers with you in my last message and want to also share that we are seeing an increase in the percentage of students who are being accepted to Tier 1 universities – the top institutions in the nation. Of the students accepted to a college or university this year, the number accepted to a Tier 1 institution increased from 79 to 108. To be clear, our 5-Year Goal is based on the percentage of students who actually attend a Tier 1 university – we won’t know that until down the road – but these numbers are promising.

You will be hearing from me at least one more time before the end of the year, and going forward, I will be talking more about our five pillars of excellence – Academic Excellence, Talent Management, Culture Shift, Stakeholder Engagement and Fiscal Management – and the strategies that we are using to support staff and students to reach our District goals.