From Staff Reports
Tuesday, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) met with local superintendents from Polk County to discuss education issues in preparation for the 88th Legislature, which convenes in January.
“The Legislature faces many challenges this session, and we cannot make good decisions unless we are listening closely to those we represent,” Nichols said. “Education is and always will be one of the most important issues we face as a state.”
Before each legislative session, Nichols meets with each of the school district superintendents in Senate District 3 to hear their priorities and discuss issues facing local education.
“It was an honor to host Senator Nichols on his visit to Polk County,” said Livingston ISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins. “Over the past 15 years that I have been superintendent, the thing that stands out the most to me is that not only does he have a passion for education, but he understands our needs and works hard to listen to us in rural East Texas. I appreciate his openness and passion for the job that he does.”
Senate District 3, which includes almost 100 school districts throughout 18 counties, encompasses the greater part of East Texas and Jefferson County.
“These meetings help me to understand how decisions in Austin impact local schools,” Nichols said. “I appreciate the opportunity to meet with superintendents and discuss how we can continue improving our education system. Our combined goal is to ensure children have the educational tools they need to be successful.”
Nichols is a member of the safety committee that has prepared recommendations from the Senate. The discussion Tuesday included how
funds should be focused on basic needs, such as locks on classrooms and campus doors. Education Service Centers are assisting the Texas Education Agency with campus inspections and resource help. All school districts made improvements over the summer months, but each campus has unique safety issues, creating unique funding issues. Supply chain shortages have challenged districts attempting to improve safety, due to the availability of safety purchases.
Senator Nichols’ Communication Director Shelby Conine shared information about a mental health tool rolling out for districts that offer telehealth assessments. Plans are to offer the program to every district, which helps identify student anxiety and depression.
The discussion also covered teacher retainment and the retirement penalty that districts are required to pay the state when rehiring a retired employee. Some master teachers have expressed an interest in returning to work because of inflation. Current Teacher Retirement System regulations require them to wait a year before returning to work. This requirement and TEA surcharges can be a burden to districts faced with teacher shortages.
Other topics included in the conversations were House Bill 4545, ESSER funding, and school vouchers.