By Brian Besch
Monday’s Livingston ISD regular board meeting for August was highlighted by the release of STAAR testing scores and the tax rate. Livingston had a few that need improvement, but outperformed the state average in several areas. District officials are pleased with the improvement seen in LISD over the past decade.
The 2023-2024 tax rate has been set at $0.91864 on $100 valuation, broken down as $0.7575 for maintenance and operations, and $0.16114 for principal and interest on debts. The tax rate will effectively be lowered by nearly 19% and will lower taxes for maintenance and operations on a $225,000 home by approximately $522.
In 2023, the state average went from 47% to 52% in overall progress of STAAR scores. Livingston’s progress on the test was reported Monday.
“When we look at student scores from our district this past year, we know the state considers ‘approaching’ as passing,” Livingston Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said. “Livingston ISD scored higher than the state average by eight points in third-grade math. The LISD scores from fourth-grade and fifth-grade math were also higher than the state average.
“In science, we scored equal to the state average. Third-grade reading, we are higher than the state average. In fourth-grade reading, we are lower than the state, and in fifth-grade reading, we are the same as the state average.”
On the district level, third-eighth grade math scores in algebra were 50. In 2019, that score was 43. Sixth-grade math was higher than the state average, seventh-grade math was lower than the state average, which Hawkins said was the only “blemish,” while eighth-grade math was higher than the state average.
The algebra students excelled and were significantly higher than the state average. A percentage of 39% is the state average. LISD scored 95%. Sixth-grade reading scored higher than average, seventh-grade reading was a few tenths of a point from the state average, and eighth-grade reading was below average.
In social studies, Livingston was below the state by two percentage points. In math, they are higher than the state by six percentage points.
“Ten years ago, we were double digits behind the state average. We ordered a curriculum audit to be brutally honest to address our needs,” Hawkins said. “I submit to you that a lot of work has been done. We dreamed of reaching the level we are today at the state level. I want to emphasize the amount of work by the board in supporting the curriculum audit. The staff, the students, and the parents put in the work. We may be more economically disadvantaged than the state, but we are performing at the state level. We ought to be very encouraged by the impact that we have made in the lives of the students, and not by teaching the context of teaching the test, but in the right way. We know the next curriculum audit is coming, and it will be brutal to get us where we want to be. It is a very challenging situation when 20% of your student body is mobile. Looking back 10 years ago, it was a hard hill to climb to where we are today. I have confidence in our staff and our students. When our curriculum and assessment align and give kids the support they need, they can be successful. We’re not perfect, but that’s where we are headed.”
A public hearing was held for the proposed 2023-2024 budget. Hawkins shared the highlights of the upcoming budget.
“There are no new monies in Texas Public Education, except for the action of the board and 92% of the voters in LISD that passed the tax ratification election in 2015, which gave the district access to golden pennies through the ‘tax swap’ for the district,” Hawkins said. “This funding mechanism allowed the ability to fund the 3% salary increase to the employees of the district. Because the buses were paid off, $495,000 was moved to the transportation function. The budget process begins in November, and it takes us this much time to get to where we are. We are hopeful that the $3.9 billion that is not appropriated in Austin will come back to public schools. Districts need this revenue to offset the inflationary costs that have occurred since the pandemic, and staff needs additional adjustments to combat the same needs as well.”
The next public hearing is on the ESSA — the Every Student Succeeds Act is federal legislation that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. The main purpose of ESSA is to account for student achievement for all K-12 students. It covers federal programs, which were formerly known as “title programs.” The intended use of the funds will go toward items such as campus payroll positions, substitute teachers, software contracts, supplies, increasing student achievement, and increasing the capacity for technology-based learning.
The superintendent said the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech) application approval reflects that Livingston High School is designated as a P-Tech provisional campus, putting the campus “in a whole new class of career technology. This increases the capacity of the district to move toward the vision of college for all, by reaching students who are in the career and technical pathways.”
Hawkins also delivered the report on a lawsuit.
“On April 17, the board directed me, as superintendent, to file a case in an effort to recoup district funds. On Aug. 24, the case was brought before a judge and was ruled in favor of LISD. This case resulted from facility use, but the owed debt was for the operational cost of the facilities. Salaries were paid to custodial and maintenance employees, and these costs were not collected. The judgment is the cost of salaries.”
Currently, student enrollment at LISD is 4,020. New students make up 10.7% of the population, and according to the Texas Education Agency, there is a mobility rate of 19.8%, and 97 homeless students served in the district.
“Since COVID, we have struggled to get an accurate socio-economic percentage of students,” Hawkins said. “Because we are a CEP (Community Eligibility Provision) district, where all of our students are provided free breakfast and lunch, we do not consistently receive college household applications. The district receives funding for dual credit classes and grants like GEAR UP, so it’s very important for us to have an accurate count of our socioeconomic status. The state average is at 50%, but the Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR) for the class of 2022 showed, as a district, that we were 40% more socio-economic disadvantaged in the graduating class than the state.
“When we started with the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) plans and were deciding what we needed to do to help students close the learning gaps, the only historical data used was the data collected from New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. After that crisis, it took five years for students to recover. Based on this data, the state allowed districts to stretch ESSER funds over five years to help with closing the learning gaps. This is the direction we decided to take rather than a three-year plan, so we still have years of student services left to benefit our students.”
Over the past year, LISD buses drove 570,924 miles. A total of 32,034 rides are given each day on average. The daily trip distance is equivalent to driving to New York and back every day. In a year, it’s the same as driving to the moon and back, or 60 times around the world.
Under the consent agenda, the board approved purchases over $50,000, which included a new walk-in freezer at the LISD warehouse for $78,841 from Lyons AC & Heating that will be paid out of the child nutrition fund.
Other action items were the board also nominating candidates by resolution for the Polk County Appraisal District Board to include Dan Ellis, and current board members Pam Pierce, Mike Nettles, Tom Curran, Paul David Evans, and Steve Hullihen. Also approved was the request for proposal from Berry and Clay for a construction manager at risk for the athletic facilities project.
The LISD Board of Trustees meeting opened with student recognition of Livingston High School junior and senior GEAR UP students who took advantage of camp scholarships. The video depicted students sharing camp experiences and appreciation to GEAR UP for the opportunities. Justice Fryar and Jayden Fryar attended the meeting in person and shared the leadership skills gained while attending M3 faith-based camps. GEAR UP, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a seven-year federal grant program provided by the Department of Education designed to increase the number of students who attend college by preparing them from sixth and seventh grade through their first year of college.