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Goodrich ISD approves bonuses, welcomes new member

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Lidia Merino was sworn in as a new board member at Thursday’s regular meeting.  Photo by Brian BeschLidia Merino was sworn in as a new board member at Thursday’s regular meeting. Photo by Brian Besch

By Brian Besch
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The Goodrich ISD school board met Thursday evening to hear a financial report and swear in a new board member.

Business manager Sarah Fulcher gave a finance report, saying that money has been transferred from one district account to another to take advantage of a better rate.

“Our Lone Star Investment right now, the percentage of our interest is .00327 and on our First State Bank it is .00209, so it is way lower,” Fulcher said. “Last month, when we looked at our interest we were earning, we had about $2.8 million in that account, and we only earned $5,927 in interest. In the Lone Star investment, we had $1.9 million and earned $6,241. So, we had (less) money and were earning more interest. So, what we did this week was transferred $1 million from First State Bank into Lone Star Investments, so that the interest rate in our money is smarter. It only takes the click of a button to move it back if interest rates change.”

In maintenance and operations, The roof for the auditorium is scheduled to go on Dec. 28-30. If it has not been completed by that time, work will continue over the weekend to ensure the project is done by the time students and teachers return. Surveillance video cameras have been purchased in the amount of $32,500 for 60 cameras. They are expected to be installed within 30 days. A few busses will be sent over to East Texas Fleet Services for preventative maintenance over the holidays. 

Lidia Merino was sworn in to take over Position 2 on the board. That spot was vacated last month when the board accepted the resignation of Jennifer Pickett.

The board approved a staff incentive bonus of $500 for all employees. The bonus has been approved in the past during Christmas time, according to Goodrich ISD Superintendent Daniel Barton.

“When we look at what we budgeted as far as our revenue, we were going to end up with approximately $150,000 extra, as far as taxes and because of our extra kiddos that we gained this year,” Fulcher said. “For all staff to get the $500 bonus, it would be $26,374.25. That is with taxes and everything; that is our total cost. We would hand it out before we went for Christmas. It is one of the ways we would like to use the extra money.”

There have yet to be applications submitted to fill the role of board member Position 5. That position was vacated in the death of former member Bobby Bridwell.

Goodrich ISD has now set their vision mission and beliefs. The vision is empowering all students to pursue excellence. The mission is to ensure that all students are college, career and military ready citizens of exemplary character. Some of the beliefs include respecting all stakeholders, valuing instructional time, making decisions collaboratively, providing positive affirmation, and maintaining high expectations for all.

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City council appoints new municipal court judge

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Livingston Mayor Judy Cochran presents a certificate of appointment to Dana Williams, the city’s new municipal court judge, after Williams was administered the oath of office. Williams is replacing Shelly Sitton who resigned the position because she will be the county’s new criminal district attorney effective Jan. 1. Photo by  Emily Banks WootenLivingston Mayor Judy Cochran presents a certificate of appointment to Dana Williams, the city’s new municipal court judge, after Williams was administered the oath of office. Williams is replacing Shelly Sitton who resigned the position because she will be the county’s new criminal district attorney effective Jan. 1. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Having formally accepted the resignation of Shelly Sitton as municipal court judge, the Livingston City Council appointed local attorney Dana Williams to serve the remainder of the unexpired term ending May 31, 2023. Sitton was elected criminal district attorney and will take office Jan. 1, precluding her from continuing service as municipal court judge. A certificate of appreciation was presented to Sitton by Mayor Judy Cochran who also presented the certificate of appointment to Williams after City Secretary Ellie Monteaux administered the oath of office to Williams.

Calling it “the city’s gift to the community,” City Manager Bill S. Wiggins praised the city’s staff for another successful Hometown Christmas and lighted parade despite the weather. Wiggins said it was a record, with 205 vendor spaces and almost 600 people in the Jingle Bell Fun run, more than twice the number that’s ever participated previously. He expressed his appreciation to the city staff for their organization and dedication.

Wiggins reported that the latest sales tax report from the state comptroller’s office reflected $396,959.54 for the month of October, a 6% increase over October 2021.

He also updated Council on several current development projects. Clayton Bates is building a new residence at 618 Morrison. The permit is ready to be issued for CP Homes Memory Care at 1864 N. Washington. Work is ongoing at the Highway 190 Apartments at 909 E. Church. Livingston Fitness Center is constructing a new building at 601 W. Church for yoga and pilates classes. Work is also ongoing on the Livingston High School concession stand at 400 FM 350 South. Livingston Pioneer Crossing Apartments at 1101 Dogwood are almost complete. Danny Moseley is constructing new townhomes on Jack Moseley Boulevard. Five additional new residences are being built at The Retreat Living LLC. Work is ongoing at The Vault Venue at 415 N. Washington and John Wells is constructing duplex homes in the 1300 block of South Houston.

Council approved proposed ordinances amending utility rates for water and sewer for master metered residential buildings although rates will not change for single meter residences. The action was necessitated by the rapid growth the city is experiencing, specifically, the volume of new apartment complexes and multi-family residences. Individually-metered homes will continue to be charged $28 per month for the first 2,000 gallons of water and $23 per month for sewer. Master or multi-metered residences will drop to $20 per month per unit for water, whether it is vacant or not, and $20 per month per unit for sewer, again whether it is vacant or not. Previously, city staff had to determine which units were vacant and back that amount out, resulting in lots of extra work. These changes should streamline the process for the city’s utility billing department moving forward.

Council approved the appointment of directors for the Main Street Advisory Board. The directors serve staggered terms and are appointed each December for two-year terms. Those appointed for the 2023-2024 term are Joyce Knierim, Molly Anderson, Kim Brown Jernigan, Whitney Van Hees and Thom Bruning.

Having received three bids, Council approved the selection of Langford Community Management Services out of Liberty Hill to provide grant administration services for the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Program for Regional Mitigation through the Texas General Land Office. Funds from the grant will be used for street repair.

Council approved the plat for the division of Blocks 3 and 16 of the J.C. Feagin Subdivision. Wiggins informed Council that Otto Lyons owns two square lots and wants to split them into four smaller rectangle lots to sell. Council also approved the final plat for the Highway 190 Apartments, a new 64-unit complex being constructed in the 900 block of East Church St.

Although Council entered into an executive session to consult with City Attorney James W. Wright, no action was taken upon return to open session.

The Livingston ISD Creekside Elementary School first and second grade student council leadership team performed several Christmas songs at the beginning of the meeting.

Other business included approval of the minutes of the Nov. 8 meeting and accounts over $500.


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LISD discusses financial audit report; treated to music

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Creekside Elementary first and second grade student council members entertained the board with musical selections. Courtesy photoCreekside Elementary first and second grade student council members entertained the board with musical selections. Courtesy photo

By Brian Besch
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The Livingston ISD Board of Trustees December meeting was highlighted by committee appointments, financial audit reports and a performance by the elementary choir Tuesday.

LISD Board President Bea Ellis appointed members to committees. John Allen Slocomb, Kevin Wooten, and Mandi Pipes will serve on the finance committee. Slocomb, Wooten, and Kevin Grimm will serve on the facilities committee, and Ellis, Scott Paske, and Andrew Boyce will serve on the policy committee. At the conclusion of each committee meeting, a synopsis is to be provided for all board members. Any needed action items will be presented to the board in draft form prior to the monthly meeting.

Eric Carver with Axley and Rode presented the financial audit and offered a clean, unmodified opinion.  

“We do a risk assessment and a statement if fraud exists and there were no findings,” Carver said.

LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said he has worked with multiple accounting firms over 15 years as superintendent. 

“Our district has a $42 million budget, and Axley and Rode, which is one of our local businesses, does an outstanding job of digging very deeply into the finances and every area of the district’s holdings. It’s very advantageous to keep the same firm as the auditor, so there is no learning curve for auditors new to how our district operates. The lead auditor changes each year, but the rest of the auditing team is familiar with the district and is able to give a very thorough and objective look each year.”

 Livingston ISD Director of Student Services, Lana Smith, presented the 2022-2023 district safe and supportive schools survey. Smith reported that the survey is anonymous and positive, given the times in which the district operates.  

“Livingston ISD is in its third year of our campus safety audit, and this survey helps our school safety committee modify or revise the school safety plan.” 

There were 76 questions on the survey with the domains of engagement, safety, and environment. Smith also presented the 2022-2023 district stay survey. This is the second year that the district has sent out a “stay survey” to its employees that gives them the opportunity to give input on why they continue to invest their professional lives in the district. Employees are asked to complete the district climate survey in the spring to collect data used in staffing decisions, as well as the district’s attempts to ensure an improved campus climate.

Hawkins said the fall semester completed five separate district audits for dyslexia, career and technical education, special education, federal grant report auditing, and school safety.  

“We are due a curriculum audit, and it’s recommended that we conduct it in the fall because of the volume of audits we have received, also out of respect to staff that are dealing with a state assessment that has changed and the accountability refresh that is occurring this year.”  

Hawkins also shared an update from Texas Education Agency A-F refresh. The STAAR test has changed, but TEA is known for changing the test due to mandates. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath is attempting to improve upon the assessment system and accountability, which should have a positive impact on students.  

As a result of House Bill 22 that states the commissioner will solicit input statewide from district boards, administrators and 

teachers, Morath will adjust the STAAR test cut scores. The philosophy is that students and staff are resilient, and if he doesn’t raise standards, improvement will not take place. Because House Bill 3 had the school board set goals based on the standards, the test results cannot be compared to last year, which has district goal-setting implications. The college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) will affect goals set by the board in late January 2023. The CCMR component student achievement measures high school graduates’ preparedness for college, the workforce, or the military.  

“Of these components, industry-based certifications are sunsetting, and this will lead to some changes in the course offerings and the way that we function in both the classroom and academic advising offices,” Hawkins said. “TEA has reinstated military designations, which means that will be included in the accountability score as campuses receive credit for those students’ career choices. As you look at the data presented by Commissioner Morath, it is clear that to see that our vision is putting our campus and students in the correct direction. Using the data of students who are in school two years after graduation shows that students who take dual-credit courses and successfully pass the TSIA give strong correlations for future success. The investment that our district has built around the vision now has data to support it. We know that some districts give similar opportunities. Still, the commitment level of what you see in our district makes us a leader in this area that far outpaces what the accountability system can truly accentuate.”

Livingston ISD Director of Personnel Ben Wilroy presented a report on the teacher incentive allotment. The program was created through House Bill 3 in June 2019, but the Texas Legislature is still tweaking the program.  

“Our application was approved in 2021,” Wilroy said. “TEA will notify teachers of their designations of recognized, exemplary, or masters by May 2023. They will also be notified of the allotment. Teachers receiving a “recognized” distinction can receive an allotment of $3,000-$9,000, which are the top 33% of teachers in the state. A teacher receiving an “exemplary” designation by receiving an allotment of $6,000-$18,000 and ranking in the top 20% of the teachers in the state, and a “masters” distinction can receive an allotment in the amount of $12,000-$30,000 and is ranked in the top 5% of the state. This is an outstanding opportunity to reward teachers who show evidence of high performance with student outcomes. We have several teachers on our staff that are being considered for this designation, that TEA will release the final results later in the year. We did have some teachers that retired that would have been eligible for consideration.”

The board passed items on the consent agenda, including minutes from previous meetings, financial statement and payment of bills, property donations, overnight trips, the quarterly investment report, and moving board meetings to Monday evenings.

Under action items, the board approved the financial audit as presented and approved an amended agreement with Lone Spur Solar Energy, pushing their timeline to 2024-2025 and 2025-2026.

The board employed two new staff members, Sarah LeBlanc and Justin Terry, on professional teacher contracts, as they will become part of the staff in January.

The meeting opened with Christmas song performances by Creekside Elementary first and second grade student council members. Area officers of Livingston High School Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) thanked the board for their continued support and gave highlights of their upcoming year.

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Recycling center celebrates successful first year

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RecyclingCenterCelebrates STock

By Kari Miller
County liaison to Polk County Recycling & Beautification

As you know, PCRB is the nonprofit organization that you have partnered with to run the recycling center built and equipped last year; and now also the new satellite collection station recently opened in Onalaska. In just over a year, we have collected almost 100,000 pounds of recyclables, sold about 62,000 pounds, and received almost $4,000 in sales revenue (just over 6 cents per pound), which has covered almost 14% of operational costs. We are about halfway to our next load of cardboard and our first load of plastic. May the market for these materials be booming when we’re ready to sell.

The recycling center on Hwy. 146, at the Citizen Collection Station, is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. This facility takes corrugated cardboard, aluminum cans, steel cans, all single-use plastic household containers, and plastic grocery bags and other film, like shrink wrap. The Citizen Collection Station on Onalaska Loop has a recycling drop-off that is open on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and takes everything the 146 site takes except for steel cans.

It is free to drop off these recyclable materials at both sites, but they will only be accepted if they are clean, since drink and food residue get moldy, stinky, and attract pests; and the materials really should come presorted since most of the sorting now is done by hand by volunteers.

We estimate that up to 4% of Polk County households have utilized our recycling program in the last year. As the population that takes advantage of this service grows, more materials will be coming in. However, the number of regular volunteers at the recycling center hasn’t changed in the last 9-10 months, and without more volunteers, people sorting their own materials may eventually become necessary.

PCRB has one paid employee. He is the operations manager, coordinating all activities at the recycling center and recycling drop-off site, from managing the volunteers to baling and storing to handling the transport of materials and more. A portion of his salary was paid this year by a TCEQ grant that Polk County received via DETCOG, and hopefully TCEQ will approve for that grant to be continued for next year. We, in fact, had an inspection Monday. DETCOG and TCEQ representatives visited with the operations manager and myself at the recycling center, and were very impressed with the facility that the county has provided - in part with grant funds TCEQ has provided - the variety of materials collected, the order and cleanliness within the building, and the reach of our recycling program within its first year.

I have to give the biggest thanks to all of the volunteers that are making this program a success. Without them, PCRB could not provide this service. The operations manager has 14 volunteers that work regularly at the 146 site, either every week or every other week, and six volunteers that help him keep the Onalaska site running. There are several others that volunteer when they can. He can always use more volunteers, and I can personally attest that it can be fun, and very rewarding. PCRB has many other opportunities to volunteer outside of the center, so anyone that has an interest in the organization should visit the website at PCRBTexas.org and sign up.

I also want to thank the PCRB board members and the members of this commissioners court who have been committed to seeing a successful recycling program in Polk County. I believe this first year was very successful and look forward to seeing the organization and the recycling program grow in the years to come. And I invite those that want to participate to reach out.

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holiday Exhibit

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Go to Polk County Memorial Museum for a relaxing break from holiday festivities. Learn about new traditions such as Elf on the Shelf, the origin of the pickle ornament, matching PJs for the family, the history of The Nutcracker and the rising popularity of decorative nutcrackers. The museum has many Christmas movies available for viewing, and a 1,000-piece Santa jigsaw puzzle if that’s your way to relax. Also there is a visual scavenger hunt for the adventurous.  The museum is open Tuesday-Friday and the 2nd and 4th Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We will be closed from Friday, Dec. 23 through Tuesday, Jan. 3, including Saturday, Dec. 24. The museum is located at 514 W. Mill Street in Livingston. There is no charge to visit the museum. Courtesy photo

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