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By Brian Besch
January’s meeting of the LISD School Board was held in Florence Crosby Auditorium on the campus of Creekside Elementary Monday. The venue change allowed for student recognition in the “Parade of Champions” for fall extracurricular activities.
The event honored students and student groups who competed above the district level. Among those introduced were the FFA Public Relations Team for placing fourth in the area competition, as well as the FFA Senior Chapter Conducting team for placing second in area and 24th in state competition. Sophomore Halle Hawkins won three major livestock awards with her swine projects during the State Fair of Texas. Junior Maci Hill advanced to the National History Day contest where her documentary film was featured in an online showcase at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
Members of the Livingston Royal Brigade Marching Band competed in area finals at the UIL Marching Contest and finished as one of the top 10 area bands. LHS Chorale members of the All-Region Choir and those advancing to pre-area choir audition, Mallory Lester and Jeilynn Hagler advanced to the Area-All-State Choir Audition, and Lester was also selected to the TMEA All-State Small School Mixed Choir. Members of the 2021 Region III qualifiers of Lions’ cross country team were introduced, Akira Montgomery was recognized as Academic All-State honorable mention and Wendy Anguiano for Academic All-State first team. The Academic All-State football athletes were recognized, Noah Hargraves, honorable mention; Beckett Long, honorable mention; and Kyle Stanley, second team. The members of the volleyball team were recognized, as Kaylie Bush, Kirbie Evans, Janae Bland, Taryn Orn, Megan Placker, Raylee Gaston, Jenna Hampton, Ava Hartsell, Baylee Yantes, Braylee Garrett, Nevaeh Garner, and Jon’Toyrian McNeal were all Academic All-District.
“The students who were recognized tonight are Livingston ISD, as they are the face of our district,” LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said as he presented the District Annual Performance Report. “We win and we lose with people. The strength of our community and the strength of our school district is relative to the people and those we serve in the school district.”
In a closed session for personnel matters, the board discussed the superintendent’s evaluation. They reconvened to extend Hawkins’ contract through Feb. 28, 2027.
The board passed a consent agenda that included minutes of previous board meetings, financial statements, payment of bills, and authorized the superintendent to implement an extra-duty stipend for spring of 2022. Under action items, the board approved a contract with the Linebarger law firm for an administrative audit of the property value study findings conducted by the comptroller’s office as of Jan. 1, 2019, for the school year of 2019-2020 and Jan. 1, 2020, for the school year 2020-2021. Also approved was a contract with the Linebarger for an administrative appeal audit and any judicial appeal of the property value study findings as conducted by the comptrollers’ office as of Jan. 1, 2021, for the school year 2021-2022 and for each succeeding year’s study. The board terminated the property value study contract with the Purdue Brandon Fielder Collins and Mott, LLP law firm.
The final approval in action items guaranteed a maximum price of $1,565,442 for the concession and restroom project on the Livingston High School campus. The new addition is currently under construction at the Cochran Complex.
The District Annual Performance Report is a booklet that highlights the performance of the district.
“We are one of the largest employers in Polk County, and I am honored to be a part of this district,” Hawkins said when discussing the report. “For our district to stay open and to function in last year’s challenging times was astonishing. We are an institution of student learning, but more importantly, there are a lot of things beyond student learning that we provide our students from a social and emotional standpoint. We strive to make an impact on all of our students, and the evidence of that was seen tonight, as well as in our Annual District Performance Report.
Hawkins mentioned the district’s strength through finances, as they received an “A” rating from www.txschools.gov. He also discussed a drop in tax rate from 2012 to 2021.
“In 2015, the community passed the Tax Ratification Election, which positioned our district into a more healthy financial state. The district continues to receive a very high rating on the FIRST report from the Texas Education Agency, as this year was a perfect score. The board of trustees has always put an emphasis on people in the area of district employees. In June 2014, there were 45 openings in summer and it took five years to overcome the problem, which led to the district seeing the past three years of turnover that compared to the state average. If you compare the salary schedule from 2013 to today, there is an increase of more than $4.2 million. You can clearly see that employee retention is a primary concern. We see both ends of the teacher salary schedule with significant increases. Beginning and our tenured teachers benefited from these strides to increase teacher pay.”
The Campus Eye is a tool the district uses to address bullying in LISD. The obligation of public schools is to ensure there is an ease of reporting, policies, and procedures ensure victims of bullying are cared for and that there are consequences for inappropriate behavior, Hawkins said. Every reporting parent receives documentation of the report, whether the behavior meets the legal definition of bullying, and the actions taken.
The district has received a matching fund grant in the amount of $464,000 that will be used to upgrade cameras, improve communications for on-campus devices, and increase camera memory storage. The district currently has a robust system of cameras, but the addition supplements and upgrades the existing system.
“Last year, our campuses were the safest place students that staff could go during the pandemic,” Hawkins said. “Money was spent on upgrading air conditioning systems and implementing air scrubbers that combat flu germs. The data now apparent shows the mitigation measures in place, and the teamwork of staff, students, and parents was a success.”The website www.txschools.gov showed a 2019 accountability relative performance chart that reflects Livingston ISD as a “B” school, and Hawkins said the district continued to improve, even when the state average was on a downward trajectory.
“We achieve this by working together and focusing on students,” the superintendent said. “The Class of 2022 is the first class that has had an opportunity to follow a path to earn 60 hours of dual-credit college courses paid by the district. We expect there will be students who will have completed two full years toward their college degree and earn their high school diploma at the same time. The board has made courageous decisions to keep focused on district priorities, and this is evident in all their decisions. Last year, steps were made on building improvements by upgrading HVAC, LED lighting, and an energy efficiency program that has resulted in money saved and reallocated toward staff salaries. Sometimes we forget that schools are on a fixed income this school year. We are proud to offer many opportunities to our parents to be involved in the school district. We have Parent-Teacher Organizations (PTO) on every campus, School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), booster clubs, and we have the parent portal — where parents can stay engaged by viewing their student’s attendance, grades, and they have the ability to set alarms that will notify parents in the event of an absence or falling grades. Serving on the district site-based committees allows input into many facets of what our schools look like, but the greatest involvement is the one-on-one work between parents and staff to meet the needs of our students.”