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San Jacinto County News - Breakout

Shepherd hires band director

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Michelle DurdenMichelle Durden

Special to the
News-Times

SHEPHERD — Michelle Durden has been hired as the new Director of Bands and Coordinator of Fine Arts for Shepherd ISD.

Durden is a graduate of Sam Houston State University where she received her bachelor’s degree in music cum laude in 2018. 

While at SHSU, Durden was a 4-year member and 3-year visual technician of “The Pride of East Texas” Bearkat Marching Band, as well as a part of the Symphonic Band, Angry Orange Brass Band, and Old Main Brass Choir. Durden joined the Shepherd ISD Staff in 2018.

“I am so excited to have this opportunity,” Durden said. “I plan on leading our growing music program from Pre-K through High School as well as coordinating all of our amazing Fine Arts Programs.

“The Band program is moving up in numbers, quality, and drive for excellence,” she said. “(We) are working on an exciting marching show and we can’t wait to show everyone. Thank you again for this opportunity and I can’t wait to show Shepherd the amazing things the band program has to offer.”

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Good fortunes come to foundation

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Coldspring Oakhurst FoundationSpecial to the News-Times

COLDSPRING — The Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD Education Foundation is enormously pleased to announce it received a donation in the amount of $5,000 from Coldspring Alum Bill McGraw, owner of Quality Home Products in Conroe, on May 17. 

“We are very appreciative of Mr. McGraw for supporting the Coldspring Education Foundation,” said COEF Fundraising Chairperson Dr. Judi Benestante. “The support of COCISD graduates is always welcome and encouraging.”

The COEF is a nonprofit philanthropic organization founded in 2011 by a group of local community members with the goal of providing money for innovative academic programs and materials to benefit COCISD students. Since its inception 11 years ago, the COEF has contributed more than $200,000 to COCISD classrooms and campuses. 

These funds have brought learning experiences to students they may not have experienced otherwise including cutting-edge projects such as VR goggles for virtual field trips and lessons, advanced equipment for culinary arts and graphic design classes, and a book vending machine at James Street Elementary.

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Board approves budget with raises

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Board ApprovesSISD Instructional Coach Patricia Owens was named an Anchor Award winner. Courtesy photo

By Tony Farkas
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SHEPHERD — The Shepherd ISD Board of Managers began the annual budget season by approving a compensation plan at its regular meeting Thursday.

While the board passed a 3 percent raise a couple of months ago, Superintendent Jason Hewitt said the board also approved a plan to supplement acquisition and retention of staff.

According to Assistant Superintendent DeAnna Clavell, employees who return and are employed as of Aug. 31 will receive a September payment; employees who are employed on or before Dec. 31 will receive the January payment and employees who are employed on or before May 31, 2023, will receive the June payment.

Full-time certified teachers and other employees on the teacher or administrative pay scales will receive $4,000. Full-time employees on the paraprofessional and auxiliary pay scales will receive $2,000. Of these total amounts, 25 percent will be paid in a lump sum in September, 25 percent in January 2023, and 50 percent in June 2023.

Half-time teachers will receive $1,500 with 50 percent paid in September, 25 percent in January 2023, and 25 percent in June 2023. Other part-time employees will receive $1,000 with 50 percent September, 25 percent in January 2023 and 25 percent in June 2023. 

Substitute workers who work 50 percent or more of the full student instructional days offered in the fall semester shall receive $500 paid in January. If they work 50 percent or more of the spring semester student days offered, they will receive an additional $500 in June. Substitute workers who do not work full days may add their half days together to equate 50 percent full days.

In addition, the compensation plan includes an increase for bilingual certified teachers who are now eligible to receive an additional $12,500 each year, an increase stipend for certified math and science teachers at the 9-12 grade level to receive $8,000. This package includes the pay raise approved earlier in the year for all staff. 

Hewitt also said the board discussed the future and sustainability of the raises, since grant funds were used for them.

In all, the annual budget for Shepherd ISD is $21 million, and the district has $10 million in its fund balance. Hewitt said that they try to pass a balanced budget each year.

In other business, the board:

approved a hold harmless agreement with the state over average daily attendance;

•accepted bid for rebuilding the primary school parking lot from CCC Blacktopping for $661,500 plus $68,700 for engineering fees;

•approved an agreement with Teachworthy in connection with the district’s Nspire program;

•approved an agreement with Conroe Regional Day School for the Deaf for services;

•approved an agreement with Conroe ISD for drug detection;

•approved an agreement with Harris County Department of Education for services; and

•approved repairs to doors and windows using approximately $350,000 in ESSER funds.

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FFA hands out honors

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COHS senior Hayden Ferguson hugged his mom, Stacey, as he presented her with a rose after hanging up his FFA jacket for the last time at the 2022 Coldspring FFA Banquet. Mary Trimmer PhotoCOHS senior Hayden Ferguson hugged his mom, Stacey, as he presented her with a rose after hanging up his FFA jacket for the last time at the 2022 Coldspring FFA Banquet. Mary Trimmer Photo

Special to the News-Times

COLDSPRING — Coldspring-Oakhurst High School’s 2022 FFA Banquet was a celebration of the year’s accomplishments, a farewell to departing seniors, and the installation of new officers for the 2022-23 school year. 

It was a great evening of fellowship and a fun look back at the 2021-22 school year. As always, it was especially poignant when the seniors hung up their FFA jackets as a symbolic end to their high school years. 

Thanks to Sponsors Beldon Rudloff and Ashlie Taylor, families and community supporters for helping to make the banquet — and this year — special for these hard-working students. 

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Grant request spurs dispute

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SanJacCountySealBy Tony Farkas
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COLDSPRING — The San Jacinto County Commissioners were at odds with County Judge Fritz Faulkner over whether the county could extend grant funds to a private company.

At its regular meeting on May 18, the court received a request from the Lake Waterwheel Property Owners Association, which operates its own water supply for its members, for a grant of $35,256.01 to repair the aging system.

However, County Judge Fritz Faulkner was unsure if that was possible, given that the POA was not technically a non-profit, since its paperwork has not been filed, and the state Constitution banned such donations in Article 3 Section 52.

Most commissioners were of the opinion that if it were legal, it should be done, but Faulkner said that the District Attorney’s Office recommended it not be granted. However, grant administrator Judy Lankford said it was possible to grant the funds.

Faulkner said that while the grant language doesn’t necessarily ban the county from giving those funds to a private company, it still says that all applicable state laws do apply.

Still, the court sought to approve it pending an attorney general’s opinion, since there would be a new District Attorney in the county very soon; an exasperated Faulkner said his children run to their mother if he says no.

“You all have precincts, but I represent everyone in the county,” he said. “I’m all for helping them if they’re a true non-profit.”

Two commissioners were going to pool what they described and “their” money, since each commissioner was allocated a portion of a $1 million grant for such purposes, but Faulkner reminded them that the money belonged to the taxpayers, not the commissioners.

Commissioner Mark Nettuno made the motion, which was seconded by Donnie Marrs, to approve the funds pending legal reviews.

All commissioners voted to approve, but Faulkner remained opposed to the request.

A similar request from the Emerald Estates POA was approved as well, with the same stipulations that I must require a written opinion.

A request Dodge-Oakhurst Water Supply for $40,000 to upgrade a well was approved.

The funds for all projects will come from the American Recovery Plan Act funds.

•approved the canvass of votes for the May 7 constitutional election;

•approved bond renewals for the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office;

•delayed a replat of the Waterwood subdivision near Bay Hill Point over tax questions, but approved one near Whispering Pines Village;

•approved the annual service contract for an HP plat machine;

•denied a request of an employee to purchase salvage items, and instead will just recycle the items;

•approved the purchase of a tilt bed trailer from Big Tex Trailer World for $13,628.49; 

•tabled the purchase of a septic system for the animal shelter building; and

•approve a quote for the lease of 7 vehicles at $37,000 per vehicle through its lease agreement with Enterprise, with Commissioner Laddie McAnnally voting against the measure.

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