The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

December 13, 2012

Lawmaker, educators discuss top issues facing schools

Staff Reports
Palestine Herald-Press

— State Rep. Byron Cook met with East Texas superintendents from House District 8 to examine policy matters affecting Texas public schools during a special meeting Tuesday at Fairfield High School.

The event provided administrators from Anderson, Freestone, Hill and Navarro counties the opportunity to share their ideas prior to the upcoming Texas 83rd Legislative Session.

“I am thankful to everyone that participated. It was an honor to discuss education with our local leaders,” Cook said. “I look forward to continuing to work closely with our superintendents as we tackle the tough issues facing our public schools during the 2013 Legislative Session.”

At the meeting, superintendents offered their expertise and provided insight related to the unique needs of their school districts. The discussion focused primarily on school finance, state accountability systems, the teacher retirement system, career and technical education and voucher programs.

“I appreciate Representative Cook’s sincere effort to engage local school districts in the legislative process,” Corsicana Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Diane Frost said. “The meeting was a great opportunity for administrators from throughout the area to come together to talk about our common concerns.”

Prior to the meeting with Cook, representatives from Anderson County school districts met Monday at Palestine High School to develop a platform for the legislative session.

The meeting was planned as a result of Anderson County school superintendents and their boards of trustees making a decision to develop a combined list of the top concerns and challenges school districts currently face. The list will be shared with elected officials.         

Palestine Independent School District Superintendent Jason Marshall presented an overview of the current legislative platforms of the Texas Association of School Boards, Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of Community Schools, and the Texas Rural Education Association. In addition, needs specific to individual schools within Anderson County were highlighted.

Ken McCraw, of the Texas Association of Community Schools, was the guest speaker and provided insight into the effect that legislative decisions have on public schools.

McCraw explained that local legislators need to hear from educators and parents whose children attend public schools on how funding cuts along with increased state-mandated testing are making it increasingly difficult for schools to perform.  

 Marvin Thompson, field agent with Region VII Education Service Center and former longtime superintendent for Westwood Independent School District, shared concerns of Education Service Centers throughout the state. Education Service Centers provide many services and supplies to public schools at lower costs than schools can get them without service centers. However, funding to Education Service Centers also has decreased making it difficult for the ESC’s to continue to provide assistance at the same level as in the past.  

 Slocum Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Fred Fulton said better teacher benefits would be helpful.

“There is a great need for better teacher benefits; this would serve as an attraction for youth to make education their first career choice,” Fulton said.

Palestine ISD board member Dana Staples asked McCraw if charter schools have the same accountability requirements as public schools.

 “There are differences for charter schools, and in many ways — charter schools have less accountability than do traditional schools. These requirements vary based on a charter school’s contract with the state,” McCraw told the superintendents.

Cayuga Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Rick Webb asked McCraw if he felt that the Texas Legislature would consider adding a growth component to the state’s accountability system. Recognizing students’ progress would serve as an incentive for students, as well as school districts, Webb said. Rather than students simply passing or failing the test in the current system, school districts would receive a rating based on students’ growth from their previous STAAR assessment.  

McCraw said that he thinks several changes to the current accountability system will be considered due to the many parents and educators who have been sharing the need for change with elected officials in Austin.

 “Sometimes it seems that we are swimming upstream. What can we do?” PISD Board of Trustees President Wade Hobbs asked the group.

McCraw said schools need to tell their stories to legislators — reminding them of their districts and the specific issues facing public schools.  

 Elkhart Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Ray DeSpain agreed.

“This is the most critical time for public education and school districts must make their voices heard,” DeSpain said.

 A consensus was reached among the seven Anderson County school districts on the following five areas in which change is needed most:

• Restore increase finance to school districts

• No vouchers and limit/reduce charter schools

• Accountability changes and testing relief

• Employee benefits

• Increase curriculum flexibility and career/college pathways   

Formal resolutions will be adopted by Anderson County school boards asking for the needs of the students of public schools to be considered in decisions that affect public education in the upcoming Texas 83rd Legislative Session. These resolutions will be shared with legislators in hopes of positive changes for school districts during the 2013 legislative session.

 For more information, go to www.palestineschools.org. Select “Anderson County Public Schools Legislative Planning” under “District Announcements.”