WISD board makes decisions ahead of 2021-22 school year

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

August 18, 2021

The Whitney Independent School District Board of Trustees met in a regular session Monday, August 9, and considered a number of agenda items ahead of the new school year.

Superintendent John McCullough reviewed the school’s plan to address COVID-19 this year based on updated Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidance, as well as changes made to the student handbook this year.

McCullough said that based on the agency’s updated guidance, the school would not be required to perform contact tracing after a confirmed COVID-19 case in the district. He added that the district was still getting clarification on the matter because the number of close contacts may have to be reported to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

When there is a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 on a Whitney ISD campus, individuals on that campus will receive a notification, but district-wide notifications will not be issued this school year like they were last year.

The superintendent said that if an individual on campus is determined to be a close contact, the staff member or student and their parents will be notified and given the option to quarantine for 10 days if they are not fully vaccinated.

The mandatory quarantine of individuals with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in their household will also not be required this year. McCullough said that it will be encouraged, but not required.

Students who choose to wear masks on campus may do so, and the school will have approximately four tables in each campus cafeteria with plexiglass if a student chooses to be separated from other students during meal times.

The complete plan is available for viewing on the school’s website at http://www.whitney.k12.tx.us.

The superintendent reported that as of the meeting date, the district was still working through how to accommodate remote learning for students who are out of school due to COVID-19.

One of the changes made to the student handbook this year includes the new high school drug testing policy that was approved over the summer. Students who will be parking on campus or participating in extracurricular activities will be subject to random drug testing under the new policy.

Another change is that no visitors will be allowed in the cafeteria this year during breakfast and lunch. The high school will have a designated drop-off area for parents to deliver lunches to the foyer of the school.

The middle school and high school campuses made changes to their late work policies. These include the loss of 10 points per day for late work, and mandatory tutorials after that point. If a student fails to attend tutorials, which will be in the morning for high school and during CATS time for middle schoolers, they will receive a zero in the grade book.

Changes to the handbook related to recently passed legislation include accelerated instruction for students who fail end-of-course exams or STAAR tests and language that allows parents to request that a child repeat a grade level or specific class due to the pandemic-related disruptions last school year.

Breakfast and lunch will be available to students at no cost this year due to a waiver authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The waiver is expected to support access to nutritious meals for students while minimizing potential exposure to COVID-19 by eliminating collection of payments at meal sites and speeding up service of meals. The school will be reimbursed at a set federal rate for each meal served this year.

Adult lunch prices will be $4.25 and breakfast for adults will be $3.25.

Assistant Superintendent Melody Haley presented an overview of the proposed budget and tax rate. The proposed total tax rate is $1.374 per $100 valuation, a decrease from last year’s rate of $1.4432 per $100 valuation. A breakdown of the numbers is printed in the notice in this edition of The Lakelander.

The appraisal roll received from the Hill County Appraisal District was accepted by the board and showed taxable values of $799,468,336, which represents an increase of $57,702,053 from last year.

The district approved the expenditure of American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act funds provided through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III (ESSER III) Fund. McCullough said that some of the funds will be used to purchase new laptops and tablets for students. The total amount of the laptops came to $824,161.50, and the iPad total came to $231,475.

The superintendent said that the purchase will replace every laptop and iPad in the district, and the old ones will be refurbished and used as needed or some may be sold through a buy-back program.

Policy updates related to changes made at the state level were approved, including a revision that allows the superintendent to contract for the repairs necessary for health and safety in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.

The change stemmed from last February’s winter storm, and any action taken would come back before the board at the next meeting. Any work over $50,000 would still be subject to the required bidding process.

Another change relates to the district’s catastrophic sick leave policy, and helps ensure that there are processes in place for approving extended sick leave for employees.

The board also approved changes to the upcoming meeting schedule, with the October 11 board meeting moved to October 18 due to Columbus Day and the March 14 meeting moved to March 7 due to Spring Break.

The board approved an auditor engagement letter with JRBT Certified Public Accountants of Waco to perform the district’s annual audit at a cost of $29,400.

A bid from Parson’s Roofing was approved to perform roof repairs on the district’s maintenance building on South San Jacinto Street.

In other action, Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) property insurance was approved. The premium increased by $10,000 due to February’s winter storm and cybersecurity incidents at districts throughout the state.

The student code of conduct was also approved with no major changes this year, and the annual memorandum of understanding with Hill County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP) for students in that program was approved.

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