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Pine Tree ISD 2019-20 budget boosts teacher pay, cuts tax rate

Pine Tree ISD teachers, staff members and homeowners should be smiling after trustees approved the district’s 2019-20 budget Monday.

Every teacher in the district will receive at least a $4,000 raise, while every staff member will get at least a $1,500 bump. And the district’s proposed property tax rate is set to decrease, providing relief to homeowners.

Superintendent Steve Clugston said the district had planned to give teachers and staff raises before a bill recently passed by the Legislature mandated it. Those raises would have put the district in a deficit.

However, House Bill 3 boosts funding to public schools and states portion of those funds must be used on staff raises.

The total revenue of the 2019-2020 budget is $50.68 million, while budget expenditures total $50.05 million. That’s about an $11 million increase from the budget passed in June 2018, which had revenues of $38.38 million and expenditures of $39.11 million.

Assistant Superintendent Salena Jackson said the budget includes $1.9 million for teacher and staff salaries.

Pine Tree will receive $6,160 per student based on average daily attendance, she said. That is an increase from 2018-2019, which was $5,140 per student.

The district estimated its average daily attendance for 2019-20 at 4,215 students, Jackson said.

“We’ve also got a small, mid-size allotment from House Bill 3 that generates another $700,000 in revenue,” Jackson said. “That’s a new allotment that they wrote in; it’s really based on the size of the district and how many square miles we own.”

HB 3 also provides money for early education, Jackson said. Pine Tree will get another $474,000 it did not receive in previous years. Those funds will be used to help pay for full-day pre-K.

The bill also includes new funding to help students with dyslexia, Jackson said. The district will receive an estimated $94,000 for materials and resources to help those students.

The district’s compensatory education allotment increased to $856,000, Jackson said. She said compensatory education is a set of criteria the Texas Education Association has for defining the number for students at risk for dropping out of school.

“We were already getting this, but they changed the criteria for it,” she said.

HB 3 also awarded funds to districts to help pay for the provisions of Senate Bill 11, the school safety measure. Jackson said Pine Tree received $40,973.

Before approving the budget, Place 5 Trustee Jim Cerrato said he wanted to add Clugston to the $1,500 salary raise list, which the board approved.

“I had taken myself out of the raises purposefully because it’s not about me,” Clugston said. “Until our people are paid better, I think I want to put as much money as we can towards our staff. I thought that was very generous of them and not something they need to do.”

Clugston was hired in 2018 on a three-year contract with a base salary of $175,000.

The district’s proposed property tax rate for 2019-20 is $1.42 per $100 valuation — a decrease from the current rate of $1.52 per $100 valuation. That decrease also is related to HB3.

The new rate, which will not get final approval until August, would mean owners of a home valued at $100,000 would pay about $1,420 per year, which is a cut of about $100.

White Oak ISD nearing end of 2017 bond projects

When White Oak ISD Superintendent Mike Gilbert takes his daily walk around campus when school begins in the fall, the views will be a little different.

The district is set to complete by Aug. 1 the last of construction projects funded by a $19 million bond package passed in 2017. Voters approved the 2017 bond after a similar one three years earlier failed.

“We had a bond issue in 2014, and it was to build a new high school, new field house and do some other smaller work; it was soundly defeated (by) two-to-one on the vote,” Gilbert said. “At the end of that, we realized that’s not something that the committee is going to support, so we went back and took three years and kind of redeveloped a plan.”

Three years later, the new bond package passed at the same margin by which the 2014 bond was defeated.

“It was about roofs. It was about air conditioning systems. It was about creating a new (exterior for the primary/intermediate campus) that would last a long time,” he said. “The biggest expense item put together was the science lab. The second largest expense was the roofing, and third on the list was actually the field house, so it didn’t appear like athletics was the main focus because it wasn’t that way.”

The primary/ intermediate campus

Before renovations at the primary and intermediate campus, Gilbert said there were about 2 1/2 inches of building between students and the outside.

Now, there will be about 10 inches of insulation, a reinforced wall, metal siding and double-pane glass windows, Gilbert said. A new paint job also is planned, which he said he hopes does not repeat a past mistake.

“You can see it was blue,” he said. “Anybody that’s been here any length of time knows that this school’s main rival is ... Spring Hill High School — which is blue.”

“I can’t even imagine who was in the meeting where they said, ‘Let’s build our whole building and let’s make it blue,’” Gilbert said. “They took the siding up, and within days they had a paint contractor painting all the siding. We’re not going back to blue siding.”

Middle school

One of the biggest projects funded by the bond was new science labs for grades six through 12, Gilbert said. The labs are designed for an easy transition between lecture and lab learning.

The tables are on wheels, he said.

Two labs are downstairs and one upstairs that hold all middle school science classes. In order to make the rooms large enough, about four or five classrooms were combined.

The labs, completed in October, made a positive impact on the middle school science program, campus Principal Becky Balboa said.

“Prior to our renovations, we had to rent the lab and reserve it for use,” she said. “That’s time constraints ... but now they’re all in one and we have new materials to go along with the science labs. The lab usage has gone way up so the students have been able to be more involved in the lab aspects and the hands-on aspects of science.”

Since some labs are upstairs and others downstairs, Gilbert said building codes required adding an elevator — but it’s so slow that students rarely use it.

The exterior of the middle school building that faces White Oak Road also is getting a fresh coat of paint and new, back-lit signage, Gilbert said. That paint and signage extend to the high school, as well.

“When you read about us online, it’s very impressive,” he said. “When you drive by us, sometimes it might not meet the mental picture that you had, so we’re trying to spruce it up.”

High school

A new science wing also was added at the high school, and it’s the project Gilbert said he is most proud of and is the most beneficial to students.

“We’re reaching sixth-through-12th grade, all students that are in science; they’re given an opportunity to seamlessly transition between lab and classroom time without downtime,” he said.

The labs in the high school are like the ones in the middle school, with desks on rollers and space for lecturing and lab time. The space was used in the 2018-2019 school year, but this summer, the floors are being updated.

“The original plan was we would have just concrete (floors),” Gilbert said. “It wasn’t in the plan for them to look so bad, so we’re doing some experimenting with kind of what you would use on your garage floor with epoxy paint with some little flecks in it.”

The middle and high school science wings also have prep rooms connecting the classrooms, Gilbert said.

The bathrooms in the high school gym also are being completely remodeled, he said, with new flooring, walls and plumbing fixtures.

“What we’re trying to do is a get a whole new fresh look in here — and smell,” Gilbert said.

Students also will have a new schedule option in the fall, Gilbert said. A new culinary arts space is being created by renovating home-making classrooms.

One classroom will have an industrial refrigerator and stove with stainless steel counter tops. Across the hall, there is a traditional classroom area for lecturing and other lessons. In the future, Gilbert said he wants to turn the old sewing lab into a restaurant setting.

Field house

A new field house opened in September to help meet the needs of Roughneck athletes.

The bathrooms on the home side are getting new plumbing fixtures and heating and air conditioning, Gilbert said.

The field house also includes a training facility and a classroom with space for players to watch film — or play video games, Gilbert said in reference to three student athletes who were sitting with controllers in hand after a workout.

The locker rooms and offices also were renovated, he said. The structure was completed in September and is more than 10,000 square feet, which is an addition of about 4,000 square feet.

“This facility right here met a huge need,” he said. “You can get by with a lot of things, but we’ve had a lot of success here. ... At some point you don’t want (athletes) to have to get by. You don’t want them to have to go to football practice in August, come here, get their clothes on and go home and take a shower. You want to provide better for them than that.”

Other projects

Gilbert said all district buildings also have new roofing and better AC systems.

Stadium Drive, which runs from White Oak road to Center Street through campus, was repaved, he said. The road still needs three speed bumps and two pedestrian cross walks before it is complete.

New fencing around the football stadium with brick columns also is planned, he said.

Overall, Gilbert said the projects are supposed to last up to 20 years, and that helps taxpayers know their dollars are being stretched.

Throughout the process, Gilbert said the district has hosted open house events so people can see the renovations, which mostly garnered positive feedback.

Every building, except the administration building, received some type of renovations, Gilbert said. But the one that brings him the most pride is the high school science wing.

“It was really a goal of mine to increase our ability to provide that for our students,” he said. “When I walk through that high school lab area, I’m very proud of how that turned out.”

Proposed Longview ordinance could result in higher costs of new homes

Longview municipal staff and consultants are proposing ordinances that would require developers to pay fees or donate land for parks and open spaces when they build new homes — a plan that could increase costs to buyers in the city.

Instead of approving the idea Monday, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members chose to delay their decision a month after hearing opposition from a local builders group.

Parks and Recreation Director Scott Caron said the ordinance would result in about a $1,400 fee for each new dwelling unit that is built, if a developer did not choose to donate land.

East Texas Builders Association President Chris Hall quoted a Texas A&M Real Estate Center study that reported about 20,000 Texans are priced out of homeownership with every $1,000 increase in the cost of a home.

“This kills building and homeownership,” Hall said, “and we want to keep building in Longview.”

The A&M Real Estate Center ranks Longview fifth among cities in Texas for average homeownership affordability since 2005 — trailing Odessa, Midland, Abilene and The Woodlands. Tyler ranked 19th in the state.

To become law, the ordinance needs City Council approval. However, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission first must consider whether to recommend the proposed ordinance to the council members.

The Parkland Dedication Ordinance was an idea that originated from the Comprehensive Plan, in which residents said the city needs more parkland, and the creation and development of the city’s Unified Development Code.

The proposed ordinance would require developers to dedicate land for parks, recreation or open space when they build residential developments or new housing in Longview or within the extraterritorial jurisdiction, which extends 3.5 miles beyond the city boundaries.

Instead of land, a developer also could pay fees that would be dedicated to building parkland, Caron said. The fees would only be used on land and improvements in the zone of the city where the development is constructed.

For the past 18 months, the city and outside consultants with Freese and Nichols have worked to update and bring together the city’s code of development ordinances — many that have been on the books since the 1960s, Caron said. Consultants and staff have held public meetings, multiple reviews with stakeholders including utility companies and the East Texas Builders Association.

Staff and consultants worked to determine a fee low enough to ease burdens on developers, Caron said.

Builders support most of the Unified Development Code, but not the Parkland Dedication Ordinance, Hall said.

Before the parks board voted to wait until its July regular meeting, board member Laci McRee asked what would more time give them. Board President David Stanton and member Sherry Krueger replied they would like more time to look at the ordinance before they make a decision.

“All we’re trying to do is keep building affordable,” Hall said.

Government moves migrant kids from Texas station

The U.S. government has removed most of the children from a Border Patrol station in Texas following reports that more than 300 children were detained there, caring for each other with inadequate food, water and sanitation.

Just 30 children remained at the station outside El Paso on Monday, said state Rep. Veronica Escobar after her office was briefed on the situation by an official with Customs and Border Protection.

Attorneys who visited Clint last week said older children were trying to take care of infants and toddlers. They described a 4-year-old with matted hair who had gone without a shower for days, and hungry, inconsolable children struggling to soothe one another.

Some had been locked for three weeks inside the facility, where 15 children were sick with the flu and another 10 were in medical quarantine.

“How is it possible that you both were unaware of the inhumane conditions for children, especially tender-age children at the Clint Station?” asked Escobar in a letter sent Friday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner John Sanders and U.S. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost.

She asked to be informed by the end of this week what steps they’re taking to end “these humanitarian abuses.”

Lawmakers from both parties decried the situation last week.

Border Patrol officials have not responded to questions about the conditions at the Clint facility, but in an emailed statement Monday they said: “Our short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis.”

Although it’s unclear where all the children held at Clint have been moved, Escobar said some were sent to another facility on the north side of El Paso called Border Patrol Station 1. Escobar said it’s a temporary site with roll-out mattresses, showers, medical facilities and air conditioning.

But Clara Long, an attorney who interviewed children at Border Patrol Station 1 last week, said conditions were not necessarily better there.

“One boy I spoke with said his family didn’t get mattresses or blankets for the first two nights, and he and his mom came down with a fever,” said Long, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. “He said there were no toothbrushes, and it was very, very cold.”

Vice President Mike Pence, asked Sunday on “Face the Nation” about the unsafe, unsanitary conditions for the children, said “it’s totally unacceptable,” adding that he hopes Congress will allocate more resources to border security.

Long and a group of lawyers inspected the facilities because they are involved in the Flores settlement, a Clinton-era legal agreement that governs detention conditions for migrant children and families.

The lawyers negotiated access to the facility with officials and say Border Patrol knew the dates of their visit three weeks in advance.

Many children interviewed had arrived alone at the U.S.-Mexico border, but some had been separated from their parents or other adult caregivers including aunts and uncles, the attorneys said.

Government rules call for children to be held by the Border Patrol in their short-term stations for no longer than 72 hours before they are transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services, which houses migrant youth in facilities around the country through its Office of Refugee Resettlement while authorities determine if they can be released to relatives or family friends.

Customs and Border Protection has referred AP’s questions to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which said Monday that 249 children who had been held at Clint would be moved to the agency’s network of shelters and other facilities by Tuesday.

“(Unaccompanied children) are waiting too long in CBP facilities that are not designed to care for children,” ORR spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said.

“These children should now all be in HHS care as of Tuesday.”