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EduLege Tracker 1-9-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 1
January 9, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

It’s been a very good year…

Most public school superintendents across Texas have received pay increases this academic year.

According to an annual survey, almost two-thirds of Texas school districts have awarded their superintendents with a raise this year. On average they received nearly three percent of their base pay, bringing the average salary for a Texas school superintendent to about $146,000-a-year.

That continues a trend of steady increases in pay for superintendents across the state, according to the annual survey from the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators.

The joint survey also shows that superintendents in the fastest growing school districts outside major metropolitan areas of the state received the biggest average increase—about four percent.

Here are other key findings of the annual TASA/TASB survey:

  • The average superintendent salary in Texas for 2017‒2018 is $146,073. There has been a steady increase in base salaries, rising 2.8 percent in 2017‒2018 and 1.9 percent in 2016‒2017.  
  • Superintendents in nonmetropolitan, fast-growing districts experienced the highest average increase (3.9 percent). Superintendents in rural districts, which comprise 40 percent of survey respondents, received a 2.6 percent average pay raise. Major urban districts gave their superintendents a 1.3 percent average pay increase.
  • In districts with fewer than 500 students, the average superintendent salary is $96,119, up from $94,920 last year. These districts account for one-quarter of survey participants. In the largest Texas districts—those with more than 50,000 students—average base pay is $320,532, up from $308,184, a four percent increase.
  • Analyzing superintendent salaries by community type, average base pay in rural districts is $101,227, up from $99,164 last year. Superintendent salaries average $314,366 in major urban districts.

The 2017‒2018 TASA/TASB survey also reveals that Texas superintendents have held the position in their current district for an average of four years, and have seven total years of experience as a superintendent in any district.

Most superintendents (64 percent) have served in only one school district. Of the 94 districts (13 percent) with a new superintendent for 2017‒2018, 69 percent hired a superintendent with no previous experience in the position.

To read more about the TASA/TASB salary survey, click here.

He’s doing okay too…

Carthage High School rolled to its sixth University Interscholastic League State Football Championship in the past 10 years, repeating as the Class 4A, Division I champions, in a 49-21 victory over Kennedale at AT&T Stadium at Arlington, and Coach Scott Surrant is being hailed as “the best thing that could have happened to a lackluster football program.”  

Fans decked-out in “Bulldawg” red declare themselves lucky that Coach Surrant has stayed in Carthage. Though he has received opportunities to coach at larger high schools and at the college level, Coach Surrant has opted to stay in this small East Texas town 150 miles southeast of Dallas.

As he succeeds on the field, Coach Surratt, who's also Carthage’s athletic director, has been nicely rewarded financially, as well. The Carthage school board increased his salary this academic year by $21,400. With a total salary of $154,900, Coach Surratt is paid just a little less than Hank Carter, the highly successful head coach at Lake Travis, where the student body is nearly four times larger and the community’s median family income is six figures. Carthage’s median income is $49,886, a few thousand below the state average.

Coach Surrant’s pay raise also came at a time when the Carthage school district lost $6.9 million after the state funding program primarily supporting rural, oil-dependent school Texas districts expired, forcing hundreds of local districts to take red pens to their budgets.  For example, Carthage was forced to raise local property taxes; slash teacher benefits; pack more students into classrooms and eliminate 32.5 teaching, security, transportation and administrative positions.

Carthage officials defend the increase, arguing that Coach Surrant has, in fact, paid for his own raise by creating a winning football program that has increased ticket sales and earned championship prize money.

Quick, I need the re-write desk…

The Texas Education Agency has been told that it must quickly rewrite its school accountability plan, as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The U.S. Department of Education has directed TEA to make significant changes to how it plans to document student achievement under the new federal law.

For instance, the Department of Education said that Texas’ proposed plan to measure academic achievement should be based on the number of students who demonstrate grade level proficiency on standardized tests, not the number of students who the state considers to be “approaching grade level.”

The department also said the Texas plan waits too long to count the test scores of English Language Learners and refugee students, and can only measure academic success based on Math and Reading tests. TEA had wanted to include student test scores for Science, Social Studies and Writing as well.

Federal officials also said the state’s description for measuring graduation rates left open the possibility that some high schools would not be included in the official count, and that was unacceptable.

They also want more detail on how Texas plans to improve student access to so-called highly qualified teachers.

The overhaul to federal education policy known as the Every Student Succeeds Act was intended to give the individual states greater flexibility to define and measure student achievement and school quality.

But each state accountability plan must still be approved by the Department of Education in order for schools to receive federal funding.

The Department of Education wants to have the Texas plan approved by January 23. The federal ESSA accountability standards will then be applied to all public schools in August.

The membership is set…

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has named Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty, R-Humble, State Representatives Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and Ken King, R-Canadian, along with the Austin school district’s Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson, to serve on the new Texas Commission on Public School Finance.

The 85th Texas Legislature established the commission last year, when legislators were unable to reach agreement on whether to increase state funding for public schools.

The speaker’s appointees will join Governor Greg Abbott’s selection of Scott Brister, Melissa Martin, Elvira Reyna and Todd Williams to serve on the panel. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s appointees are: Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Senators Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and Royce West, D-Dallas, and Pflugerville superintendent Doug Killian. State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich named State Board Member Keven Ellis, R-Lufkin, to the 13-member commission.

Mr. Brister will serve as chair of the commission, which is charged with developing recommendations for the 86th Legislature in 2019 to improve the state’s antiquated public school finance system.

Looking long range…

With the New Year, the steering committee appointed by the State Board of Education to develop long-range improvement in Texas public education will resume its series of community meetings around the state.

The Long-Range Plan for Public Education Steering Committee has two community meetings planned for January in San Antonio and Salado and three for February in Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and Amarillo.

The regional meetings are to gather community input on teacher preparation, recruitment and retention; equity and access to school funding, technology and advanced academic courses; student engagement and empowerment and family engagement and empowerment.

Click here to learn more about the steering committee, and its work, or to register to testify at one of the upcoming meetings.

Half a loaf…

Rushing to pass a massive tax overhaul, before adjourning for the holidays, the U.S. Senate stripped away part of the tax break that Texas Republican Ted Cruz had been pushing to reward families who home-school their children.

Senator Cruz's "Student Opportunity Amendment," which Democrats criticized as "a backdoor assault on the public K-12 education system," fell victim to a budget rule that protected the tax legislation from a Democratic filibuster.

The senator’s proposal to allow families to use tax-advantaged investment accounts for home schooling expenses, was one of three provisions in the $1.5 trillion Republican tax legislation that came under a late parliamentary challenge to ensure that it would pass.

However, it was only a partial defeat for the Texas Republican.

Another part of the Senator Cruz’ amendment, allowing families to use the so-called 529 investment accounts for private and religious schooling was not affected. The full tax subsidy also could still apply in states that define home schooling as private education.

States like Texas, however, do not define home schools as private schools, meaning the tax benefit would not be available for home schoolers here unless there is a change in state law. Look for that issue to arise during the 2019 legislative session.

The Democratic objection to the Cruz amendment was raised by Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, ranking member of the Finance Committee.”

“In the mad dash to provide tax breaks for their billionaire campaign contributors, our Republican colleagues forgot to comply with the rules of the Senate," they said in a joint statement. "Instead of providing tax breaks to the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations, we need to rebuild the disappearing middle class."

Out of two, will one emerge?

Two groups of Lake Travis High School parents—one favoring a Christian-based baccalaureate service as in past years, and the other wanting the ceremony to be more inclusive—have agreed to try and reach a compromise.

In an email to senior parents, the organizers of Project Graduation indicated that they would no longer be responsible for planning the baccalaureate ceremony, because parent groups wanted to have two separate services. One, the email called a “Christian-Only Service.” The other ceremony, the email said, was the “new All Faiths Lake Travis Baccalaureate.”

Reaction on social media was swift—and largely condemning.

“How very sad,” one person wrote on the Lake Travis High School Project Graduation Facebook page. “When they go to work are they going to be split by faith? No more unity in our communities! God bless us one and all.”

“Wow, is about all I can say,” someone wrote on the Lakeway Gripes and Grins Facebook page. “I find that hard to believe in this day and age. I am pretty disgusted.”

Dana May, listed as a parent organizer of the “Christian Only” service, envisions a ceremony that would be similar to those in previous years where a speaker gives a “spiritual message” to the graduates and scriptures are read. It’s a Christian church service, she said, but anyone can atttend.

Michelle Poole, who is listed as one of the organizers of the all-faith ceremony, said students approached her and asked if they could have a baccalaureate ceremony similar to Westlake High School’s, which is expressly all-faith.

Ms. May and Ms. Poole both say that they want to make the two ceremonies into one, but they each have reservations about the other approach.

“I don’t want to homogenize it,” Ms. May said. “When you try to homogenize it to please everyone, then no one gets anything out of it. That’s what I want to avoid.”

“I would hope that we could have one baccalaureate and maybe move a little bit away from just having it be Christian-based,” Ms. Poole said. “It’s baby steps … (but) if I have a friend who is vegetarian and I invite them to my house for dinner and all I serve is meat, what does that say?”

He deserves it…

Speaker Joe Straus was named the Dallas Morning News' Texan of the Year for 2017 for protecting the state during the legislative session from what the newspaper called the "far-right dominance of the Republican Party."

The newspaper says Speaker Straus displayed "uncommon impact" in 2017, by shielding Texas from "some of its worst political impulses."

In its announcement, the Morning News specifically cited Speaker Straus' commitment to blocking House passage of the so-called bathroom bill pushed by Lieutenant Governor Patrick, which targeted transgender students. The Morning News says his actions prevented serious economic damage to Texas and allowed the state to dodge the taint of state-sanctioned discrimination.

Reportedly, when several State Senators tried to meet with him, late in the regular legislative session last May, to offer a new bathroom bill proposal, the Speaker responded: “Don’t bother pulling it out of the envelope. You can tell the Lieutenant Governor that I’m not gonna have the suicide of a single Texan on my conscience.”

The Speaker also stood firm on other controversial issues in 2017, including school vouchers, property tax caps and controls over local ordinance-making authority. He also expressed regret that Legislature went too far with Senate Bill 4, the Patrick-backed proposal to eliminate so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Late last year, Mr. Straus announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018, giving up his Speaker's post after a record-tying 10 years.

EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.