Skip to main content

Seen and Heard at the September 2020 School Board Meeting

Posted Date: 10/05/2020

Seen and Heard at the September 2020 School Board Meeting

September 21, 2020 — At the September 21 Board meeting, several parents gave public comments regarding concerns about the effects of wearing masks, especially with younger children.  Board President Robin Malone requested that Administration look into the concerns and report back to the Board.

Chief Financial Officer Pati Buchenau reported that Amarillo ISD again received a rating of ‘Superior’ on the annual Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) Annual Management Report.  Each year, the Texas Education Agency assigns a rating to every school district in Texas, based on 15 criteria of financial data. 

In his Superintendent’s Report, Doug Loomis highlighted a sample of virtual lessons developed by a group of elementary music teachers, and he provided an update on the District’s COVID response and the first few weeks of school.  Mr. Loomis said he is asking principals to ‘dial back’ programs and activities and focus on the essentials of strengthening in-person learning, virtual learning and the new Canvas learning management system in an effort to make sure students, parents, and teachers have what they need to be successful. “I have every confidence in our teachers,” Loomis said.  “This is a complicated and complex system and we’ve had to implement big changes in a very short period of time.  But we’re committed to finding answers as a team together.”

Mr. Loomis said right now he’s estimating about 80 percent of AISD students overall are engaged in school, either in-person or virtually, with higher numbers at the secondary level.  He added that currently, District enrollment is down about 1,100 students, which could translate to a drop in state revenue of almost $7.9 million if the District is not able to recapture these students. 

Also as part of the Superintendent’s Report, North Heights Alternative School Principal Mark Leach, a North Heights teacher and a student spoke about Crossroads, AISD’s new credit recovery program for 9th and 10th graders that is being piloted this year with students from Tascosa High School.

The Board adopted a 2020 tax rate of $1.1554 per $100 property valuation, compared to last year’s rate of $1.169.  The debt service portion of this year’s tax rate is the same as last year; the portion for maintenance and operations is about 1.5 cents less due to tax rate compression called for in House Bill 3.  However, even though the 2020 tax rate is lower than last year, higher appraisal values in Amarillo will likely cause most homeowners to see an increase in their AISD tax bill.

Trustees approved the first budget amendment of the school year and discussed the District’s general fund reserves. Although the District has $162 million in reserves currently, approximately $89 million is legally designated or committed for various projects such as Chromebook purchases for students in grades 1 – 8 for virtual learning, construction of the new career academy, and carryovers from last spring when schools were closed and planned expenditures didn’t occur.  Mrs. Buchenau said the remaining fund balance amount after these commitments is $73 million, which is just over the required minimum amount of 25 percent of the District’s operating budget.  She added that AISD is applying for and hopes to receive $4 - $7 million from the federal CARES Act money to reimburse COVID-related expenses.

Trustees also approved a plan for how schools will deliver instruction to virtual learners.  The plan, which now must be submitted to the state for approval, was developed by a committee of teachers, principals and instructional support staff and reviewed by site-based decision-making teams at each campus.

Trustees voted to install artificial turf on softball fields and the infields of baseball fields at all four high schools. The Board awarded the project, which is expected to cost $3.3 million, to Hellas Construction.  The turf installation should be complete by February, in time for the 2021 spring baseball/softball season.  The artificial turf will save time and money in field maintenance and will help bring tournaments to Amarillo, providing revenue for AISD.  

The Board acknowledged gifts and donations totaling $15,191.57, given to various schools this month from the Benevity Community Impact Fund, the Amarillo High Volleyball Booster Club and the Amarillo High Basketball Booster Club, the Amarillo VA Healthcare System, the Tascosa High School Excellence Council, the Amarillo Association of Realtors, Woodmenlife Alamosa Chapter 502, Rebecca York and Perry York, and Oliver Saddle Shop.