Burns talks finances, safety at State of the District
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Finances and safety were two of the main topics of discussion during the annual Copperas Cove Independent School District’s State of the District Luncheon held Thursday afternoon at the Copperas Cove Civic Center.
Superintendent Dr. Joe Burns addressed the crowd of approximately 300 local community members about the funding challenges facing the district, especially as state funding has decreased and the cost has been shifted to taxpayers.
“Funding and finance is one of those things in Texas that’s kind of like the weather,” Burns said. “If you don’t like it, wait a minute, it’ll change.”
Burns shared that when he started working in public education, the state paid for more than half of the costs of educating a child but now the state’s current share is down to 28 percent.
As these changes and the changes to Impact Aid have occurred, the district had to be “really aggressive” in pursuing alternative funding, such as grants.
“We’re going to make it,” Burns said. “We just have to work on it.”
Burns spoke about the continued loss of Federal Impact Aid, funding determined by the total percentage of students in the district directly connected to an active-duty military service member.
For Copperas Cove, that number should be 35 percent, but has declined as a result of the decreasing number of active-duty soldiers at Fort Hood.
The 2016-2017 school year marked the first year of the Hold Harmless Provision that the district lobbied for, allowing the district three years of transitioning after falling out of their Impact Aid category. That first year, the district earned $12.4 million, although as of the luncheon, they still had not received the full amount, Burns said.
The second year, 2017-2018, the district is scheduled to earn 85 percent of that previous amount, estimated at nearly $9.5 million. In the third year, 2018-2019, the district is scheduled to earn 80 percent of the previous year’s amount, which is estimated to be nearly $7.6 million.
In the first full year after transitioning, which would be the 2019-2020 school year, the district will receive only $385,508.53.
Burns reassured the audience that the district would find a way.
“We’re not bowing our head and we’re not cowing down and we’re not giving up or giving in,” Burns said. “We’ve got a job to do. We’re going to educate kids. We’re not compromise the quality of our programs and we’re certainly not going to compromise what we do for kids. We’ve just got to find a new way to do it.”
That new way will be more efficient, more effective and done with fewer hands, which the district is currently achieving through attrition, Burns said.
Another solution Burns suggested was the likelihood that taxpayers will be asked to continue paying their $1.22 per $100 valuation tax rate, even after the Interest and Sinking debt is paid off in 2025.
By August 2018, the district will have paid off 80 percent of that debt, Burns said. Once the debt is paid off, the taxpayer would qualify for a cut in their property taxes. Burns suggested the possibility of dropping the I&S rate and increasing the Maintenance and Operations rate, which would keep the tax rate the same. Burns assured the audience that this would not be a tax increase.
“With impact aid cuts, you’ve either got to cut expenses or increase revenue,” Burns said. “There’s no way else to do it.”
The Maintenance and Operations tax rate supports the education programs and daily operations of the district, while the Interest and Sinking tax rate pays for taxpayer approved CCISD bonded debts. Compared to surrounding school districts, CCISD is the second lowest, with Gatesville being the lowest at $1.177 and Belton being the highest at $1.60.
District student safety
Burns also shared with the community the ways that the district is keeping its students safe, in light of recent events like the shooting at the Parkland, Fla. high school.
“This is a pretty somber thing, folks, because schools and churches used to be sacred places,” Burns said. “People didn’t go in there with the intent of doing harm.”
There may have been instances of bad behavior, but “never in my lifetime did I believe that we would have to be taking kids out of schools in a body bag,” Burns said.
Burns shared that he had residents ask about what the district does to keep students safe, and explained that while he can’t share everything, the district works with local law enforcement to conduct simulated drills and has a video system that the Copperas Cove Police Department has access to.
The campuses vigilantly and diligently train regularly, Burns said.
“What makes us good is accessibility, but it also makes us very vulnerable,” Burns said. “So know that those campuses in the district work diligently and we are routinely involved in training exercises.”
There are secured entryways at the schools.
“We’re not sitting on our thumbs, hoping that something good happens,” Burns said. “Folks, we’re praying for the best and preparing for the worst.”
Burns also shared demographic data of the student body, calling it a really diverse student population. There are 8,143 students currently enrolled in CCISD schools across 11 campuses. The fastest growing student populations are those who identify as multi-racial and those who identify as Hispanic/Latino. The district’s ESL/bilingual student population totals 350 students total who speak more than 32 languages. This is causing the district to search for certified teachers who speak languages other than English, Burns said.
There are 1,100 students who use Section 504 accommodations and more than 875 students who use Special Education services.
In 2017, the district had a high of 174 homeless student, but that number has dropped to 158, Burns said.
Regarding the 2017 STAAR/STAAR EOC testing, 100 percent of CCISD schools received the Texas Education Agency’s highest rating (Met Standard). All of CCISD schools exceeded TEA’s requirements for Student Achievement, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gaps and for Postsecondary Readiness.
CCISD schools also earned 20 distinction designations, Burns said.
CCISD also started its Early College High School in the 2017-2018 school year, where students were bussed to Central Texas College to take beginner classes for any vocational course of their choosing. There are currently 738 students in Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses at CCHS.
Burns also praised the faculty and staff of CCISD, including Melissa Bryan, the Director of Child Nutrition and Warehouse Services, and Gary Elliott, the Director of Support Services for the Transportation and Maintenance Department. The Child Nutrition Services of CCISD serves at least one million meals per school year plus an additional 200,000 free meals during the summer, while the transportation department transports more than 5,200 students a day on 160 different bus routes, Burns said.
Of the 1,250 staff members, approximately half are teachers, Burns shared.
“Educators are critical to the success of kids. There will never be a computer or a video monitor or a stand-alone that will replace a great teacher,” Burns said. “It’s been said many times that education is the key to success. It is the key that unlocks the door.”
Burns also updated the community on facility upgrades and improvements. Since Fall 2012, CCISD has spent more than $20 million improving, renovating or constructing facilities that are needed in the district, Burns said.
Future and current upgrades and improvements include the campus renovation to the Fairview side of Fairview/Miss Jewell Elementary, the cafeteria expansion at House Creek Elementary, the addition of a turning lane at Williams/Ledger Elementary, the completion of the transportation facility on Summers Rd and the new administration building on Ave F, and the replacement of the artificial turf at Bulldawg Stadium.
Burns also mentioned community partnerships, including those with HEB Plus, Walmart, Adopt a School units from Fort Hood and several other clubs and organizations.
Prior to Burns’ speech, guests were treated to a lunch catered by Giovanni’s and entertainment from the Martin Walker Elementary Honor Choir. The National Anthem was performed by the CCHS Choir Trio. Libby Cain and Zuly Del Valle, from Extraco Banks, presented the Business Partnership Address, sharing details about the Copperas Cove Extraco Banks’ partnership with Crossroads High School. Extraco Banks provided senior portraits for the graduating class of January 2017 as well as paid for their caps and gowns, according to Del Valle.