GARLAND — Congregating to collaborate efforts, sixty-two of the eighty Region 10 Superintendents of North Texas, including representatives from Midlothian and Red Oak ISD, were in attendance at the joint press conference held Monday, Jan. 9. The gathering, which took place in Garland, was called in hopes to repeal two legislative priorities and encourage another before the Texas State Legislature reconvenes, Tuesday, Jan. 10.

The priorities discussed included a call to repeal the A-F campus and district grading systems, opposition to vouchers or Education Savings Grants, and an increase in funding for Texas' public schools.

Following an introduction and briefing by Royce City ISD Superintendent Kevin Worthy, Garland ISD Superintendent Rick Lambert issued a public calling for the legislature to "deliberate and do their hard work during" the upcoming session.

“We hope that they will keep in mind the best interest of all students and meet our constitutional requirement from our Texas constitution. It requires the maintenance and efficient operations for free public schools and students in Texas,” Lambert said.

Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams then presented the three legislative priorities that over sixty superintendents agreed to repeal or create.

“No entity can prepare each student like local public educators directed by a board of trustees. We know our challenges. We know our communities and we know our kids' needs," Williams said. "Today we stand here because Texas students matter. During this upcoming legislative session, it is imperative that school districts collaborate for our common cause."

The first of the three priorities discussed was the increase in funding for the Basic Allotment per the WADA [Weighted Average Daily Attendance] for the upcoming biennium.

“One thing you need to understand is that there is an inverse relationship between taxes collected and education contribution from the state. The more local taxes are raised, the fewer education dollars the state has to contribute,” Williams explained. “In 2008, the state share was 48.5 percent and the local share was 51.5 percent. They are estimating for ten years later, the fiscal year of 2017, which the local share will have risen to 58 percent and the state will have dropped to 42 percent.”

According to the Sunnyvale superintendent, increased property values across the state allow it to contribute less to public education.

“It’s estimated that the state will spend $3.5 billion less for this biennium, during the 2015 biennium period. What we are requesting is simple — revenue generated by tax dollars to be returned to local schools. That will be the amount of $275 for this biennium per year, per WADA for all schools in Texas,” Williams said.

Also agreed upon by sixty of the eighty superintendents in Region 10 is the opposition to education savings accounts and vouchers. The savings accounts would give parents a debit card to pay for education expenses for private school tuitions, tutors, and homeschool materials at the expense of public schools.

“Public schools educate 94.5 percent of all Texas children. Removing tax dollars from public schools will only harm the schools that are already underfunded. Vouchers will only cover a portion of the cost that private school tuition is charging,” Williams explained. “Therefore, the only schools that will benefit from vouchers are students from higher income families. Private schools are also not required to participate in the state’s standardized testing program. Furthermore, they are not held to the same accountability standards that public schools are.”

Discussion of the call to repeal the A-F Accountability System took place with the input of many superintendents included.

As previously reported by the WDL, “Much like students receive grades in individual subjects and those are combined for a GPA, the law requires schools and districts to be issued grades based on five different areas of performance or 'domains,' and those five grades must be combined into a single overall rating."

Williams shared that the priority was set to repeal the system in October — months before the A-F accountability grades were released during the second week of January.

“We have for a long time said that the A-F system does not work for all schools. In addition, we do welcome accountability. I want that to be crystal clear as well. School districts, the people standing behind me and their boards want accountability for our schools,” Williams said.

Though they would like a functional accountability system, the group believes that a system cannot be derived 55 percent from the STAAR tests.

“What is wrong with that system is that it’s a one-day assessment, once a year and it’s not the true measure of student learning. The true assessment takes place over multiple occasions throughout the year, not during a one-time measure,” Williams stated. “One of the things we believe is that accountability must be community-based, it can not be a system that is 90 percent driven from state standards. The districts you see behind me are individual school districts. We are known as independent from the standpoint that all of our school districts are different.”

Superintendents are in agreeance that the A-F accountability system is a “vehicle for introducing and implementing the voucher system in Texas.” Williams then expressed his concern that the voucher system could be a way to discredit public education.

“We are also concerned about the timing of it. We felt like the timing of this with the grades being released a week before the legislative session started was an attempt to discredit schools. My response I made to our commissioner over a month ago is that I believe the timing is poor,” Williams said. “The concern we have is saying a school is a ‘D’ or ‘F’ school, it puts a stigma on that school district and it hurts morale. It hurts the morale of teachers and I hate to tell the students that they attend a ‘D’ rated school.”

Many of the districts in attendance raised their hands when asked if they were disappointed or surprised in the way their performance looked after the ratings were released and agreed that the system is a “malicious attempt to vilify publics schools” in the state of Texas.

Superintendent of Terrell ISD, Michael French described the system to be “immoral, unbiblical and bad for everyone.”

“This system is based on getting vouchers in, which we know is not helping poor or minority kids. [...] It’s discriminatory, it stigmatizes and is ostracizes kids that are minorities and poor kids. We are not worthy of the checks we get and the positions we hold if we don’t stand up for that which is immoral. The A-F system is wrong and should be banished,” French said.

Mesquite ISD Superintendent David Vroonland agreed with French, sharing that the STAAR test designed by the state is creating forced distribution, though it wasn’t supposed to and isn’t transparent.

“The other thing that I would like to say, but isn’t really important, is that it’s not the job of the state to maintain our accountability of third and fourth grades, eight, nine and ten-years-old, that’s the jobs of the duly elected school board. The role of the state is to set the standard and ask how we are doing with our graduates,” Vroonland said.

Vroonland shared that Mesquite ISD is made up of 75 percent free and reduced students, but graduated 94 percent of its students with about 60 percent going to college.

"I can’t speak for the career aspects because I don’t know that, but 60 percent of our students should be celebrated, not denigrated by the A-F system," Vroonland stated.

Many of the Region 10 Superintendents have plans to attend the legislative session in Austin as it convenes.

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Kelsey Poynor, @KPoynor_WDL

(469) 517-1454