The Sealy ISD Board of Trustees discussed the local optional homestead exemption, and criteria to continue online learning during its regular meeting last Wednesday in the Sealy ISD administration building.
Chief Financial Officer Lisa Svoboda was first on the agenda and began the discussion on the 20% local homestead exemption given to local taxpayers in addition to the mandatory $25,000 homestead exemption given across the state. The homestead exemption decreases the taxable values on a given property.
Svoboda said in its current form, the local homestead exemption was enacted by the Sealy ISD Board of Trustees in 2004. However, since the recent passing of House Bill 3 which calls for mandatory tax rate compression, Svoboda said it is no longer sustainable to offer such a high homestead exemption while also being forced to compress its tax rates.
“We need to find a balance so that we can continue to offer the services we offer to our students, so that we can continue to pay our staff the way we need to pay our staff in order to retain and attract good talent and also to be friendly to our taxpayers,” Svoboda said.
In comparison to other school districts in the area, only Cy-Fair ISD offers a 20% local homestead exemption but Svoboda said they make up for it with the growth they’ve seen in the area. She added Brazos ISD offers a 5% local homestead exemption and Royal ISD offers 1% but “Bellville, Columbus, Katy, Waller and most districts in the state of Texas offer nothing,” Svoboda said.
Also compared to other smaller school districts, Svoboda said Sealy ISD is the only one offering programs such as dual-language and engineering which are usually only seen in larger districts like Cy-Fair.
“We know we desire to continue offering the things we offer but we also know that we want to be friendly to taxpayers so we need to find a balance,” she said. “The challenge then is to figure out what we want to do with revenue, expenditures and how do we essentially want to make sure our financial health is good so that we can grow and be ready for the growth as it comes in.”
Svoboda said a final decision on offering the local homestead exemption will have to be made by the end of this calendar year although the district wouldn’t see the financial benefits until the 2021-2022 school year.
Assistant Superintendent Chris Summers took over the agenda next with updated numbers on enrollment for in-person and virtual learners where out of the 2,812 total students in Sealy ISD, 2,506 of them are learning face-to-face and 306 of them are learning virtually. Those were increases from the data provided at the beginning of the school year on Aug. 23, where out of 2,754 total students, 2,023 were in-person and 731 were remote.
However, Summers said the virtual numbers could see another change if remote learners continue to fall behind, widening the learning gap already experienced.
“We do have a significant percent of our remote students who are not engaged,” Summers said. “It’s not all students, we definitely don’t want to broad brush all of our students; we have some remote learners who are doing fantastic but we do have a significant number that are in danger of not passing at the elementary level and secondary level.”
In response to that, certain criteria were created to keep students on track and passing. Summers added that the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, Mike Morath, came out and said districts don’t have the right to determine who is eligible and who is ineligible to learn remotely but if it does come to that point, Sealy is prepared.
“We’re not saying that starting tomorrow we’re going to revoke people from remote learning but we want to be in the position that should the commissioner change his mind or enough districts say … we’re going to do this because we want what’s best for the kids, we just want to be in the right position,” Summers said.
The criteria states that in order to remain learning remotely, students will have to maintain a daily attendance rate of 97%, the same that is expected of in-person learners, complete all assignments each week through Google Classroom and maintain a passing grade for each class.
“The attendance piece, the completing the work and having a passing grade, we feel those are the three biggest things we’re struggling with in remote right now,” Summers said. “We hope that just having that criteria in place will help motivate students and hold them a little more accountable.”
Summers was also joined by campus principals in presenting their campus’ improvement plan revolving around the board goals.
Sarah Johnson from Sealy Elementary School focused on goal one, a diploma from Sealy ISD means that students are prepared for what comes next and Maggie B. Selman Elementary School Principal Scott Wagoner’s update was in accordance with goal two, a good team of educators can change the world. Matt Withrow from Sealy Junior High School had a campus improvement plan based on goal three, educating students is a community effort, and Megan Oliver of Sealy High School presented the plan in accordance with goal four, a safe environment is key to social, emotional and academic success.
All campus improvement plans can be found on the Sealy ISD website under the about us tab.
In other action, the board of trustees also: