WFISD Launches Community Engagement Project with New Partnership
WFISD Launches Community Engagement Project with New Partnership
Kuhrt: “We want to re-image, re-imagine and rethink what WFISD could be and should be”
Chris Watson, representing an energy partner called 5, explained his company's services to WFISD board members at the March 20 Special Session, held at the Education Center board room at noon.
WFISD administrators are asking the community to join them in re-imagining the District and how to meet the needs of the students it serves.
To help, WFISD is partnering with Engage2Learn, a company that specializes in facilitating communication between educators and their communities. The partnership will launch an extensive project of community meetings, goal setting, strategy formation, and facility discussion. All efforts will be aimed at refocusing WFISD’s efforts to serve students and provide them with the skills they need.
It will begin quickly; stakeholder group forums begin April 3 and 4, and WFISD will host two summits open to the public April 9. A survey will launch April 3 and run through April 20.
“This is a start for us on a community engagement piece,” said WFISD Superintendent Mike Kuhrt to board members in a Tuesday special session. “We want to reimage, reimagine, and rethink what WFISD could be and should be.”
WFISD’s former five-year strategic plan expired, mostly complete, in 2017. Some of its goals continue, Kuhrt said, but it “is time for a new one. This is a new start for us.”
The Perkins-Prothro Foundation is providing the grant funds for the Engage2Learn partnership.
The project includes a survey of community sentiment that will launch April 3 – 20. After forums, summits, and survey, Engage2Learn will help WFISD design a strategy, timeline and action plan to harness community and WFISD energy to provide what the community says it wants for its students.
“We’ll definitely be asking for your input,” said Mr. Kuhrt.
The district will be asking community members to think deep and envision the graduate – with all his or her skills and opportunities – that they long to create and nurture. Community members will be asked to share in the accountability of educating their children by weighing in on their highest hopes for their students and what they are willing to do to help them get where they need to go.
Community members will also be asked to address practical concerns, such as the skills students need now, the learner behavior the District needs to shape, the specific results the community wants to see from its graduates – and how to best address those concerns.
“We will begin with the end in mind,” said Engage 2 Learn consultant Mitzi Clark-Richardson. “What does the community want for our kids?”
The discussion will eventually move to evaluating WFISD facilities as stakeholders decide what buildings, equipment and supplies the District needs -- or doesn’t need -- to do the job.
Electricity contract strategy
WFISD hit a bump in the road in its plan to renew its energy contract by May 1.
Originally, WFISD planned to link up with the Texas Association of School Boards’ energy-buying cooperative to purchase energy through Direct Energy at a previously-agreed-upon strike price. However, when Texas recently closed two coal plants, energy costs soared and the strike price previously considered attainable is no longer a possibility, said WFISD Chief Financial Officer Tim Sherrod.
Currently, WFISD pays $.03831 per kilowatt hour for its energy. That price expires April 30. Direct Energy’s executable price, as of March 21, was a fixed price of $0.04413/kWh.
“Our current price has gone up six points,” said Mr. Sherrod. In real dollars, that hike would cost WFISD an extra $40,000 per year. He told board members that the hike was high enough to warrant getting bids from other companies.
WFISD sought the advice and help of an energy advisory firm, 5, to navigate the choppy waters head. 5 energy consultant Chris Watson attended the board meeting and told board members that his company serves 1,500 clients in the United States and in Mexico, including 100 government entities – many of them school districts.
Mr. Watson had already done a round of bids and presented board members with the top five prices from companies Engie, Reliant, Mp2, Gexa and G1.0.
Board members will need to evaluate the current energy landscape and decide how to bet on the future, he said. Technology advances, battery storage and utility-scale solar projects may drive energy prices down, or regulatory changes and more coal plant closures may drive prices even higher, he said.
The District also has the option to lock in part of its costs while letting part of its costs follow the market, betting that costs will dip. “You’re placing a bet that summer spikes fizzle out,” said Mr. Watson.
“5 will work with WFISD administration to narrow the list of suppliers to the top two and solidify a procurement strategy,” he said.
The District could lock in a favorable price if it was willing to make a contract for 108 months. For example, Reliant energy company offered a 108-month price at the attractive price of $0.03843.
Because WFISD had authorized the TASBY team to look at prices based on no longer than a 35-month period, board member Bob Payton asked Mr. Sherrod to check with TASBY for an apples-to-apples comparison to see if its cooperative could match such an option before buying elsewhere.
Mr. Kuhrt said his “non-gambling self” liked a fixed-price option. A five-year or 60-month agreement could be locked in at $0.03907, which would create a small increase of $11,000 annually for WFISD, he said. That assumes that 60 months from now, WFISD could get a similar or better price on its energy. Board members must decide how low they think energy prices could go.
The biggest risk is regulatory changes that could go against the District, said Mr. Watson. The biggest risk is not having the hottest summer on record.
Bus driver wage increase
Durham School Services Director Brian Gibson told board members that finding enough qualified bus drivers is a problem that he believes can be solved by raising wages.
WFISD offers “more time, more trips and good benefits” to its bus drivers, said Mr. Kuhrt, but WFISD’s hourly wage is $4 per hour lower than neighboring school districts, which hurts recruitment.
With the city’s unemployment rate at an all-time low, Mr. Gibson said he handles only one to two applications per month, hires one out of every 20 who apply, and must often wait 90 days for applicants to move through all the regulations and certifications required by the state for bus drivers nowadays. His turn-over rate is 25 percent a year, “which is pretty good,” he said.
Mr. Sherrod proposed raising bus monitor wages from $9 per hour to $9.50 per hour and raising bus driver pay from $11.40 per hour to $14 per hour. The wage increases will be for all current employees and new hires. The hikes will cost WFISD $198,200, which will be budgeted and paid for in next year’s budget, he said.
AP Capstone Program
Board members are expected to approve the offering of two, state-sanctioned innovative courses that fall outside traditional Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements.
If approved, WFISD would offer the AP Capstone Program, with its courses AP Seminar and AP Research, at Rider High School and Wichita Falls High School.
The AP Seminar class is aimed at honors students in grades 10 and 11. Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, it will count as a 5-point honors course for the Initial Grade Point Average (but will not affect the Class Rank GPA).
The AP Research class will begin the following year, 2019-2020, and is aimed at honors students in grades 11 and 12 who completed the AP Seminar course. It will count as a 5-point honors course for the Initial GPA but will not affect the Class Rank GPA.
The College board has already approved both campuses to offer these courses.
Why add such courses? WFISD Director of Innovation Ward Robers said WFISD offers innovative options for gifted and talented students in elementary grades, but not in high school. While students at Hirschi High School can take on a personal project as part of the IB program, students at Rider and Wichita Falls High School do not have similar accelerated options.
To teach these two courses, selected teachers will require specialized training that will take place in Summer 2018, said Mr. Roberts. Training will be funded through the High School Allotment Travel Budget.
Mr. Sherrod presented financial reports to board members capsulizing five months of district records through January 31, 2018.
As of January last year, the District collected 52.47 percent of projected revenues, as compared to 61.36 percent for 2017-2018. Expenditures for 2016-2017 were 40.41 percent of budget, as compared to 46.05 percent for 2017-2018.
General Fund revenues were 59.95 percent last year, compared to 61.68 percent this year. Expenditures were 39.76 percent last year compared to 41.97 percent this year.
Food Services Fund revenues were 47.61 percent last year, compared to 38.86 percent this year. Expenditures were 40.26 percent last year, compared to 50.06 percent this year.
Debt Service Fund revenues were 79.92 percent last year, compared to 77.41 percent this year. Expenditures were 78.38 percent last year, compared to 79.01 percent this year.
2018 budget amendments
In a 6-0 vote, board members approved Mr. Sherrod’s request for 39 budget amendments.
The amendments ranged from a high of $149,000 for dark fiber network needs to $6 for counselor needs at West Foundation Elementary. One amendment, for $33,100, will finance Fine Arts student competition travel.
Grounds Maintenance Services
Mr. Sherrod asked board members to award RFP #18-10 for Grounds Maintenance Services to low-bidder Perm-O-Green from Wichita Falls. The five-year contract costs $2,150,000 with an option to renew for one additional year.
WFISD pays a current annual rate of $438,000 to Perm-O-Green; the first two years of the proposed Perm-O-Green contract will cost less – at $425,000 – but will rise to $430,000 for the following two years and $440,000 for the last year of the contract. This price includes grounds maintenance services at the new Career Education Center and deletes services to turf fields and campuses that have been sold.
In a 6-0 vote, board members approved the purchase of two student route buses and six student activity buses. The two route buses cost $187,370; the six activity buses cost $760,500.
The buses were purchased through low-bidder Thomas Bus Gulf GP, Inc., a Houston-based company. All buses include air conditioning and (state-required) three-point seat belts.
Greater Wichita Falls Soccer Association Lease and Joint Use Agreement
WFISD will be renewing its lease and Joint Use Agreement for athletic facilities with the Greater Wichita Falls Soccer Association. The five-year renewal is based on the original contract dated August 10, 1993.
The GWFSA will continue to use the premises for holding youth soccer games on the 22.95 acre tract located in the Memorial Stadium Complex.
The agreement has a start date of September 1, 2017 and continues through August 31, 2022.
The District will include a $5 per participant parking fee per season. The fee is designed to raise funds to reseal the parking lot in five years.
Texoma Youth Sports Association Lease and Joint Use Agreement
Mr. Sherrod asked board members to authorize the execution of the Lease and Joint Use Agreement for athletic facilities for the Texoma Youth Sports Association.
The renewal agreement is based on the original contract dated August 21, 2000. The TYSA will continue to use the premises for holding youth baseball games on the 21.21 acre tract located in the Memorial Stadium Complex in Wichita Falls.
The agreement term is five years, beginning Sept. 1, 2017 and ending August 31, 2022.
The contract includes parking fees for all TYSA organizations based on a per participant fee schedule.
Sunrise Optimist Club Lease and Joint Use Agreement for Athletic Facilities
Mr. Sherrod asked board members to authorize the execution of the Lease and Joint Use Agreement for athletic facilities for the Sunrise Optimist Club.
The renewal agreement is based on the original contract dated June 20, 2005. The Optimists will continue to use the premises for conducting its youth softball program on its 23.12-acre tract, located in the Memorial Stadium Complex in Wichita Falls.
The contract includes parking fees implemented for all Optimists based on a per-participant fee schedule.
Waiver Applications approved
In a 6-0 vote, board members approved an administration request to submit a waiver application for a Low-Attendance Day to the Texas Education Agency.
If a day’s attendance varies 10 percent or more, the state allows a district to submit a waiver request to have the specific day excluded from ADA and FSP funding calculations.
On January 29, 2018, plumbing issues at Fowler Elementary caused the administration to give parents a choice to send their child to school, where the water had been turned off, or to keep their child at home. Administrators offered parents a choice to minimize inconvenience to parents. The choice caused a precipitous drop in attendance. Only 14.18 percent of students attended school that day, compared with 97.4 percent on the same day one year ago.
On the following day, with plumbing issues still taking center stage, Fowler canceled school for health reasons.
Although the District built 1,220 additional minutes into its calendar, WFISD used 880 of those minutes when all campuses were closed for inclement weather on Feb. 21, 2018 and again on Feb. 22, 2018. Therefore, there were not enough additional minutes built into the board-approved calendar to make up for the missed day on Jan. 30, 2018.
Board members approved the second waiver request in a 6-0 vote.
Voluntary transfer students provide own transportation
Board members reviewed and are expected to approve a policy that will shift the responsibility for transportation to school to all students with voluntary transfers.
In the past, WFISD has shouldered the burden of transportation for students who chose a campus outside their attendance zone. Now, WFISD will provide transportation to and from school only for students attending Kirby Middle School and Hirschi High School who participate in the International Baccalaureate magnet program.
The process for appeal will also change. In the past, a parent could appeal to a committee. If this policy is approved, appeals will be made only by written petition to the school board.
A Human Resources report by Cyndy Kohl showed 17 professional retirements, 2 clerical retirements, 12 professional resignations and 6 clerical resignations. The applicant pool contained one new hire with 17 years experience, brought in for the 2018-2019 school year.