Montgomery ISD board adopts lower district property tax rate

Trustees also approve firm for professional architectural services, paving way for possible bond election in May 2022

The Montgomery ISD Board of trustees held a regularly scheduled meeting tonight and unanimously adopted a lower district tax rate.

There are two rates that make up a total tax rate for the district, Maintenance and Operation (M&O) and Interest and Sinking (I&S). The M&O tax rate provides funds for general maintenance and operations, like employee salaries and instructional costs. The I&S tax rate provides funds for payments on the debt that finances the district’s facilities.

The new Montgomery tax rates for the 2021-22 fiscal year are $0.8857 (M&O) and $0.3743 (I&S) for a total of $1.26 per $100 property valuation. The previous 2020-21 tax rate before tonight’s decrease was $0.9423 (M&O) and $0.3375 (I&S) for a total of $1.2798. In 2019-20, the district’s total tax rate was $1.3075 and in 2018-2019, the district’s total tax rate was $1.37 per $100 valuation. Over three years, the district’s tax rate has decreased 11 cents per $100 valuation.

It is important to note that taxpayers may still see an overall increase in their property tax bills due to increased property values, which are set each year by the Montgomery County Appraisal District.

“I’m very pleased that we decreased our district tax rate tonight,” Board Vice-President Gary Hammons said. “Providing students with an excellent education while exercising fiscal responsibility should always be our goal.”

Montgomery ISD trustees also approved the district administration’s recommendation to partner with the Texas-based firm Huckabee for professional architectural services. This action is the first of a number of steps toward the district planning for a potential bond election in May 2022.

Last year, Montgomery ISD contracted with a third party to conduct a demographic study of the district. The study projects a significant growth in the number of families moving into the district in the next 10 years.

“Growth isn’t just coming to Montgomery… it’s already here,” Board President Matt Fuller said. “Since the demographic study was completed this summer, our district has already enrolled more students than were projected to enroll in the next two academic years.  We have an obligation to our community to ensure we equip our staff and facilities with the tools and capacity needed to effectively educate students and serve families.”

Over the next several weeks, the district will form a citizens’ bond advisory committee and hold a number of planning meetings in anticipation of a bond election in May 2022. The committee will consist of MISD parents, staff, and business and community members.

If the district decides to pursue a bond, trustees will need to take official action no later than February 18, 2022. The citizens’ bond advisory committee would present recommendations to the Board in January 2022 regarding capital and infrastructure items to include in a bond election.

“Over the last several months, we have taken necessary steps to plan for the future of Montgomery ISD by listening, learning, asking questions and gathering important data needs,” Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison said. “Before moving forward with any bond, we will continue to gather all of the necessary information for our voters to make an informed decision, and we will listen to all voices in our community to develop a plan that invests in the future of our growing district.”

Montgomery ISD trustees adopt balanced budget for fiscal year 2021-22

Board also approves Superintendent’s appointment of district’s next Executive Director of Specialized Learning

Montgomery ISD trustees adopted the district’s 2021-22 Fiscal Year budget during a special board meeting on Tuesday, June 29.

The balanced budget includes $79.5 M in district general fund revenues and $79.3 M in spending for the district’s upcoming fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2021. Throughout the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent Heath Morrison and Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Kris Lynn held a series of town hall meetings and discussions with district staff and stakeholders to solicit feedback from the public and provide updates during the development of the budget.

“The process for developing this budget began as soon as I joined Montgomery ISD as superintendent last summer,” Morrison said. “The board and community made a clear charge to balance the district’s spending and identify the funds necessary to improve employee salaries. This budget accomplishes both.”

Trustees also approved $4.6 M in student nutrition fund spending ($4.7 M in revenues) and $23.6 M in debt service fund spending ($24.1 M in revenues) for FY 2021-22. A school district’s debt service fund pays principal and interest for district debt used for new facilities and facility upgrades.

“This budget reflects the priorities of our community,” Board President Matt Fuller said. “Additionally, the budget was developed throughout the past year in an open process with widespread stakeholder input. The work to balance our district budget has been a group effort that was successful thanks to the many people in our district committed to operating in a more efficient manner.”

The adoption of the FY 2021-22 budget finalizes the raises approved by trustees in a new district compensation plan, which featured $3.8 M in salary and stipend increases across all employee groups. In April, trustees approved an additional 5% raise for teachers and 3% raise for all other employees. This raise was on top an across-the-board 2% raise authorized by the board in October 2020. From the 2020-21 school year to the start of the 2021-22 school year, current Montgomery ISD teachers will have received an approximate 7% total pay increase, or a total of $4,055, with all other employee groups receiving a 5% total raise. A first-year teacher entering Montgomery ISD will now have a starting salary of $54,450. The previous salary for a first-year teacher in Montgomery ISD was $51,000. 

“Developing a school district budget should be a transparent and collaborative process, not one single event,” Board Vice-President Gary Hammons said. “I’m very pleased that we have adopted a balanced budget for the next fiscal year that prioritizes teacher salaries.”

During the meeting, trustees also approved Morrison’s selection of Ms. Cortney Clover as the district’s next Executive Director of Specialized Learning. Clover holds 23 years of experience in public education, with 10 in special education leadership. Before joining Montgomery ISD, Clover served in Little Elm ISD and Brazosport ISD. Clover has extensive knowledge and experience in special education and specialized instruction, having taught in specialized behavior programs, life skills classrooms, reading language arts inclusion, co-teach, & resource.

“Ensuring the educational needs of all students are met should always be a top priority for us as a district,” Trustee Linda Porten said. “I’m excited about the experience, vision and leadership Ms. Clover will bring to our district’s special education programs to ensure all of our learners in Montgomery ISD are thriving.”

Trustees also approved the district’s recommendation to partner with K-12 Insight to conduct stakeholder engagement and satisfaction surveying for key performance indicator monitoring as part of the district’s “Pathway to Premier” strategic plan. K-12 Insight is a comprehensive research-based consulting company with more than 15 years of experience working with school district administrators across the nation. The national K-12 education partner specializes in collaborating with school districts to strengthen relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

Montgomery ISD trustees approve district strategic plan

Montgomery ISD trustees approved a new district strategic plan during their regular monthly board meeting for June. 

The strategic plan, named the “Pathway to Premier”, is the product of a six-month-long districtwide effort to collaborate with all district stakeholders and identify existing district strengths and areas for improvement. The strategic plan focuses on the Board of Trustees’ five district goals and contains measurable key performance indicators in targeted areas. The plan also lists initiatives and strategies the district will use to meet or exceed targets outlined in the key performance indicators. 

The board-approved district goals are: 1) Academic Achievement; 2) School Safety; 3) Finance and Operations; 4: Human Capital; and 5) Communication and Customer Service.

Dr. Heath Morrison, who is entering his second year as the superintendent of Montgomery ISD, emphasized the district’s intense focus on developing the strategic plan through collaboration with the community. 

“My time of entry as superintendent of Montgomery ISD was spent doing a significant amount listening and learning,” Morrison said. “Conversations with hundreds of district stakeholders identified many strengths we have as a district, but also opportunities to improve. It was a priority for us to ensure the development of the strategic plan authentically represented all voices in our community. Hundreds of voices were involved in this process.”

To develop the strategic plan, the district formed a large task force consisting of five committees, each focused on one of the goals. The task force committees were comprised of district leadership, principals, teachers, counselors, parents, students and community members. The task force committees spent several months examining district functions and developing key performance indicators and district initiatives and strategies to be included in the final strategic plan. The district also issued a communitywide survey and held three town hall meetings during the strategic plan development process to gather public input. 

“As a Board, our vision for the district is clear: We want Montgomery ISD to be the Premier School District in the state of Texas,” Board President Matt Fuller said. “We are excited about the direction of our district with this strategic plan as our guiding document. I would like to thank all staff, parents and community members who participated in this process.”

In total, the strategic plan consists of 66 key performance indicators addressing various areas within the five district goals. The task forces identified 121 initiatives and strategies during the development of the plan. Increasing and enhancing Career and Technical Education opportunities is a district initiative under district goal one.

“This strategic plan is comprehensive, starting with ensuring strong academic programs are in place for our youngest learners all the way up to our students ready to take on college, career or military opportunities,” Trustee Shawn Denison said. “I’m especially excited about the increased focus on expanding CTE options and programs for our secondary students.”

Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, the Board of Trustees will receive monthly updates from task force leaders and department directors regarding the district’s progress in various areas of the strategic plan.

“With the strategic plan, our board and community will have a clear understanding of where the district is excelling and where there are growth opportunities,” Trustee Linda Porten said. “This not only brings about greater transparency into district functions, but it also provides guidance on academic, operational and financial aspects of district decision-making.”

Morrison emphasized the district’s desire for the strategic plan to reflect the values, wishes, and desires of the entire Montgomery community. 

“Our Board of Trustees and community expect consistent greatness from Montgomery ISD, and our students deserve nothing less.” Morrison said. “We are a very good school district. However, we cannot let ‘good’ be the enemy of ‘great’. This strategic plan truly serves as our pathway to being the premier school district in Texas.”

The Pathway to Premier can be read here.

MISD Board of Trustees Certifies May 1 Election Results

The official results of the May 1, 2021 Montgomery ISD Board of Trustees election were certified during a special board meeting on Tuesday, May 11.

The official election results are as follows:

Position #4

Trey Kirby (incumbent)

            TOTAL: 568

Christina Sato

            TOTAL: 351

Jay Grimes

            TOTAL: 243

Position #5

Linda Porten (incumbent)

            TOTAL: 854

A special message from Board President Matt Fuller

Dear Montgomery ISD Community,

I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you the direction Montgomery ISD is taking as it relates to Governor Abbott’s recent announcement regarding the required use of face masks or coverings. During our March Regular Board of Trustees meeting this evening, the board adopted a Resolution that maintains the district’s current health protocols through the end of this school year. The Resolution also authorizes the Superintendent to make masks optional beginning May 31, 2021, pending future state law or regulations allow for this to occur. While each of us on the board has our own strong opinions on this issue, I’m thankful that we addressed it respectfully. We all agree that providing our students with an excellent in-person educational experience by keeping schools open and limiting the number of required COVID-19 close contact quarantines must remain our top priority. 

It was just over a year ago when our district shut down, for what we thought would be a brief period. Instead, like so many districts across our state and nation, our students never returned to school after Spring Break in March 2020. Our board takes great pride in the fact that our district has been a leader in trying to balance various state regulations while attempting to return to a sense of normalcy for our students and families. We were among the first districts in the nation to return for in-person instruction in August 2020, and we have not required our pre-K through 3rd-grade students to wear masks, as many other districts have done. Additionally, we are all proud and appreciative that our number of students choosing in-person learning as their preferred method of instruction has grown to 94%. Across the state, the average number of students choosing in-person learning is still less than 60%. This is a testament to the resilience and grit of the Montgomery community, especially our teachers and campus staff who have tried their best to make 2020 and 2021 as normal as possible for our students. Our students have inspired me and others with their determination and kindness even though they have seen traditions upended and have dealt with tremendous amounts of stress and loss in some of the most formative years of their youth.

Continuing with our current health protocols, which follow the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) guidelines and requires all staff and students in grades 4 to 12 to wear masks or facial coverings was not an easy decision. It’s important to note that Governor Abbott’s recent executive order, which lifted the statewide mask mandate for Texas’s bars, restaurants, and businesses on March 10, delegated mask requirements for public school districts to be determined by TEA. Following the Governor’s order, TEA directed school districts to continue operating with existing mask requirements in place. However, TEA did allow local school districts to consider lifting the mask mandate through an official action of the board of trustees. The Governor and TEA called for school boards to consider the guidance of local health authorities in making this decision. The Montgomery County Health District voiced strong support for continuing with mask protocols for the remainder of this academic year. 

It’s also important to note that, while TEA did allow school boards to consider modifications to mask requirements, it did not make any changes to rules regarding close contact tracing and mandated quarantining when someone on a school campus tests positive for COVID-19. Today, when a student or faculty member tests positive, there are very few individuals having to be quarantined, as everyone in grades 4-12 is required to wear a mask. The rules established by TEA are clear – if all individuals are wearing a mask, close contact rules require only the person who tested positive to be quarantined. Since TEA made no adjustments to its close contact rules, if masks were to become optional, and the person testing positive for COVID-19 was not wearing a mask, all individuals who were within six feet for longer than 15 minutes would have to be quarantined. This is true even if every other individual was wearing a mask, as TEA indicates close contact rules can only be impacted by all parties wearing masks. It is also true that the CDC recently adjusted its close contact protocols to 3 feet of contact. As of yet, TEA has not adjusted its close contact protocols.

By allowing school districts to consider removing mask requirements with existing close contact tracing protocols in place, TEA’s guidance puts school districts in a no-win situation. Districts were never consulted in the implementation of the mask mandate. Asking districts to act now to remove a mandate they had no involvement in forming places local leaders in an unnecessarily contrived situation. Making masks optional without changing close contact rules would lead to a significant increase in the number of students and staff having to be quarantined and would negatively impact our ability to keep schools open and student activities thriving. This, along with guidance from the Montgomery County Health District, is why the overwhelming number of school districts in our region and state are continuing with their current mask-wearing protocols. 

District administration consulted with campus principals, PTO/PTA presidents and student leaders, and issued a staff survey regarding the continued wearing of masks in school and district facilities. The overall consensus across each of these groups was, while everyone looks forward to the day when masks will no longer be required, the district’s focus should remain on keeping schools open for in-person instruction and working to ensure extracurricular activities, sports, and graduation ceremonies can successfully occur through the remainder of this school year.

With this in mind, the board also took action on a resolution authorizing the Superintendent to seek responsible modifications from TEA regarding its close contact procedures. There is agreement among our board that if TEA were to make reasonable changes to close contact requirements regarding individuals within a defined radius wearing masks, we could consider a different approach to masks within our school district. Several board members and I have been in communication with local elected officials and are working with TEA and other agencies to advocate for these changes.

The board was also pleased to hear that the district administration was already developing plans to move further toward a sense of normalcy in our schools by opening up campuses to parents and volunteers and our mentor program. Our superintendent, Dr. Heath Morrison, has been working with principals, PTA/PTO presidents and student leaders to have open graduations and award ceremonies, proms, field days, athletic and extracurricular events, and the return of parents, volunteers and mentors in schools. These are encouraging and welcome next steps to returning to the normal activities we want back in our schools.

I know this decision to continue with current mask protocols until May 31 will disappoint many in our community. Please know that your school board members have spent the last few weeks hearing very passionate, compelling opinions on all aspects of this issue. My fellow board members and I truly value so many individuals sharing their voices. What ultimately drove our actions was the focus on keeping our schools, programs and activities open. We want our school district to be able to finish this school year with as many of the normal end-of-year activities as possible. We will continue to advocate that TEA make sensible modifications to its close contact rules so we are not faced with only being able to consider making masks optional by accepting nonsensical rules which will require significant increases of individuals having to be quarantined. 

Thank you for your understanding and support as we work diligently to finish this school year strong. Keeping schools open and ensuring high-quality in-person learning can occur has been and will remain our focus. Our community, our state and our nation have been through a lot lately. I ask that MISD staff, families and community members continue to support each other and work together as we emerge from the past year with faith, hope and anticipation for the 2021-2022 school year. 

Respectfully,

Matt Fuller

President

MISD Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees Meeting Recap: Feb. 23, 2021

Montgomery ISD Trustees Adopt Board Resolution on COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation

Trustees urge state to prioritize school district employees in next round of vaccine distribution

Montgomery ISD Trustees adopted a Board Resolution during their regular February meeting urging Texas Governor Greg Abbott to prioritize employees of school districts as COVID-19 vaccinations become more widely available statewide.

The Resolution requests that the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP), which is a state-appointed panel of subject matter experts charged with developing vaccine allocation strategies, include school district employees in the definition of “Frontline Workers” for purposes of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility. It also acknowledges the critical role school district personnel across Texas have played to ensure in-person instruction, which has been a state requirement during the 2020-21 school year, could occur during the pandemic. Currently, nearly 95% of Montgomery ISD students have selected in-person instruction as their preferred learning method.

“Since day one of this challenging school year, our teachers and school district staff have been heroes for our students,” Board President Matt Fuller said. “Safely opening schools for traditional in-person learning was a priority for many Montgomery ISD families, and our entire district staff has answered the call-to-action to make this possible. We are asking our state leaders to acknowledge the efforts of school district personnel by providing them the option to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The Resolution states that the district would respect the personal rights of its employees to make their own decision to take the vaccine should it become available to them. Montgomery ISD joins school districts across Texas that have made similar requests to the Governor, either through a letter or official Board action. The full Board Resolution can be read here.

February 1-5, 2021 was School Counseling Week, which is recognized across the nation as a week to celebrate and appreciate the contributions of school counselors.  Montgomery ISD’s school counselors were recognized by trustees for their hard work and dedication to students during this year. Trustees were also shown a video highlighting the work of the district’s school counselors. The video can be viewed here.

“The vital role our counselors play on campuses has been magnified during this unprecedented school year, which has presented many new challenges for students,” Board Trustee Shawn Denison said. “The duties of our school counselors have expanded well beyond the traditional academic guidance role. School counselors also support the social and emotional well-being and development of students. We were excited to recognize them for their dedication to our students.”

During the meeting, trustees also approved a Resolution approving employee compensation during the district’s inclement weather closure from Feb. 16 through Feb. 19.

“Last week was extraordinarily challenging for our families and district staff,” Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison said. “Many of our staff members are still dealing with the aftermath of the inclement weather we experienced in our region. Ensuring they are properly compensated while the district was closed provides at least some peace of mind during this difficult time.”

Morrison applauded district and City of Montgomery personnel who made it possible for Madeley Ranch Elementary School to serve as a warming shelter for local families. He also expressed appreciation for district maintenance staff who worked through the weekend to ensure schools would be ready to open for in-person instruction on Monday, Feb 22.

“Our MISD Police Department staff, Maintenance team and City of Montgomery rose to the occasion last week for our families,” Morrison said. “We were thankful that we could offer the community a warm and safe place to stay at Madeley Ranch Elementary School during the severe weather, and, we were grateful we could safely re-open all schools on Monday. This was a team effort.”