By BRAD LANCASTER
As I complete my first eight weeks on the job as your superintendent of schools, I continue to be amazed by the outpouring of support provided each day to our students, our schools and our district by the Lake Travis community.
What has occurred here in recent years—both in and out of the classroom—is truly remarkable, and quite honestly, has garnered the attention of many school districts across the state.
I was fortunate to witness this firsthand during the recent Texas Association of School Administrators/Texas Association of School Boards Annual Mid-winter Conference last month in downtown Austin. More than 1,000 school districts were represented, many of whose leaders took a moment to congratulate me for having been named as your superintendent.
This only served to further reinforce my previously held conviction that I indeed have the incredible honor and privilege to represent one of the premier school districts in Texas.
In fact, it didn’t take me long to arrive at this realization.
Since beginning my tenure here, I have met personally with each of our school trustees, numerous members of our administrative team, teachers, school staff and even several students to simply introduce myself and become better acquainted with the heartbeat of our school community.
I’ve also had the pleasure of interacting with members of the Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Travis Education Foundation and a number of civic organizations, all of whom have welcomed my family and me with open arms. We could not have dreamed of a warmer reception or better beginning to what we hope is a long and prosperous journey together.
Speaking of new beginnings, spring is right around the corner, and it will bring with it significant issues that your board of trustees, the administration, our teachers and I are prepared to meet head-on.
One of the biggest changes will be the transition from Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, to State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, the new state accountability system.
The test will be more rigorous and will have a greater emphasis on alignment to college and career readiness. Rest assured however, our students will be ready for the challenge.
Academics aside, perhaps the most challenging issue facing progressive districts like ours is student growth.
Thanks to a near-60 percent approval rate and record voter turnout in November, our bond program is in full gear.
More than $158 million will soon be invested in several projects to accommodate both current and projected increases in student enrollment including the expansion of Hudson Bend Middle School, a new Lake Travis Middle School, new elementary school No. 6, the expansion of Lake Travis High School into our current LTMS campus, upgrades for existing facilities and other district-wide improvements.
Additionally, our board recently approved the investment of approximately $2 million in interest earnings from our 2006 bond program for various improvements to our athletic facilities.
Please keep in mind these improvements are separate and apart from the bond program approved this past November. While the construction process proceeds with eagerness and enthusiasm, our community should rest assured that we are committed to completing these projects on time and within budget.
That brings me to the third significant issue, one that simply needs to be fixed. Like all school districts this past year, LTISD sustained a significant cut in state funding as approved by the 82nd Legislature.
For us, those reductions totaled $8 million over the biennium (school years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013). Even with such a drastic cut, it is important to know that through frugal planning and cost-saving measures, LTISD did not eliminate a single staff member or teacher position, and perhaps more importantly, no student programs were eliminated.
As we begin to prepare the 2012-2013 school year budget, district staff and I will continue to operate the district as efficiently and effectively as possible.
However, there is a movement occurring among Texas school districts who are seeking legal course against the current system of school finance. In fact, we believe LTISD’s involvement as a plaintiff in one of those suits may be inevitable. Our board of trustees will be discussing this option at tonight’s board meeting. Whatever the outcome, we can all agree that our current system of school finance is flawed.
For information about school finance issues, our construction program, or the new STAAR, I encourage you to visit our website at www.ltisdschools.org.
I look forward to sharing timely and important issues affecting our school community through this column. I thank the Lake Travis View for the opportunity. Education matters!
Brad Lancaster is superintendent of schools for Lake Travis school district.
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