School board talks legislative priorities for next year’s state legislature

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The Lewisville ISD Board of Trustees met for lunch Monday May 21 to hammer out their lobbying priorities for the next state legislative session, which will meet next year after the 2018 midterm elections.

The board’s agenda was split into short term and long term goals. In the short term, they want to limit the number of unfunded mandates passed onto them by the state, shift the emphasis on standardized year-end tests to college readiness and increase the transparency of school facilities — including non-public schools that may receive public facility money or be located in outdated public school facilities. Over the course of the meeting, the board drew connections between these immediate goals and their long-term objectives of better financial standing, a shift in state accountability practices and getting the legislature to step back from school choice initiatives that would send public money to private and charter schools.

Superintendent Kevin Rogers said it was important to keep the message narrow.

“The longer the list is, the more the list gets watered down,” he said. “We’ve got to be strategic that we can’t pick everything.”

The board also discussed coordinating with other area school districts to build an “echo chamber” with which to send a clear, unified message to representatives. Board member Tracy Scott Miller was focused on this idea throughout the meeting.

“It’d be good if we could kind of gang up, or align, with Frisco ISD on various messages,” he said.

At the meeting’s start, the team hired to craft the board’s messages to the legislature introduced themselves — Katie O’Brien and Jay Barksdale with Davis Advocates and Colby Nichols with the Underwood law firm.

Nichols described the state of Austin between legislatures, saying that between dealing with Hurricane Harvey and the school finance commission, there hasn’t been much of an interim period. He said responding to fallout from Hurricane Harvey would dominate much of the legislature’s time and energy, and the Texas Education Agency’s corrective action plan for the state special education program could cause its own set of issues.

“Speaking frankly, I don’t think any of the members on either side of the public ed issue are very happy with the way the commission is going,” he said. “One of the things that has come out of that commission is we have to have some sort of diversification of our taxes, because currently we have a one-legged stool when it comes to funding education.”

Discussion leapt across several different topics, including the mentality of long-term and short-term goals and board members’ frustration with getting in touch with elected officials.

The board also vented their frustrations in trying to get a handle on what the legislature will discuss when. At one point, when Miller suggested they do their best to collect a calendar of when certain issues would be discussed, other board members scoffed at the idea of such a calendar remaining accurate.

One topic of note was school safety, which board members cautioned against making into a legislative priority. Questions about keeping schools safe from potential shooters have been swirling for months nationally, and newly elected board member Allison Lassahn noted that it was the most common question she faced on the campaign trail. However, many board members felt that pressuring the state legislature to do something would simply result in the district being mandated to implement metal detectors or expand counseling services without any extra money to do so.

O’Brien said she expected to have a document condensing the board’s legislative agenda within the week.

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