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Budget, pre-kindergarten, bullying top issues for school district

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Dec. 31, 2010 at 6:31 a.m.


OTHER BILLS TO WATCHHouse Bill 22: The bill would make school districts collect information about a student's citizenship when the student enrolls.

House Bill 127: The bill would not allow school districts to sell drinks other than water, low-fat milk, non-dairy milk, fruit juices, electrolyte drinks with less than 42 grams of sugar.

House Bill 29: The bill asks that students who are recent immigrants or limited-English speakers not be included in a school's performance rating until the students have been enrolled for at least three years.

House Bill 61: The bill calls for teachers' salaries to be competitive with the national average of $50,000.

Dec. 24: Rep. Geanie Morrison

Dec. 25: Senator Glenn Hegar

Dec. 26: Nonprofits and the arts

Dec. 27: Transportation

Dec. 28: Healthcare

Dec. 29: Business

Dec. 30: Law Enforcement

Dec. 31: Faith

Saturday: Education

Sunday : Immigration

Monday: Environment

Pre-kindergarten could be one program facing changes if the state's budget is as bad as predicted.

"Pre-K is one of those that is potentially impacted by the budget situation depending upon what the legislature does in terms of the finance," said Diane Boyett, district communications specialist.

The district offers a full-day pre-kindergarten, though the state only pays for half. The district makes up the difference with several types of grant funds, which could be impacted depending on how the state budget is sliced. Funding formulas that determine state aid could also be tweaked as the state struggles to deal with a deficit possibly more than $20 billion.

"That is definitely one that we will be watching," Boyett said.

There's at least one bill filed that might help the situation. If Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, has his way, pre-kindergarten could be completely paid for by the state.

"It becomes cheaper to invest in the students at later grades if you've invested early," he said.

The bill would not go into effect until 2014 to give the state's economy time to recover, but the idea is to allow school districts like Victoria's to use those extra funds for local efforts.

"I think in these times, especially now that we're in the middle of a financial crisis. we need to be thinking creatively about how to shift our existing dollars so we can get more out of them," he said.

A similar form of the bill passed last session but was vetoed by the governor, Villarreal said.

Another school issue for this legislative session is bullying. At least eight bullying-related bills have been filed addressing everything from cyber-bullying to bullying at bus stops.

Sen. John Whitmire, D- Houston, pre-filed a bill that would mandate school districts to have a uniform policy to recognize bullying.

"We're going to try to have a state-directed policy with how you deal with it," he said.

The district already has policies addressing bullying behavior, although there's no uniform state code.

Superintendent Bob Moore is uncertain how the issue will pan out because of funding.

"If there's any kind of new requirements, there has to be funding, and I don't think there's going to be funding" he said.

Boyett said it's likely something will get passed on the topic.

"I think it's a sure thing that there will be legislation addressing and creating more uniform responses across the state to bullying," she said.

More immediate concerns for the the district are moving to the state's new standardized test, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, next school year.

If the state's worse financial predictions come true, Moore said the legislature may rethink the way the test is handled.

"I think if the worse case scenario from a financial standpoint came through and there had to be reductions in staff, I think the state's going to have to reexamine - particularly the timeline of implementing the new assessment system," he said. "It's going to take a lot more resources in terms of funding."

Moore and Boyett stressed because of conservative spending and increasing enrollment, the district is better prepared for whatever cuts are ahead.

"Financially, we are actually poised better to handle this financial storm than many of our counterparts in the state," Boyett said.

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