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“The issue has always been making numbers,” Head Start Director Judie Forté-Huff told the Paris Independent School District trustees Monday. “It’s always been 14, 15, 16 children, and it’s been a struggle out there.”
The conversation came as part of a request to change the registration flyer Head Start has been using for the 2014-2015 school year.
Aaron Parker Elementary School has housed a Head Start class since 1994, but the program has historically had low enrollment, Forté-Huff said. It hit its maximum of 18 in 2007, and there are 17 this year, but the enrollment is normally lower.
While there are families with young children in the area who meet the requirements for pre-kindergarten programs, she said, most are outside federal income guidelines. To qualify for Head Start, a family of four can make no more than $23,850. The limit goes up or down by $4,060 per person depending on the size of the family.
Forté-Huff said North Lamar ISD could start an early childhood class. NLISD owns the space, and Head Start would probably leave the classroom intact. She said North Lamar Superintendent James Dawson asked if students could be bused from Paris to Powderly, but she said that would have young children getting up too early.
“They have some plans they’re not quite ready to discuss in regards to early childhood education,” she said said.
The program in Paris has a waiting list, but Aaron Parker does not, Forté-Huff said. This year started with more than 60 and still has more than 30. Some years, it gets as high as 80. If the move is made, Head Start will continue serving children from all five Lamar County districts, including North Lamar, she said.
“We have children here we can’t serve,” Forté-Huff said. “We have the space. The funding would absolutely come with the children, so we could have funding for teachers.”
“It’s time to give this a try. It fits better with our planning as far as curriculum,” Mark Hudson, deputy superintendent of curriculum and student services, told the PSID school board. “Our elementary folks are excited about it, as are our secondary folks.”
Trustees approved the new 2014-2015 school calendar Monday. The calendar has school starting on Aug. 25 and ending June 5. Students get a week off for Thanksgiving starting Nov .24. Winter break starts Dec. 22 and runs through Jan. 2. Spring break is scheduled for March 16-20.
The school year has traditionally been comprised of six six-week grading periods. The new plan has four nine-week periods. The semester break would still coincide with the winter break.
The numbers were not dramatically changed from what they saw in February. Revenue is now projected at $34.23 million – about $200,000 than estimated last month. That includes $21.57 million in state revenue, $10.55 million from property tax and other local sources and $2.1 million from the federal government.
Teacher raises are expected to cost $266,035 more next year, with aides making $34,574 more. There are other categories to address, including hourly workers and administrators. Superintendent Paul Jones said the district has a pay scale for administrators, but it does not automatically increase like it does for instructors. Other districts in the area do have step increases, and he would like to see if Paris could adopt something similar.
Salaries are the only expenditure point that has been estimated so far, so Business Manager Tish Holleman said there is still a fair amount of “tweaking” to do. Administrators have gone through their existing budgets to correct things that may need to change while keeping the bottom line steady, she said. Another round will come in April to request new funds.
Expenditures are currently estimated at $34.52 million, a $296,000 shortfall. The operations side of the budget actually shows a $58,000 surplus, but the interest and sinking fund – which pays for the district’s debt – shows a deficit of $335,000.
PISD has an “artificially low” I&S tax rate, Holleman said. Ideally, the debt side of the tax rate should raise all the needed funds to make debt payments. Paris ISD uses part of its operating funds to offset the debt costs.
PISD also faces a nearly $300,000 bill from the state for a 1.5-percent charge the Legislature put on school districts to cover a cost of living increase for retired teachers, known as Rider 71. Holleman estimated the state will provide $220,000 toward that, leaving Paris with $100,000 to $150,000, depending on what is done with salaries.
“When I first came, I noted a need for students who couldn’t finish high school because of circumstances beyond their control,” Superintendent Paul Jones said. “It breaks my heart that the only opportunity they would have for a high school diploma was a GED.”
Jones made a presentation about the idea to the PISD school board Monday. He plans to bring a proposal for trustees to vote on next month.
“It’s going to be a great program,” he said. “We are actively recruiting students.”
It’s not an uncommon approach. Texarkana ISD has Options High School and Greenville has a program known as New Horizons.
It should help prevent dropouts, said Mark Hudson, deputy superintendent of curriculum and student services. Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Robert High stressed that the proposed school would not be for discipline. It would be an accelerated learning program designed to let students catch up on credits and graduate in a reasonable amount of time.
“It’s focusing on academics and catching those kids who fall in the cracks,” he said
The alternative high school would be housed at the old Travis campus, which is also the location for Paris Alternative School for Success, PISD’s disciplinary alternative school. PASS would be moved to a couple of classrooms separate from the new alternative high school. The same staff would be used for both, Jones said.
“We have a campus in place, staff in place,” he said. “I don’t think it will have much of a financial impact.”
It would be a half-day program, with freshmen and sophomores part of the day and juniors and seniors the other half. It would use classroom and online courses and partner with Paris Junior College to offer dual credit and vocational classes such as electrician, air conditioning and welding – paid for by PISD.
“This is an actual application process. It’s not like they can just say, ‘I’m going to do this,’” Board Vice-President Dr. Bert Strom said. “They meet with an administrator and set up an individual plan.”
There is a small downside in that such non-traditional students are not eligible to participate in sports or other UIL programs, Jones said. But they generally do not anyway.
Texarkana’s alternative high school serves about 100 students. Jones estimated a Paris school would probably have 30 to 60 students, but could easily handle 100.
“The alternative high school would be open to all Lamar County high school students. We are an open transfer district,” Jones said. “We would work with other school districts if a student wanted to come here and graduate from that high school.”
He was not sure what the alternative high school would be called.
“I like ‘Options’ because it is another option for kids. We may open it up to the students,” he said. “”We want to roll this out as an ideal for Paris students. It’s how we roll it out that will make all the difference.”
In other business:
“Economic development is defined as bringing money to the community,” City Manager John Godwin said at a joint meeting of the City Council and Lamar County Chamber of Commerce’s retail committee Monday. “If it’s the same money going around and around, it’s just circulating, not creating anything.”
Economic development traditionally focuses on industry and manufacturing, but that approach leaves out a major piece of the economic puzzle, he said. About 65 percent of the nation’s economy is retail.
One of the chamber’s main goals is to fill in Paris’ retail “gaps” so that locals will shop here instead of going out of town and people will come here from other cities, chamber Chairman Erik Roddy said.
The chamber committee asked for a meeting with the City Council to discuss ways to promote retail development, particularly something known as 380 agreements. An economic development tool, the agreements are named for the part of Texas law that created them.
Chapter 380 of the Local Government Code lets cities offer incentives for commercial, retail and other projects that promote economic development. The law specifically provides for loans and grants of city funds or services at little or no cost for economic development and to stimulate business and commercial activity.
Retail development in the past talked about demographics at the city, county and regional level, but shoppers don’t think in such terms, Godwin said. Instead, most are concerned with how long it takes to get there and whether it’s worth the trip.
“You can’t draw a circle,” he said. “How long will people go for a donut store? About 10 minutes. How far will people go for a Cabela’s? People will drive three hours for a Cabela’s. How far for a mattress? Probably somewhere in between them.”
Although people often talk about specific stores and restaurants they would like to see, he said it’s important to think bigger.
“For the most part, you want to talk to developers, not individual stores,” he said. “You need to talk to the guy who will build a center or something unique.”
Fairview built $200 million in one million square feet of new retail space in less than three years during Godwin’s tenure as city manager there. That added up to a lot of sales tax revenue, and allowed the town to keep its property tax at 36 cents, which he said is about half the Dallas-area average.
“People from Plano were paying our bills. People from McKinney were paying our bills,” he said. “I know this is not the same community as Fairview, but some of the things we did are scalable.”
Chapter 380 agreements are one such tool, Godwin said. Although economic development corporations such as PEDC may be limited in the projects they can offer incentives to, the 380 agreements are not subject to such limitations, and they cost the city nothing up front.
“We never thought about giving them incentives or infrastructure,” he said. “I don’t like giving stuff away. It was we’ll give you something if you give us something.”
Godwin pointed to a major Dillards development that required $10 million up front. The city’s 380 agreement paid it out through future sales tax – which meant Dillards only got paid if it generated sales tax.
“The thing that’s attractive about the 380 agreements in my mind is that it costs the city nothing up front,” said Vic Ressler, owner of Century 21 Executive Realty. “If they don’t succeed, it costs the city nothing. If they succeed, we win.”
The City Council directed Godwin to draft a policy on 380 agreements with input from the Chamber of Commerce within the next month.
Godwin said retail also plays an important secondary role. Potential manufacturing developers often visit a town to scope out the sort of amenities available for workers who may relocate – parks, schools, restaurants and shopping.
Mayor A.J. Hashmi said the Chamber of Commerce should play a key role in all things retail.
“As far as retail development is concerned, I think it should be the chamber’s responsibility. Our responsibility is to support you 100 percent,” he said. “I think it should be a joint decision between the council and chamber. We should not work separately.”
The chamber has the expertise and experience in retail, not the city, Hashmi said. The Chamber of Commerce is not geared to spearhead such an effort, Roddy said. Both sides agreed that it should be a partnership.
“Ultimately, it comes down to what you are and are not willing to do,” Ressler told the council.
Council members expressed support for pursuing retail development. Councilman Dr. Richard D. Grossnickle said Godwin’s experience and contacts in Fairview were part of the reason he supported him for city manager.
Councilwoman Cleonne Drake said the city needs to also focus on keeping retail, including studying why businesses close and seeing what could be done to keep it from happening again.
The city needs a professional to help in its retail recruitment, Ressler said.
“The money is there,” he said. “We just need to find a professional who can recruit – maybe a little more recruiting and a little less consulting.”
The term “consultant” seemed to leave a bad taste with Ressler and several others at the meeting. Consultants are frequently found in education said past Chairman Robert High, who works as Paris ISD’s assistant superintendent for human resources.
“Some of our people describe a consultant as someone who blows in, blows off and blows away with your check,” he said.
Any agreement with a retail consultant should require detailed reports of recruiting efforts and incentives to perform, he said.
The city set aside about $36,000 in this year’s budget for a retail consultant. The money was allocated for retail development and should be used, Hashmi said, but it is important that the city not use tax funds to undermine existing businesses by offering some sort of incentives to competitors.
“Yes, I’m concerned about competition, but competition makes me better,” said James Brockway, owner of Sofas and Such. “It makes me sharpen my pencil and see what else I could be doing.”