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Sabine sets tax rate, implements new app

By Chelsea Katz, Kilgore News Herald, Texas
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 09--Sabine ISD teachers and students will have a new smartphone app they can use to stay updated with events happening in the district.

The app uses the mobile-friendly version of SISD's website, so anything the district puts on the website will automatically be available through the smartphone app. About half of the total web traffic is generated by a mobile device, SISD Technology Director Randy Cox said, quoting a statistic he had read. On the mobile-friendly version of the website, a person will see a reminder that there is an app available to download.

"We thought it would be beneficial to have an app to better communicate with our parents, with our staff (and) with our students," he said. With everything in one place, that minimizes the need to get to the website using a browser on phones.

People can select updates from a specific campus so they are get only information useful for them. District events and other helpful links to different departments are included in the app, such as transportation and food services. Lunch money accounts are currently included as a link in the app, but, Cox said, the mobile version of that page is still under construction.

The app not only makes information easier to access, but also, people can sign up for "push" notifications -- information will be sent to a person's phone, even when they are not actively using the app or the phone at that moment.

Notifications will be sent when in a variety of situations such as when school schedules change, the school is closed for some reason or if there is an emergency. The call system and phone trees will still be used, but this allows for another notification method. "This is in no means taking the place of any of that," Cox said. The speed at which people get the notification, though, depends on each person's cell coverage, he clarified.

Although the app -- hosted by Schoolwires, which also hosts the website -- works best for iPhone users, Cox said, Schoolwires is working to get the bugs out of the version available in the Google Play store.

"It's still a little bit of a work in progress, but as of right now it does most of what we wanted it to do," Cox said. "And then we'll continue to improve it."

Cox will present the app to staff members later this month.

Tax rate

As the last action item on the agenda, the SISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved a maintenance and operations tax rate of $1.04 for 2014-2015. The interest and spending fund rate is 23.3 cents per hundred dollars of property value. The rate is decreased from last year's rate of 23.909 cents.

After the bond issue, Director of Business Operations Kevin Yandell said, the worst-case scenario for the interest and sinking rate is 28 cents.

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With the two proposed, the levy will be a little less than $5.6 million. Last year the levy was $5,000,650.

"Overall, dollar wise, it's not a great change," Yandell said.

Trustee election

The board approved the trustee election on Nov. 4 in conjunction with the Gregg County general election. Three trustees -- Shane Hagen, place 3; Paul Franklin, place 4; Gray, place 5 -- are up for election, and two people, including Franklin, have picked up packets. The window to pick up packets ends Aug. 18.

Handbooks

Board members had a chance to review the student handbook during the Aug. 4 meeting. Not much was changed because there are few changes to the student code of conduct during non-legislative years, Bryce said.

Most of the changes deal with expanded course offerings due to HB 5 and the graduation requirements addressed earlier, Chris Grotemat explained.

The district needed to clarify through language restrictions on students leaving campus without permission during the school day, especially at the beginning, he said. According to the handbook, the school day begins for a student once they arrive on campus, either by driving themselves, riding the school bus or being dropped off by someone.

"We wanted to just to clarify that, essentially, once you're here -- once a student arrives on our campus -- you are here for the day and our campus is closed," Grotemat said.

The handbook, also, addresses the area of academic integrity when it comes to online courses for credit recovery or dual credit classes.

Every student and his or her parent or guardian will have to sign an online academic integrity form to turn in to the district. The form will include the ramifications for cheating and appropriate use of district "computers and technology-based resources," Grotemat said.

Although the form itself is not included in the handbook, the language stating that the form must be turned in "as a condition of their enrollment in those courses" is included.

The handbook now includes, also, that e-cigarettes are not allowed on SISD campuses, including at athletic events. Grotemat is working with Director of Maintenance Ken Wilson to make sure signs are up at the football stadium to remind fans that e-cigarettes are included in the district's request for no smoking, he said.

Raymond posed the question of why electronic devices, such as iPads, Amazon Kindles and cell phones, are included as banned items during school hours when some teachers and many other districts are embracing that technology in their classrooms.

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Teachers have the ability to permit students to use their personal electronic devices during the class period, but in general, those devices should not be used during the school day, Grotemat explained.

Bryce suggested rewording the sections regarding electronic devices, so it clarifies that students are allowed to bring electronic devices to school and use them only when given permission.

Instead of issuing SISD devices, Raymond said, he wanted to make sure that teachers were taking advantage of the fact that most of the students already carry a computer with them each day with their phones.

The board reviewed the handbook but took no action on it.

Trustees also reviewed a rough draft of a band handbook. Once Bryce gets a final version, he said, he will bring it back to the board for approval.

The handbook states that all students coming into SISD band must audition. Raymond suggested changing the wording -- he said it sounds as if some students will be turned away from band.

Board President James Gray and Bates explained the audition is to see what instrument would best fit that student, if he or she has not decided, and to find the best seat placement within the band.

"If someone can interpret it that way, it probably does need to be revised," Gray said after hearing how Raymond interpreted the "audition."

SISD will be able to provide some instruments, but the board understood that some students choose to purchase their own.

Students who need to use SISD instruments might not get their first choice when initially joining band, though, due to the limited number of each instrument. Each student must purchase their own mouthpiece to use.

Band competition

Competing for state honor band status, the middle school band participated in a competition in which each band sends in recordings to be judged.

Sabine Middle School advanced to the final rounds, eventuallyfinishing in fifth place against all other middle schools and in third place for outstanding performance.

"If they had won that, that would be the equivalent of winning a state championship in athletics," Bryce said.

The band needed Bryce's permission, which they got, to enter the competition because if they had won, the entire band would have been required to attend the program, which he said would have cost about $17,000.

"That is extremely good for those kids to be able to do that well in [that] band competition," he said.

Athletics

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While the Sabine High School band continues to grow, the football and volleyball programs are growing as well.

Board President James Gray told the rest of the board and administrators that there were about 75 young men trying out for football and about 50 young women trying out for volleyball. Gray clarified that his number estimates were based on attempting to count moving bodies during the tryouts.

Student athletic insurance will be covered by Gentry Financial Group, as it has in the past, SISD Superintendent Stacey Bryce told the board. The catastrophic limit of coverage is $7.5 million, which, he said, is the same as previous years.

Gentry Financial Group's bid was better than all the others, Bryce said.

"That group's really easy to work with, and they've have done a good job for us, so we are going to stay with them," he said.

___

(c)2014 the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas)

Visit the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas) at www.kilgorenewsherald.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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