Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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February 28, 2013

Watching and eagerly waiting

AISD’s Stiles says challenges ahead for Head Start, school budget

Athens —

Athens Independent School District Superintendent Blake Stiles told the Athens Kiwanis Club on Tuesday that school finance, testing and campus security are issues he’s watching closely this year.

The battle in Washington over sequestration has billions of dollars in school funding hanging in the balance, Stiles said. Sequestration, enacted by the Budget Control Act of 2011, would mean $85 billion in budget cuts if Congress does not intervene.

“This may be hard to believe but in the state of Texas alone $67.8 million in funding could be lost,” Stiles said. “You’re talking about a lot of Head Start teachers who could lose their jobs if this happens.”

Stiles said with the AISD’s high poverty level, many of the district’s 3- and 4-year-old children could be affected by the losses to Head Start funding.

On the subject of state funding, Stiles said he agrees with District Judge John Dietz’s recent ruling that declared Texas’ system of supporting schools both unconstitutional and inadequate. However, Stiles said he doesn’t think it will mean much relief for school districts this year.

“I doubt that they’re going to get anything done in this legislative session, which will make it interesting for me in budgeting next year for our schools. I think next spring they’ll go back for a special session and try to iron it out,” Stiles said.

There are several bills filed in the House and Senate that could have an impact on public schools. Stiles said he is particularly interested in House Bill 5 that covers issues related to graduation requirements, student assessment and accountability.

The bill creates one diploma for all high school students called the “foundation high school diploma.” It also gives students an opportunity to earn endorsements added to the diploma in areas such as business and industry or arts and humanities.

HB5 cuts back on the amount of tests students are required to take and also installs an easier-to-understand “0 to 100” grading scale. Stiles approves cutting back the testing burden to allow students more time with their daily studies.

“You don’t grow a pig by weighing it,” Stiles said.

On the topic of school security, Stiles said the high school and middle school do not have secure vestibules at their front entrances.

“We need to fix that,” Stiles said. “We need to at least have a way to slow somebody down if an intruder came to our door.”

The security problem at the high school is increased by the fact that it consists of two separate buildings. Stiles said the district could possibly construct a hallway between the two buildings.

Another problem Stiles sees is the area where middle school parents drop off and pick up their children.

“It’s terrible,” Stiles said. “I’ve seen cars stacked up on the highway. We really need another car loop.”

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