LA MARQUE — A human resources director was hired. Agreements with the University of Houston, College of the Mainland and the state’s Region 4 Education Service Center were approved.
With those measures taken, sometime late Thursday night, La Marque’s formal plan of recovery was sent to the state.
When the Texas Education Agency agreed to pull back on plans to send a conservator to oversee the La Marque school district, it did so with several caveats. During Thursday’s school board meeting, trustees gave the final approval to many of those requirements.
That included hiring Antonio Corrales as the district’s new director of human resources and operations. Up until now, Superintendent Terri Watkins was handling human resource duties as well as running the day-to-day of the struggling school district.
The state said Watkins needed to focus her full attention on managing the district and hire someone to handle human resources.
Corrales, who for the past six years worked as the coordinator of bilingual, English as a second language programs and Gifted and Talented Advanced Programs for the Angleton school district was hired for the job Thursday. His 10-year education career included teaching and managing Gifted and Talented and STEM academy programs at a campus level.
He got into education after working in the private sector for multinational companies, according to his résumé.
Corrales’ hiring was a key piece to finishing the district’s improvement plan. La Marque’s accreditation status from the state was put on probation after three straight years of either poor financial and academic ratings and high dropout rates.
Watkins said she talked with state officials last week to go over a draft of the district’s improvement plan. She said the state asked for “minor changes” to the plan, but appeared satisfied.
The final plan, due to the TEA today, was sent to the state soon after Thursday’s school board meeting.
In addition to Corrales, trustees approved the hiring of Marcia McMahon as the assistant superintendent for curriculum. She replaces Joannie Hudson, who announced last month that she would resign.
McMahon has been the director of principal certification programs for the Region 4 Service Center. Her hiring marked a return to the La Marque school district where she was an assistant principal at La Marque Middle School and Highlands Elementary in the late 1990s.
She later was principal at Dickinson’s K.E. Little Elementary School that was given an exemplary rating by the state during her tenure. Before going to work for Region 4, she worked in the Galveston school district as the director for assessment, evaluation and compliance.
The hirings and finalization of the recovery plan weren’t the only bits of good news.
District financial director Dianne Duron reported that the district’s finances are “healthy.”
That report came about a year after the district was in financial disarray. So poor were finances the district considered teacher paycuts and looked at borrowing $3 million just to be able to pay staff and teachers.
The loan wasn't needed because of extra money that came from the state, but the budget was still tight.
Records Duron provided show La Marque has about $7.9 million on hand with about three months left in the fiscal year. The district averages about $2 million a month in expenses, so Duron projects La Marque will have about $2 million in reserves when the fiscal year ends at the end of August.
Duron said the district’s state-required solvency plan, which got TEA approval two months ago, projected about $2 million in fund balance by the end of the fiscal year. Having a heftier fund balance was one of the state requirements for the district.
Duron wouldn’t make any promises, but said she expects the district could beat those projections.
“We have managed to do more with less,” Duron said. “By the grace of our staff, we are far better off than we were a year ago.”
Good news on STAAR results
The La Marque school district got some more good news on the academic front last week. After struggling to meet state marks on the first round of fifth- and eighth-grade State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test results, retests of those who didn’t meet the mark before elevated the district to the point that it met the required state standards.
The eighth-grade reading results were not as the district hoped, but 59 percent of the students did pass the exam. The state mark on that exam was 55 percent passing.
Looking at raw data at the high school level, it appeared La Marque met the marks on those STAAR tests as well.