One Year into Pandemic, Comal ISD School Board President Urges Parents to ‘Stay the Course’
Editor’s Note: Comal ISD Board of Trustees President David Drastata emailed this letter to parents on Friday, Feb. 5.
“As we rapidly approach the one year mark of the pandemic, it is important that we reflect on where we have come and what lies ahead within the context of our district’s mission: To ensure that every student graduates ready to either serve their country proudly in the military, to enter the workforce directly after graduation equipped with the skills to start a successful career, or to continue their education at a post-secondary institution.
“We believe this mission should be accomplished in safe-and-secure learning environments. Unfortunately, for too long the threat of school violence overshadowed our efforts only to be replaced by something just as serious. And while the measures to prevent violence remain unchanged, the focus is now on the health and protection of our students, teachers, and administrators against COVID-19.
“The board is proud of how this district switched to 100-percent remote learning within a matter of weeks when the pandemic forced the district to close. That would not have been possible without the dedication of our teachers and staff who worked tirelessly to ensure learning continued those last nine weeks. For that, this board is grateful.
“Over the summer, the district was focused on one primary goal: Start school on time safely. In any other year, this would be no big deal. However in the context of a pandemic, when the health-and-safety of our students and staff was of critical importance and in the face of criticism around our plans to reopen schools, the challenge was even greater.
“In the end, we forged ahead confidently knowing we had a plan to return to school safely, giving parents a choice between on-campus instruction or remote learning. To date, 82-percent of students are in an on-campus learning environment. As a result, they are competing in athletics, performing in fine arts, and participating in extracurricular activities. In other words, we have given our students the opportunity to be students and reap the benefits of having the school doors open.
“We have done this safely, as our data shows us that transmission of the virus among students occurs primarily outside of school and not within our hallways. Additionally, we have worked closely with county leaders to secure vaccines for teachers and staff. This is extremely good news and important to protect them as they continue to work relentlessly every day to meet the needs of our students.
“We have done this safely, as our data shows us that transmission of the virus among students occurs primarily outside of school and not within our hallways.”
Continued Academic Performance
“Looking ahead, one of our challenges will be to remediate the loss of learning, especially in math due to the COVID slide. The biggest challenge within that is with our remote learners. No one at this point can dispute the disparities between on-campus Instruction and remote learning.
“The differences are stark, and the key to tackling this issue is to first encourage the remaining 20-percent of students in remote learning to return to campus. Second, we must collect data through testing. And finally, we need to get out of the way of our teachers and let them do what they do best – teach.
“That is the way forward – not wordy plans or mechanisms. Let the work in the classroom continue in earnest, and the care, compassion and commitment that defines our teachers will do the rest.
“We are excited about what the future holds for Comal ISD. As you look across our sprawling district you see that growth has continued in spite of the virus with the housing market in Comal ISD growing faster than it did the year prior to the pandemic.
“In 2013, we projected that in 10 years our district enrollment would reach the 30,000 student mark. Our most recent demographic forecast shows that we will surpass that number by the 2024-25 school year.
“To that end, our plans to accommodate the continued growth remain with planned additional schools, land acquisitions, current infrastructure upgrades, expansion and maintenance, and finally partnerships with other local entities where it is beneficial. Growth and planning have always dominated much of our efforts and I am proud of what we have accomplished. However, much remains for the foreseeable future.
Conservative Financial Management
“As Comal ISD has continued to grow, we have excelled in maintaining our ongoing commitment to keep taxes low. During the past 15 years, the district’s tax rate has fallen from $1.83 in 2004 to $1.39 in 2015, to the current tax rate of $1.27.
“Comal ISD residents also receive an additional 20-percent homestead exemption on top of the normal $25,000 homestead exemption granted by the state. This 20-percent exemption brings the effective tax rate down to $1.02, which is by far the lowest in the surrounding area. While this is an excellent deal for homeowners, this equates to a $30 million loss of revenue for the district.
“However, in spite of not having this to work with, we continue to deliver a first-class learning environment with supplemental programs and opportunities. Our fiscal performance continues to be the gold standard and will remain so.
“Obviously, there are many challenges yet to come, particularly in the area of school finance. Districts such as ours that perform at such high levels both academically and financially – coupled with exponential growth – continue to be the ones most harmed by current school finance law.
“Regardless of this and other challenges, what drives every decision we make is putting the needs of students first…always. It has been this philosophy that has led us to the successes we are experiencing today, and it is that philosophy that will ensure our success tomorrow.
“We need…we must…stay the course and stay true to our values.”