Week of Dec. 5-11, 2016

Board sets state funding limit for next 2-year budget
AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers will have just under $100 billion to use for the non-constitutional spending portion of state budget for fiscal years 2018-2019.
The 10-member Legislative Budget Board, which is charged with adopting a spending limit, met on Dec. 1 and accepted the figure of $99.897 billion recommended by Ursula Parks, director of the LBB. The amount is based on a projected growth rate of 8 percent in the state’s economy. The current 2016-2017 state budget for “non-dedicated” appropriations — funding that's not mandated by the state constitution — is $92.5 billion.
Members of the Legislative Budget Board include co-chairs Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus; state Sens. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Joan Huffman of Houston, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound and Larry Taylor of Friendswood; and state Reps. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton; Drew Darby of San Angelo, John Otto of Dayton, and John Zerwas of Richmond. All members of the board are Republicans.
DSHS reports Zika case
Some 257 confirmed cases of Zika virus have been reported in Texas, but only one known case has originated in the Lone Star State.
On Nov. 28, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced the first case of Zika virus disease likely transmitted by a mosquito within the state of Texas.
According to the state health department, the patient is a Cameron County resident who is not pregnant and who was confirmed by lab test to have been infected. She reported no recent travel to any place with ongoing Zika virus transmission and no other risk factors.
“We still don’t believe the virus will become widespread in Texas,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, state health commissioner. “But there could be more cases, so people need to protect themselves from mosquito bites, especially in parts of the state that stay relatively warm in the fall and winter."
Judge stops bathroom plan
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lauded U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s Nov. 20 decision to prevent bathroom guidelines written by the U.S. Department of Justice from being enforced in public schools in Texas and nationwide.
O’Connor, of the Wichita Falls-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, earlier rejected the guidelines intended to allow transgender students to use boys’ or girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools. The Department of Justice responded by asking the court to let the guidelines stand in states that had not joined a lawsuit to prevent the guidelines from taking effect. But O’Connor rejected that request, and in doing so sided with Texas and 12 other states that jointly filed a lawsuit to prevent enforcement of the guidelines.
Salary survey is released
The Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators last month released their annual survey of district trends in superintendents’ salaries and benefits.
Just a few of the statistics reported in the survey were:
- Average superintendent salaries range from $94,920 in districts with fewer than 500 students to $308,184 in districts with more than 50,000 students;
- Half of reported salaries are less than $123,015; and
- The average superintendent pay increase was 3.2 percent, up from last year’s average of 2.9 percent.
TxDOT announces safe zones
The Texas Department of Transportation on Nov. 29 announced the implementation of GEICO-sponsored Safe Phone Zones at 55 of the 80 state-run Safety Rest Areas and Travel Information Centers across Texas.
Safe Phone Zones are part of TxDOT’s Sponsor Acknowledgement Program that seeks companies to fund various benefits for drivers, such as free Wi-Fi at Safety Rest Areas and Travel Information Centers in exchange for receiving public recognition through highway signage.
Mark Marek, TxDOT’s director of Engineering and Safety Operations, said, “With more than 100,000 crashes in Texas each year involving distracted driving, we hope to curb this deadly habit by encouraging drivers to pull over at TxDOT Safety Rest Areas and Travel Information Centers to use apps, check email and surf the Web in a safe location.”
School ratings are released
The Texas Education Agency on Nov. 17 released the final 2016 state academic accountability ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters and more than 8,600 campuses.
Districts, campuses and charters receive one of three ratings under the state’s accountability system: Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard or Improvement Required. More than 90 percent of school districts and charters across Texas achieved the rating of Met Standard.
Preliminary state accountability ratings were announced by TEA in August. The final ratings include the results of an appeals process that provides districts and charters an opportunity to contest preliminary ratings.