Williamson County Commissioners Court voted 4-1 to allocate additional federal coronavirus relief funds to school districts in the county except for Leander ISD and Round Rock ISD during its Dec. 14 meeting.
LISD and RRISD were excluded from this round of funding—the second batch of funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security Act the county has distributed to schools—over concerns commissioners voiced about inappropriate books in school libraries and critical race theory in the school curriculum.
“It’s complicated for me today because I want to help the students,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey said.
However, she said does not want the county to allocate money to school districts that have allowed books in their libraries "that we would consider X-rated.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Terry Cook voted against the motion, saying the Commissioners Court does not have authority over school districts.
“We are outside of our lane if we try to micromanage ISDs,” Cook said. “We can use the bully pulpit to stress what we think is important, but it is ultimately the school boards and the administration that makes those decisions. These are federal dollars, and they desperately need this to help.”
Under the second round of funding, each district will receive $125 per student who resides in Williamson County. Smaller districts will receive the lesser of $250 per student or $150,000, according to documents county Treasurer Scott Heselmeyer presented.
Using this calculation, RRISD would have received almost $5 million, and LISD would have received $3.7 million, according to county documents. Georgetown ISD and Hutto ISD were allocated $1.6 million and $1.12 million, respectively.
There are 12 public school districts entirely or partially in Williamson County. Additionally, the county has set aside $150,000 for charter schools. Including RRISD and LISD, the county has $13.7 million allocated for schools under this second round of CARES Act funding.
As of Dec. 7, Williamson County had $18 million of unencumbered CARES Act funds remaining. Local governments have until Dec. 31 to use these federal dollars for expenses incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioners agreed they would meet with RRISD and LISD leadership to see if they could resolve their concerns. The funding for those districts will come back before Commissioners Court on Dec. 21, Precinct 4 Commissioner Russ Boles said.
In a Dec. 14 statement, LISD said it will be coordinating discussions with Williamson County commissioners this week about their decision to withhold CARES Act dollars.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have been working hand-in-hand with our county officials to keep schools open as safely as possible,” the LISD statement said. “We have more work to do. Our students and community deserve stellar public schools. We look forward to our continued partnership with Williamson County to provide Leander ISD students with a world-class experience in our schools.”
Over the past year, the LISD board of trustees has adopted policy changes following a review of student-choice book club titles, and in September former LISD trustee Jim MacKay cited inappropriate content in school literature as the reason for his resignation from the school board.
Additionally, parents have brought concerns about the content of books available in school libraries to the RRISD board during public comment periods, but the board of trustees has yet to take any related action.
In a Dec. 15 statement to Community Impact Newspaper, Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, RRISD chief of public affairs and communications, said the district is hopeful Commissioners Court will approve funding next week.
"We are happy to address any concerns commissioners have related to library books and instructional materials and feel certain we can clear up any misunderstandings," LaCoste-Caputo said in an email. "In fact, we met with Commissioner Russ Boles today and had a very productive conversation explaining our process."
LaCoste-Caputo said RRISD's school library catalogue is available for review online and said the district has established a process for addressing parental objections to instructional resources, including books that are available on campuses.
“What I have seen our schools strive to do in the last many months is way beyond what is in their lane,” County Judge Bill Gravell said. “I just simply want to say to the superintendents of those two school districts is that we will be approaching you this week, and you will have the opportunity to make a decision.”