Conroe ISD employees who remain with the district through the 2020-21 school year will receive an additional stipend for their ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic after district trustees approved issuing retention payments for all staff at their December regular meeting.

A resolution allowing for the one-time retention incentive payments of $500 for all full-time, benefit-eligible employees and $250 for all part-time employees was unanimously passed Dec. 15 by the CISD board of trustees. All full- and part-time district staff hired as of Dec. 1 and who remain employed as of Jan. 15 are eligible for the payments, to be issued Feb. 1.

"Why are we proposing this stipend? It is undisputed that the response to COVID-19 and the prevention and mitigation strategies have required unforeseen and unprecedented additional responsibilities and duties for all staff to ensure a safe instructional environment while facilitating excellent learning opportunities for students. These responsibilities and duties are far above and beyond traditional levels," Chief Financial Officer Darrin Rice said.

Payments will be made from the district's general fund at an estimated cost of $4.05 million. Rice said the district retains the right to deduct the incentives back from any employees who do not complete the ongoing school year.

“I have heard countless stories both from parents and from teachers during this pandemic how everyone has been affected, and I am so grateful that we have had teachers that have gone over, above, beyond ... in taking care of our students the way that Conroe ISD has done," trustee Ray Sanders said. "I wish that we could do $5 million a person; I know that’s crazy, but this does not show all the value that you have.”

Trustees also approved increases to custodian and substitute teacher pay Dec. 15, which Rice said would align district pay rates with current market conditions and potentially aid in filling vacant custodial positions and attracting new substitute teachers. Under the new scale, which goes into effect in January, hourly custodial pay will increase by between $1 to $1.50, depending on the job level, and daily substitute teacher pay for short-term assignments will increase by $10.

"This will allow the district to be competitive," Rice said.

Earlier in the Dec. 15 session, board members also approved an updated version of CISD's District of Innovation plan. The board in October voted to pursue the renewal of the five-year state designation, which provides the district with exemptions for setting its school year start date and certain requirements for teacher certification. Deputy Superintendent Chris Hines said the latter exemption would likely be used infrequently in cases where certain positions prove especially hard to fill with a certified teacher.

"Generally, a lot of folks would be willing to enter into an alternative certification program and that certainly is the best route because it formalizes the training," Hines said. "I‘m not anticipating this is something we would use very often, but it’s nice to have."

Rezoning plans

Hines also provided the board with an update on the CISD Attendance Boundary Committee's planning process for rezoning portions of the Caney Creek High School feeder zone. The rezoning process is underway in advance of the August opening of Hope Elementary School in the Granger Pines development.

Hines said the rezoning is anticipated to provide some crowding relief at existing campuses in the Caney Creek zone currently operating near or overcapacity while filling Hope Elementary with students in its inaugural year.

“We wanted to establish a boundary that will populate this school. We also wanted to provide crowding relief and some future capacity for Austin, Creighton as well as San Jacinto elementary schools," Hines said. "We are projected to have over 4,000 students in this feeder by 2025 with a capacity—when we open Hope—of 4,175."

Following several months of deliberation and public feedback, Hines said the district boundary committee narrowed its recommended rezoning options down to three scenarios with one identified as the committee's top choice. The selection, presented as Scenario 7, would shift nearly 1,000 students between schools.

“This is the version that the committee overwhelmingly supports and is recommending. It also addresses a larger number of issues providing boundary help not just to the Caney Creek zone but also to Conroe High," CISD Executive Director of Operations Chris McCord said.

Several attendance zones would move with the following projected enrollment changes—based on estimated resident, rather than enrolled, populations—taking place at each campus:

  • Anderson Elementary School would rise from 438 to 572 students (775-student capacity).

  • Austin Elementary School would drop from 898 to 626 students (900-student capacity).

  • Creighton Elementary School would drop from 677 to 641 students (675-student capacity).

  • Milam Elementary School would drop from 560 to 407 students (925-student capacity).

  • San Jacinto Elementary School drop from 486 to 442 students (775-student capacity).

  • Patterson Elementary School would drop from 800 to 777 students (825-student capacity).

  • Hope Elementary School would open with 389 students (575-student capacity).

The committee's recommendation will officially be brought to the board at its January regular meeting for approval.