School district dropped by insurer, discusses options ahead of next week’s meeting

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With the first board meeting of the school year on Aug. 13 looking like a big one, the Board of Trustees met a week before hand Aug. 6 to go over a few items they’ll be voting on.

In the workshop, the board saw presentations on campus profiles, which are being put together to give the community a more in-depth impression of LISD schools, and a faculty survey. Board members also discussed the potential need to hire a real estate broker to sell off extraneous property assets and the search for a new insurance company after the district was unexpectedly dropped in May. Chief technology officer Bryon Kolbeck also gave several updates on district-wide technology improvements.

AIG insurance, which provides the district’s commercial property insurance, issued non-renewal notices to several school districts May 29, including LISD. The district has claimed more than $100 million in losses over the last few years, including $15.4 million from a single hailstorm March 26, 2017. The district sent out a request for proposals to replace AIG, but with a window of June 8 to July 17, they received limited applicants. District CFO Mike Ball said that was a very short amount of time for a school district to search for a new insurance company.

“We are in a position where our coverage expires at the end of August,” Ball said. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a spot where we don’t have a lot of options.”

Board member Kronda Thimesch asked to make sure LISD wasn’t doing any other business with AIG, and the board determined that whether or not an insurer had non-renewed a school district in the past would factor into their hiring decision. The existing AIG policy expires Sept. 1.

The district also discussed at length whether or not they need to hire a real estate broker to sell of their excess parcels of land. According to district background material, LISD currently owns more than 300 acres of undeveloped land, in parcels ranging from 3 to 78 acres, scattered throughout the district. The discussion now is on whether the district can sell that land itself, or should hire a broker to do it for them. The district has already gone through the request for proposal process, so it has specific broker candidates to discuss.

Ball said it’s rare to see a school district selling property, as most school districts only ever grow and need more property to build more schools.

“It’s a small crowd of school districts that are actually trying to get rid of property. The fast growth districts, they’re buying property,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of precedent, even in our own district, about selling property. We have a lot about purchasing property.”

Most board members were torn on the issue, saying they valued the expertise that a real estate broker would bring, but didn’t want to spend money on bringing it in when that expertise might already exist within the district.

None of the respondents to either the insurance or the real estate proposal was based in DFW, and a major respondent to the insurance proposal is based in the U.K. Board member Tracy Scott Miller was concerned about the lack of DFW-based applicants, and said the district needed to work to make itself more attractive to local businesses in the future.

“How could anybody that doesn’t do business here today and really office here in the fastest growing county in the nation … know this market better than anybody else?” he asked at the prospect of hiring a real estate broker based more than 100 miles away. “We’ve got to be very careful with how often we continue to do big contracts outside of our community. We’re going to lose the support, in the future, of businesses and leaders coming to us and coming and helping us with future bond packages.”

In an effort to improve its campuses and the perception of its campuses, the district surveyed faculty. The biggest areas of concern in the faculty survey were teachers having to spend their own money in the classroom and the district’s need to hire more specialists to help students. The results of the survey will be incorporated into campus improvement plans.  The district also produced individualized fliers to advertise many of its schools.

The draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2019, which was approved for publication at the district’s workshop last week on Aug. 2, still does not appear on the district’s financial transparency website. The board is scheduled to meet to vote on the budget Aug. 27, four days before the fiscal year starts. Board member Jenny Proznik told The Lewisville Texan Journal it will be up by Friday.

The Board of Trustees will hold its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at the LISD Administrative Center, 1565 W. Main St. in Lewisville.

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