Scott Muri talks to concerned parents, courtesy SBISD Facebook
You’ve been superintendent for about six months. What have you learned, and what are your plans for the district?
I spent my first 90 days on the job on my “Look, listen, and learn” effort, listening to what the Spring Branch community had to say about itself. Since that time we’ve started a process to develop a strategic plan, and that’s what we’re in the middle of right now. We’re taking a lot of that really good feedback we got from the first 90 days, unpacking it, and creating a strategic plan that will not only address some of the concerns that were shared, but that will leverage some of the incredible talent that we have in Spring Branch. On September 28 our board of trustees became the first board in the state of Texas to say, you know, we’re interested in this idea about being a “District of Innovation.”
What does that entail?
There was a piece of legislation called House Bill 1842 that was passed in the 2015 legislative session. One component of that law allows a school district like Spring Branch to gain a little more local control, gain the ability to make decisions at the local level. So our board said, “Hey, we’re interested in exploring that.” They passed a resolution that day that launched us on that journey.
What kind of progress has the district made on the District of Innovation initiative?
In November our board approved a strategic planning committee, a group of 90 individuals who represent all facets of our school district and community. We have students, parents, teachers, administrators, central office personnel, members of our faith communities, our philanthropic community, our nonprofit community, our business community. They’re busy and engaged in the development of a strategic plan. That plan is focused, first, on some of the challenges that we have, but also on leveraging the opportunities we have to take our system forward. We’re going to roll the plan out to the public toward the end of March, and the public will have a period of 30 days to comment on it. We’ll also have four public meetings. At the end of April our board of trustees will vote on that strategic plan, which will drive our work forward for many years to come.
Another issue you’ve talked about is the district’s financial crush—last year there was a $9 million budget deficit.
In September the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case where 600 school districts filed a lawsuit challenging the “Robin Hood” school funding system as unconstitutional. So we’re waiting for the Supreme Court to make their decision. At the same time, locally, we’re looking internally at our own financial resources. This year we’ve introduced a modified zero-based budgeting process. That will help Spring Branch ISD analyze our expenses to ensure that we’re spending the money we do have appropriately, and that it’s aligned with what’s good for kids. We’re also looking at other funding sources in the community, working with the Spring Branch Education Foundation. And we’re continuing to talk with our legislators about how important it is to increase funding for public education in Texas.
A former support specialist at Stratford High School was recently indicted for misappropriating student activity funds. Obviously this was before you were hired, but how are you making sure that something like this doesn’t happen again?
I can’t speak to that specific case since it happened before my tenure, but I can assure you that we have systems in place that monitor the security of our finances. In this particular instance, those processes worked, and that was how we found out what was happening. It was an isolated incident that was not at all reflective of the 4,500 employees who serve the district.
At a board of trustees meeting in November you honored two bus drivers, Sammy Agunbiade and Drew Langworthy, who helped evacuate a bus filled with students that caught fire and later exploded. What do their actions say about the quality of Spring Branch employees?
We have 35,358 kids in our district, and whether you’re a teacher, a nurse, a counselor, or a central office employee, you come to work for the kids. And those two bus drivers really exemplify that. They hop on their buses every day knowing that their number one priority is to keep their kids safe. The bus driver who was driving the bus that caught on fire put his own life at risk to save the lives of the 30 kids who were on his bus. He’s a hero in my eyes.
Have you learned any more about why the bus caught fire and how the district can prevent something like that from happening again?
We have an outside firm that’s conducting an investigation. We did our own internal investigation, but we want to validate that through some external measures, to see if this was an isolated incident or if there’s something else that we should consider. The safety of our students is our top priority, and we want to ensure that whether you’re in a Spring Branch building or a Spring Branch bus you’re as safe as you can be as a student or a staff member.