By Superintendent Chris Trotter, Cleveland ISD
As I approach the end of my second year as superintendent of Cleveland ISD, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the amazing time I’ve had the past two years. There are four things that I am very proud we have accomplished in my time here: working with legislators to address hyper-growth, passing a zero-tax-rate-increase $198 million bond referendum, saving taxpayers nearly $30 million in construction costs, and building an outstanding team of educators to improve academics and opportunities for our kids.
First, I want to say how warm and welcoming the community of Cleveland has been to me personally. Whether it is at the Big Kahuna for a meatloaf lunch or an unsweet ice tea at Sonic or buying groceries at HEB, there is never a time that I stop that someone doesn’t stop to talk about Cleveland ISD. I am humbled every day to serve the amazing students, teachers, and staff who fill our schools with such joy. As I attend Rotary, City Council meetings in Cleveland and Plum Grove, Chamber events, or church, I continue to see the deep commitment the people of our community have for one another. It is a great area of which to be a part.
When I began as superintendent in May 2019, we had a little over 6,300 students. We now have over 9,100. We enroll about 65 new students per week. That is an average of three new elementary classes every single week.
Cleveland ISD is the fastest-growing school district in the state of Texas, growing by almost unheard of 22 percent every year. To address this hyper-growth, we are currently working with our state legislators to bring additional funds to our school district through two different House bills. I am also in contact with representatives at the Federal level to see if there are any federal funds available to help us keep up with new students. I am hopeful that we will see additional funds to ensure that the needs of our students continue to be met.
Because of that growth, we are building new buildings. Thanks to the voters in Cleveland ISD, we passed a $198 million bond referendum in November 2019. We structured this bond so that there was ZERO increase to the tax rate. I believe it is extremely important to be as fiscally conservative as possible while achieving excellent academic results.
The 2019 bond is building three elementaries, one middle school, a softball/baseball complex and a staff development/central office facility. By restructuring our bidding process, we have been able to save the district nearly $30 million. The district has partnered with architects and contractors that guarantee the lowest price and the highest quality. Continuing to work with our facilities committee, which includes 10 community members and parents, we will use those savings to further enhance existing facilities as needed. Ensuring fiscal responsibility through good management practices is part of how we keep our community thriving while creating good learning spaces for our students.
And lastly, in the nearly 24 months I have been fortunate to serve as Cleveland ISD superintendent, we have increased starting teacher salary by 4 percent, bus driver pay by $2 per hour, and hired over 270 new staff members. And we were also able to provide two retention incentives to our current staff, to keep the best and brightest in Cleveland ISD. What this means to the community is that Cleveland is attracting highly qualified teachers and staff who will make our wonderful community even better.
And how could we talk about this year without addressing the remarkable response to the COVID-19 pandemic? We provided WiFi access using our school buses as mobile hotspots, distributed technology to those most in need and distributed over 180,000 meals to every family who needed it. Our teachers and staff ensured we stayed open through their diligence to our safety protocols, and our custodians went above and beyond using medical-grade cleaning protocols to clean approximately one million square feet of facilities in Cleveland ISD.
Public education creates hope in our students. When students are hopeful about their future pathways, they are engaged creators and thinkers. Students crave purpose, and when a school district provides individualized instruction and personalized pathways, students can create a life vision for themselves. No matter a student’s background, our schools can provide the experiences that allow all students to achieve, succeed, and leave our system with their purpose for a bright future.
And our children are our future. It is my hope that for every student, every day is a day filled with hope and promise. And that Cleveland ISD helps them realize their full potential and reach their dreams. And I am honored to be a small part of their journey. #tribepride #just4kids