Marlin Independent School District will remain open for at least another year, now that the Texas Education Agency has granted the district an abatement agreement, Superintendent Michael Seabolt announced during Tuesday’s school board meeting.
First, however, the district’s state-appointed board of managers must approve the agreement, which the managers plan to do next month. The district received the agreement Tuesday afternoon, too late to get it on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.
The news came about a month after the TEA revoked the district’s accreditation. The agreement will allow the district to keep its accreditation at least for the next year.
Despite making its most significant gains last school year, Marlin ISD failed to meet state academic standards. It has not met those standards for six consecutive years and has been fighting closure for the last few. Its governing board was removed more than a year ago as part of the state’s intervention, which also included an abatement agreement that was good through last school year.
Marlin has been on the state’s improvement-required list longer than any other district still on the list.
Seabolt said the agreement is basically the same as the first. It looks like the TEA simply changed the dates from the first agreement, he said.
Seabolt has anticipated another abatement agreement since he and other Marlin officials attended a TEA hearing in February. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath also said last June he had no plans to close the district.
“We’re finally to a point this year where we have quality instruction across every grade level,” Seabolt said. “Last year, for example, I could say that we actually had two of our teacher where the kids went backward in reading. We remedied all that, but it took time.”
Once known for a teacher turnover rate 20 percent higher than the state average, the district raised the starting salary by $15,000 more than a year ago to bring in quality instructors. Seabolt has been with the district since 2015.
The district had a goal to get 42 percent of kindergarten through second-grade students reading on grade level by May, the peak of state testing season. So far, 34 percent have reached that goal, Assistant Superintendent Remy Godfrey said.
Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, the managers approved a one-man police department for the district.
By the start of next school year, Marlin ISD will hire one armed school resource officer to the Marlin ISD Police Department, Seabolt said. The startup cost will be about $1,000 for an application to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, Seabolt said.
The decision comes in the wake of two school shootings within the last month, one on Feb. 14 in Florida that left 17 dead and another in Maryland on Tuesday. In the Maryland shooting, a school resource officer fired at the shooter, who later died, according to The New York Times. Two other students were injured, one critically. It was unclear who fatally wounded the shooter, according to the Times.
“[A school shooting] can happen in any community, I guess, but these things are rarer than a lightning strike. More people are killed by lightning every year,” Seabolt said. “You’re trying to plan for something that you can’t control. Sometimes there aren’t signs, sometimes there are, but I think an armed response is the only response.
“The question is then who is going to become armed? I’m certainly not for arming every single teacher in the school district, but it makes some sense to me to have some people armed throughout the district.”
Nationwide, there have been eight mass shootings with four or more fatalities at elementary and secondary schools since 1996, according to a recent study from Northeastern University.
Of the more than 1,000 public school districts in Texas, only 150 have a police department, and 172 have adopted a policy to allow staff to carry firearms, said Barbara Williams, the Texas Association of School Boards spokeswoman.
Marlin ISD also already has a juvenile case manager who has a law enforcement background and will compliment the new department as an additional security measure on one of the district’s three campuses, Seabolt said.
The new officer likely will work at the junior high and elementary schools, which are in two connected buildings, but a final decision will not be made until a later date, Seabolt said.
Tuesday marked the second time Marlin ISD has considered a police department within the last two years, but plans did not pan out the first time, Seabolt said.
“There are two ways to do a school resource officer. You can either partner with the city, or we can do it on our own,” he said. “You’re going to eat the full cost either way. … The difference is, if we have our own police department, we have full operational control.”
The district will work with the city of Marlin’s police department to set up a dispatch system, Seabolt said.
Seabolt, who is also a licensed peace officer, will serve as the department’s chief because he is the head of the district as the chief administrative officer, he said. But he will not take any additional pay for the responsibility, he said.
Seabolt is a 2006 graduate of the East Texas Police Academy, and the district’s board of managers recently extended his contract to February 2023. Seabolt makes $140,000 per year.
“I think everyone’s taking this (school safety) more serious now than they have in the past,” manager Rose Cameron said.
The district also hopes to bring back the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program through the new department to help younger students learn about the dangers of drug use, Seabolt said.
Managers also hired a new principal for Marlin High School.
Pamela Thomas, who currently serves as principal for Rosebud-Lott Intermediate School, will start June 4, Seabolt said. She will take over the responsibilities of Godfrey, who has also been serving as high school principal for at least the last couple of years, Seabolt said.
Godfrey will now serve as the assistant superintendent full-time, he said.
“She’s absolutely knowledgeable in curriculum and instruction,” Seabolt said. “She has 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. She’s going to be good. She’s got the demeanor, the knowledge and the experience we’re going to need. And she lives in Marlin.”
Thomas will make between $93,000 and $99,000 per year, which is more than the district’s starting salary for principals was before the board of managers eliminated the assistant principal position last school year, Seabolt said.
“It wasn’t that high until we got rid of the assistant principal, and then we kind of boosted the salary of the principals once we took their assistants away,” Seabolt said. “If you’re going to save $70,000 on an assistant, you might as well throw a bone the principal’s way for the more work they’ve got to do.”