Burton officially on board as new RISD super

by By Cristin Parker news@mediactr.com

The 21-day grace period is over and Dr. Grey Burton has officially taken the helm at Rusk Independent School District.

RISD Board members officially hired Burton during the regular July school board meeting held Monday, July 16. Burton was accepted as the district’s lone finalist for superintendent on June 25, after a short but fruitful search to fill the position.

“We interviewed four highly qualified applicants and Dr. Burton stood out amongst those,” RISD Board President Britt Patterson said in June. “We’re looking forward to continuing the excellence we’re used to as a district.

“It was a quick time line because we really wanted to get someone on board as soon as possible, especially with school about to start again.”

As per Texas law, RISD had to wait 21 days before offering Burton a contract.

“My grandparents lived here, and my dad graduated from Rusk ISD,” Burton said in an interview after the July meeting. “I graduated from Jacksonville myself, so it’s very much like coming home for me. I love East Texas and Rusk is a good district in a good community.

“We’re excited to be here. Everyone we’ve met so far has been very open and welcoming. We’re looking forward to working with everyone.”

Burton has served in school administration for 15 years, 13 of those as a superintendent or assistant superintendent. He was the superintendent at Martinsville for six years and comes to the Rusk district after having been the assistant superintendent of Nacogdoches ISD for the last five years, where he helped get that district’s tech training facility built.

“Getting the tech training center in Nacogdoches was a proud moment for me,” Burton said. “We were able to partner with the city and the county to provide students and the community with an industry training facility, where they didn’t have anything like that before.

“So much of what we hear today puts the emphasis on college, but we want to prepare students for life after high school. Whether a student goes to college, goes directly into a tech or career field, or enlists in the military – whatever path they choose.”

But it’s not just the student body that’s at the forefront of Burton’s mind.

“I especially want to continue bringing the community together to support our teachers,” he said. “Our teachers are absolutely crucial to the success of the whole district. As an administrator I want to help support our teaching staff, so they can help support our students – that’s the main thing.

“I want to make sure they’re taken care of, not just in salaries, but in making sure they feel like their voices are heard.”

Burton earned his bachelor’s and masters’ degrees from Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches and his doctorate from the University of Texas.

He has been married for 25 years to his wife Keri, who works as a diagnostician for students with learning disabilities. The couple has three children; one attending A&M University; one at University of Texas; and one who will attend classes in RISD.

In other personnel matters, RISD trustees approved hiring two new assistant principals for the Intermediate and High School campuses.

Rusk resident Cadi Collins was hired as the assistant principal at Rusk Intermediate School.

“I’m blessed to get the opportunity to work with the students of RISD,” Collins said after Monday’s meeting. “This is a great chance to help build strong relationships between the district and its community.”

Collins has worked in education for 10 years, six of which with the Rusk school district as a dyslexia teacher. She’s married to Eric Collins, a Cherokee County game warden.

Former RISD teacher Tim Eden is returning to the district as assistant principal of Rusk High School. Eden is returning to Rusk after serving as assistant principal at Jacksonville High School. He is married to Patti Eden, the choir director at The Brook Hill School in Bullard.

In other business, RISD board members received preliminary figures on the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.

Former Finance Director Lesa Jones attended Tuesday’s meeting to present data on the 2018-19 budget. Jones recently accepted a position at Crosby ISD. The July 16 meeting was her last day at RISD. Rusk ISD receives its funds from three sources, local property taxes, which constitute the majority of the district’s income; state revenue based on the district’s average daily attendance; and federal revenue.

“It’s a pretty tight budget this year,” Jones said. “We usually budget at a 98 percent (property tax) collection rate, but this year, because it’s so tight, I budgeted at a 99 percent rate.”

Jones said part of the reason the upcoming budget is so tight is because the district’s Average Daily Attendance dropped by 58 students across the district, resulting in a signification decrease in the district’s state funding.

“We’re usually a fairly stable district attendance wise,” Jones said. “But this year we were hit with a 3 percent decrease, amounting to $337,988 less in the budget. I don’t know where the kids are going, but we are feeling it.”

Jones said some of the biggest expenditures in the upcoming budget include staff payroll raises of up to 4.6 percent -- which include the district’s STEP pay, longevity raises and performance reward incentives – totaling $407,000 in raises; $100,000 for new band uniforms; and adding the two assistant principal positions and staff at the district’s Transportation Department.

“We want to make sure we stay competitive (in salaries) with surrounding districts,” Jones explained, adding 76 percent of the annual general fund budget is payroll expenses. “We also built in money for new band uniforms, since the last time we got new ones was in 1995.

“We also opted to fund the assistant principal positions, because we do get more bang for our buck because we get staff that are both instructional and disciplinary in nature.”

Jones also said fuel costs were up by 20 percent; health insurance costs rose overall 4.56 percent; and text book costs, which are usually covered by IMA, were not this year – leaving the district to have to come up with $250,000 for text books.

Items that were cut from the budget included an air-conditioned school bus; various technology supplies and equipment, excluding replacement costs; and a passenger vehicle.

Agenda items RISD trustees approved during the July meeting include:

- An Employee Performance Reward Plan