Plano ISD’s incoming superintendent, Richard Matkin, officially takes over next month. For eleven years, he was the Chief Financial Officer, then filled the interim role since February. KERA’s Bill Zeeble talked to Matkin about the challenges he faces at the increasingly diverse Plano ISD.
Richard Matkin did not officially apply for this job but he was confident his Interim Superintendent performance since February would make a convincing case to trustees. That’s what happened. They named him the job’s lone finalist last week. Matkin loves the district, but says he understands the jobs’ challenges.
Matkin: This is my 37th year in public education. It is the most trying times that I can recall for public education. Funding has been decreased, new standards of testing, new expectations. I was talking to someone, just the matter of social media, interaction people have, parents with teachers, with staff, just all host of things that make communication so important. It’s a tough time to manage a big system, and all schools are going through this. Its not just a Plano problem. It’s a new form of a way of doing business.
Zeeble: Matkin expects those ways will change yet again. Hundreds of school districts, including Plano, are suing the state of Texas over diminished education funding. Matkin hopes the lawsuit’s outcome will lead to more state funding. But he also says lack of dollars is no excuse for letting education standards slip.
Matkin: You know at the end of the day, it’s the product you produce that’s important. Whether its loss of funds or re-allocation of funds, we’re going to have to take resources available and meet the needs of all students. That will be a challenge but we’ll have to hit it head-on and be smart in the way we use our money.
Zeeble: You’ve been here long enough to see demographics change. How does it change what you do?
Matkin: I have seen the percentage go from six percent to just over 26 percent on our low socio-economics. We have tried to target those particular schools, whether it’s with programs, whether it’s with staffing, we’ve tried to target those to make sure we’re meeting the needs. We have a great computers-at-home program where we refurbish computers that are surplused out to those kids that don’t have computers at home. We try to keep moving the ball forward, recognizing the populations that we have and serving those. With that in mind, you can’t forget those talented and gifted students, those that come from high-income families. It’s a broad range of expectations we have but we serve the needs of every child that walks through those doors.
Zeeble: How do you see getting out of this financial situation without sacrificing quality in education?
Matkin: Well, before you suffer quality in education, you do have to maybe go back to voters to say this will be the impact. We understood what the legislature did at the start of the biennium. And we lost close to $25 million and this year we lost an additional $10 million for the budget year we’re in right now. Although we did take the hard cuts in year one, we balanced our budget, we cut $25 million, we’ve told the board that’s as far as we’re going to go. We’re going to need to use some fund balance to cover the deficit in the next year. With that said, the plan is that we can get through the first year of the next biennium without having to go out for a tax rate election.
Matkin says after that, there will need to be a change in state funding, or voters may be asked to approve a tax hike.