Improving the TSPR
TSPR in the Christoval ISD
Christoval ISD in Profile
Exemplary Programs and Practice
TSPR Key Recommendations
What Still Needs to Be Done?
CISD's Ideas for Improving the TSPR
In March 2001, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn began a review of the Christoval Independent School District (CISD) as part of a six-district project that also included reviews of the neighboring San Angelo, Veribest, Grape Creek, Wall and Water Valley school districts. These six districts are located geographically near each other in Tom Green County. In August 2001, a final report was issued detailing 43 recommendations, which taken together could result in net savings of $291,733 over the next five years. During December 2002, Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) staff returned to assess the district's progress in implementing the recommendations.
Since 1991, TSPR has recommended more than 7,000 ways to save taxpayers more than $700 million over a five-year period in more than 80 different public school districts and higher education institutions throughout Texas. TSPR also conducts follow-up reviews of districts that have had at least one year to implement recommendations. These 56 subsequent reviews show that more than 90 percent of TSPR's combined proposals have been acted upon, saving taxpayers nearly $125 million, with the full savings estimated to grow in the future.
Comptroller Strayhorn, who took office in January 1999, consulted school district officials, parents and teachers from across Texas and carefully examined past reviews and progress reports in an effort to make the TSPR review more valuable, even vital, to the state's more than 1,000 school districts. With the perspective of having served as a teacher, and later a school board president, the Comptroller has vowed to steer TSPR toward being more accountable to local school districts and the communities they represent.
Comptroller Strayhorn began by establishing new criteria for selecting school districts for future reviews. Priority is given to districts judged poor performing-academically or financially-and to hands-on reviews that will benefit the greatest number of students. To ensure that this process also serves small districts, reviews of numerous school districts in close proximity, regardless of academic or financial status, are also done to achieve some economy of scale, as was the case with the smaller districts reviewed in Tom Green County.
Recognizing that only 51 cents of every education dollar is spent on instruction, Comptroller Strayhorn's goal is to drive more of every education dollar directly into the classroom. In addition, no longer are school districts' best practices and exemplary models buried inside individual TSPR reports. Instead, Comptroller Strayhorn has ordered best practices and exemplary programs to be shared quickly and systematically among all the state's school districts and with anyone who requests such information. There is simply no reason for a district that has solved a problem well to keep the solution to itself. Comptroller Strayhorn has directed TSPR to serve as an active clearinghouse of the best and brightest ideas in Texas public education. Best practices identified in the original review are now included in the Comptroller's best practices database, A+ Ideas for Managing Schools (AIMS), which is accessible on the Web at www.aimsdatabase.org.
Under Comptroller Strayhorn's approach, the TSPR team and consultants work with districts to:
- ensure students and teachers receive the support and resources necessary to succeed;
- identify innovative options to address core management challenges;
- ensure administrative activities are performed efficiently, without duplication and in a manner that spurs education;
- develop strategies to ensure the districts' processes and programs are continuously assessed and improved;
- understand the links among the districts' functional areas and determine ways to provide a seamless system of services;
- challenge any process, procedure, program or policy that impedes instruction and recommend ways to reduce or eliminate obstacles; and
- put goods and services to the "Yellow Pages test"-government should do no job if there is a business in the Yellow Pages that can do that job better and at a lower cost.
Finally, Comptroller Strayhorn has opened her door to Texans who share her optimism about TSPR's potential. Suggestions to improve school reviews are welcome at any time. The Comptroller is a staunch believer in public education and public accountability.
Detailed information can be obtained from TSPR by calling 1-800-531-5441 extension 5-3676, or by visiting the Comptroller's Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us.
In March 2001, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn began a review of the CISD as part of a six-district project that also included reviews of the neighboring San Angelo, Veribest, Grape Creek, Wall and Water Valley school districts. In the final report issued in August 2001, four key challenges surfaced - improving planning efforts, enhancing federal, state and local revenues, better documenting procedures and adequately maintaining facilities.
Based upon more than six months of work, this report identified CISD's exemplary programs and suggested concrete ways to improve district operations. If fully implemented, the Comptroller's 43 recommendations could result in net savings of $291,733 over the next five years.
The Comptroller contracted with Gibson Consulting Group, Inc., an Austin-based firm, to assist TSPR with the review. The team interviewed district employees, school board members, parents, business leaders and community members and held a public forum on Wednesday March 28, 2001, at the Christoval High School from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. To obtain additional comments, the review team conducted small focus group sessions with teachers, principals and board members. The Comptroller's office also received letters and phone calls from parents, teachers and community members.
To ensure that all stakeholders had an opportunity to give comment, surveys were sent to students, parents, teachers and campus and central administration and support staff. A total of 140 respondents answered these surveys: 11 central administrators and support staff, 18 teachers, 60 parents and 51 students. The review team also consulted two databases of comparative educational information maintained by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) - the Academic Excellence indicator System (AEIS) and the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS).
CISD selected peer districts for comparisons based on similarities in student enrollment, student performance and community and student demographics. The districts chosen were Apple Springs, Brookeland, Leggett, Meadow and Slidell. TSPR also measured CISD against district averages in TEA's Regional Education Service Center XV (Region 15) in San Angelo and to the state as a whole.
Located in Tom Green County, CISD is approximately 19 miles south of the county seat of San Angelo, Texas. Agriculture and ranching comprise a large percentage of the economy within the county. The district has seen a shift in its demographics over the past five years. Historically, the population base was 100 percent rural. However, with the continued growth in the neighboring communities of Dove Creek and Knickerbocker, the population base is more equally split between rural and suburban. Enrollment is expected to increase as both of these communities send their students to Christoval. The central Christoval campus includes the high school, middle school and administration building. The district maintains a separate elementary school located several blocks from the central location.
CISD's enrollment for 2001-02 totaled 365 students, an increase of 1 percent from its 1996-97 enrollment of 360 students. In 2001-02, CISD's student demographics were 80 percent Anglo, 18.9 percent Hispanic and 1.1 percent African American. More than 28 percent of the student body of the district is considered economically disadvantaged.
On August 1, 2002 TEA released the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) statewide testing results for 2001-02. CISD received an overall Recognized rating for the sixth year in a row. According to these latest reports, CISD's elementary campus achieved an Exemplary rating for the third year in a row while the high school received a Recognized rating for the sixth year in a row.
In 2001-02, 90.7 percent of all students passed all tests taken; 95.0 percent of all students passed the math portion of the test; 94.4 percent of all students passed the reading portion of the test; and 93.1 percent of all students passed the writing portion of the test. The district's overall passing rate increased by nearly 5 percentage points from the 86.6 percent passing rate from the previous year.
In 2001-02, the district employed a staff of 65 employees, with teachers accounting for nearly 40 employees, or 49 percent, of CISD staffing. The district had expenditures of nearly $3 million that same year. In 2001-02, 31.0 percent of CISD's budgeted revenues were generated from local taxes, and 2.9 percent came from local and intermediate sources. About 64.9 percent of revenues came from the state, while only 1.1 percent came from the federal government.
CISD participates in the Fairview Accelerated Education Cooperative (Fairview) founded in 1994 as the Alternative Education facility for the communities surrounding San Angelo, Texas. Wall Independent School District houses the facilities and serves as the fiscal agent. Member districts in addition to Christoval are Bronte, Eden, Grape Creek, Miles, Robert Lee, Sterling City, Wall, Water Valley and Irion County. The students in grades 6 through 12 whom attend Fairview are bused into school each day from distances up to fifty miles.
CISD is also a member of the Small Schools Cooperative, a shared service arrangement designed to assist member districts in serving students with disabilities. The Small Schools Cooperative serves as the "Special Education Department" for 18 member school districts in the area. Belonging to a cooperative allows CISD and the other member districts to access support services that could not otherwise be afforded because of its limited number of students and associated funding.
Over the last year, significant changes have occurred in the district including the hiring of a new business manager. Additionally, in September 2002, Superintendent Rusty Sherman was selected as the Region 15 superintendent of the year from more than 40 nominations and was one of the five finalists in the statewide competition sponsored by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). The district also opened a new cafetorium, and students, staff, parents and community members now enjoy its services.
CISD has made steady progress in implementing TSPR recommendations, particularly considering that the district transitioned to a new business manager during this time. Forty recommendations have been implemented and two are in various stages of progress. The district only rejected one of the recommendations after review because implementation was not feasible at this time (See Appendix A for details on the recommendations' status.)
Christoval ISD Report Card
Excellent = More than 80% complete
Chapter Total Complete In
Rejected Percent Complete/
Grades District Organization and Management 9 8 1 0 0 89%/11% Excellent Educational Service Delivery 6 6 0 0 0 100%/0% Excellent Financial Management 8 7 0 0 1 87.5%/0% Excellent Operations 20 19 1 0 0 95%/5% Excellent Overall Grade 43 40 2 0 1 93%/5% Excellent
Satisfactory = 80% to 100% complete or in progress
Needs Work = Less than 80% complete or in progress
CISD is a school district with some notable successes, and TSPR has identified numerous "best practices." Through commendations in each chapter, the original report highlighted model programs, operations and services provided by CISD administrators, teachers and staff members. Other school districts throughout Texas are encouraged to examine these exemplary programs and services to see if they could be adapted to meet local needs. TSPR's commendations include the following:
- CISD challenges all high school students to achieve at the highest level by making the Recommended High School Program the standard program for students. Every CISD student starts out in the Recommended High School Program and is moved into the minimum program only if there is no other alternative. This practice precedes the 2001 legislative requirement that students graduate with at least the Recommended High School Program beginning with the class of 2004-05. Consequently, more students in CISD complete the recommended plan than in its peer districts, Region 15 or the state. In 1999-2000, 69 percent of CISD students completed the Recommended High School Program, while 57 percent of students completed the program in 2000-01.
CISD continues to promote academic achievement beyond state recommendations. Since the state mandated all students to graduate under the Recommended High School Program, the district sought additional ways to encourage academic growth and challenge. CISD is one of a select group of Texas districts that participate in the EXPLORE & PLAN programs, two curriculum-based assessments associated with the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT). These programs allow students in grades 8 and 10 to build an informed educational and career analysis plan in preparation for the college admission process based on identified strengths from administered tests. By continuing to strive for academic excellence for its students, CISD not only ensures that students will enjoy future success but also ensures that students qualify for Texas Grant scholarships, which require that students graduate under the Recommended High School Program and subsequently pay full tuition to any state supported college or university.
- The district actively recruits teachers with multiple certifications to optimize its use of teaching resources. One of the ways the district has addressed limited resources and facilities is through recruiting teachers who can serve multiple functions. For example, the district is currently recruiting a math and science teacher for the sixth grade. The district also is looking to hire teachers that are certified to teach math and science as well as coach. This practice allows the district to save both salary and benefit expenses. Instead of hiring separate individuals for these subjects, the district can pay a stipend and not incur an additional full salary.
The district continues to seek teachers to fulfill multiple teaching roles in science and math - areas traditionally difficult to fill statewide. The district hired a math and science teacher for the sixth grade and continues to seek certified professionals to teach these subjects and serve as coaches for the district to control salary and benefit costs. The district maintains a professional teaching staff with fully certified teachers for all subjects and at all grade levels.
- CISD defines possible payroll deductions and gives employees the opportunity to invest through payroll deductions. The district developed an orientation package that explains all possible deductions, including state retirement benefits, insurance premiums and leave without pay policies. The employees also are allowed to request additional investment options for their own investment strategies, such as annuities or mutual funds. The district will make the necessary arrangements to make payments on employees' behalf through payroll deductions.
The district enhanced its orientation package and prioritizes opportunities to ensure that staff adequately understand available payroll deductions and investment opportunities. The district provided training seminars for all staff hosted by insurance specialists and monitored its effectiveness by surveying teachers and attendees for comments. In fall 2002, the superintendent said that a majority of participants revised payroll deductions due to the district's attention to explaining employee benefits.
- CISD has strong internal cash controls in place. CISD maintains strong internal cash controls by separating its cash receipts from the bank statement reconciliation. The business manager reconciles all of the district's bank accounts each month; the elementary principal's secretary and the PEIMS coordinator handle all cash receipts from the elementary campus and the high school campus, respectively; and the business manager ensures the accuracy of all deposit slips before the district deposits funds into appropriate bank accounts.
CISD continues to maintain strong internal cash controls by separating its cash receipts from bank statement reconciliations. The new business manager reconciles the district's bank accounts monthly while the elementary principal's secretary and the PEIMS coordinator continue to process all cash receipts for the elementary and high school campuses. The business manager conducts a final check of all deposit slips to ensure accuracy prior to actual bank deposits.
- CISD effectively manages its fund balance by controlling expenditures. Since 1996-97, the district has placed an average of 4.8 cents of every revenue dollar earned per student directly into the general fund balance. This has allowed CISD to maintain a fund balance near or in excess of TEA's three-month recommendation.
The district's new business manager and the superintendent cooperate with the board to ensure that budgeted expenditures are allocated effectively to maintain a fund balance that equals or exceeds TEA's recommended amounts. As a small district, CISD knows the importance of maintaining adequate reserves and continues to watch all expenditures so the district can meet its payroll and expected bills in the event of a financial emergency.
- The district successfully applied the Construction Manager-at-Risk method to build quality facilities at lower cost. The district hired a construction manager-at-risk to perform all pre- and during construction tasks such as providing a preliminary evaluation of CISD's program and project budget; regularly monitoring project costs; and securing and transmitting to the architect and engineers required guarantees, affidavits, releases, bonds and waivers. Additionally, the district formed a committee of three board members with construction experience to oversee the project. This knowledge base on the board gave the district a measure of quality control that many small districts do not have. The total cost of the project is expected to be $1.4 million under budget.
The district's use of a construction manager-at-risk, board member construction experience and continuous monitoring of all aspects of the cafetorium construction project effectively saved the district more than $1 million from the projected budget. The district plans to employ these same cost-saving strategies for any future construction or renovation projects.
- The district allows the county to use its grounds for drug dog training in the evenings, providing drug detection services at no cost to the district. CISD has addressed drug problems by allowing the Sheriff's Department to train their drug dogs on the school premises. The dogs are trained inside the high school and elementary school, the parking lots and the football field. In 1999-2000, CISD did not have expenditures in the area of safety and security, while the state average for security and monitoring costs was 0.6 percent.
CISD continues to prioritize and address drug problems by allowing the Sheriff's Department to train their drug dogs inside the high school and elementary school, on parking lots and on the football field. By encouraging this relationship, CISD has realized savings for the district and has not incurred expenditures in the area of safety and security since 1999-2000.
Listed below are some of the key recommendations that administrators and staff said they believe had the greatest impact on district operations. The highlighted recommendations are organized by chapter and by the area of operation contained in the original report. The comments came from district administrators during the TSPR team's follow-up visit to the district.
District Organization and Management
Recommendation 4: - Subscribe to the Texas Association of School Boards' (TASB) "policy on-line" service.
According to the superintendent, this initial recommendation not only made access to district policies by staff and community members easier but also facilitated the district's creation of a personalized Web site including central administration and campus news. The superintendent commented that policy research is now quick, easy and available to anyone with computer access.
Recommendation 5: - Develop a long-range strategic plan that integrates the District Improvement Plan (DIP) and Campus Improvement Plan (CIP) and links the plan to the budget with alternative scenarios for growth.
The district's site-based decision-making committees cooperated with the superintendent to develop a long-range strategic plan and ensured that the DIP and the CIPs incorporated future plans for growth and appropriate budgetary elements. CISD's external auditor noted that out of 17 district audits completed by that firm for a January 2003 submission to TEA, CISD's CIPs and DIP were in the top two due to the level of included detail and coordination linking goals and budgeted funds. The district continues to study alternative plans for growth including investigations into land acquisitions for future construction.
Recommendation 9: - Use high school students to create a district Web page.
The district's Technology coordinator and the superintendent collaborate with three additional administrators and staff to maintain the CISD Web site. Grant funding in 2001-02 and 2002-03 has allowed the district to provide training in Web page design to the high school technology teacher. The district has future plans to include students proficient in Web design and maintenance in possible Web site updates. The superintendent additionally said that he encouraged staff development in technology.
Educational Service Delivery
Recommendation 14: - Develop Campus Improvement Plans that address state mandates governing compensatory education fund management.
The district's 2002-03 CIPs not only address state mandates for compensatory education fund management, but also exceed minimum standards as evidenced by the initial external auditor's report submitted to TEA in fall 2002. The superintendent personally conducted research to ensure that the district not only complied with but exceeded state requirements and said that implementation of the state mandated compensatory education external audit cost the district $17,000 in 2002 as opposed to $8,000 in 2001 when the district's audit showed compensatory education compliance in the DIP. The external auditors said that the CISD results were the second best of 17 reviewed district DIPs and CIPs.
Recommendation 31: - Use a work order tracking log to monitor the cost, timeliness and performance of maintenance services.
This recommendation has been the most significant for the district in the area of operations because the district went a step beyond the recommendation and hired a full-time Maintenance director in 2002 to not only monitor the cost and timeliness of maintenance services but bring many contracted services back in-house. The Maintenance director reports operational expenditures and projected expenditures to the superintendent on a regular basis. The district anticipates realizing significant savings through this decision.
CISD has made steady progress in implementing TSPR's recommendations, with more than 98 percent of the recommendations either implemented or being implemented at this writing. The district rejected only one of the report's recommendations and is encouraged to continue full implementation of those cost-saving recommendations still in-progress.
District Organization and Management
TSPR recommended that CISD include more detail in its documentation of board minutes (Recommendation #1) to provide the community with the background information the board uses to make district decisions. Details about discussions or data considered by the board provide community members with a way to hold the board accountable for its decisions. The board carefully considered this recommendation and cited a lack of community participation and interest in board meetings as the basis for its decision to maintain its current level of board minute documentation. Although community attendance at monthly board meetings is low, the board is encouraged to consider adding more detail to its monthly minutes for review by the public on the district's Web site. The district has already embraced the Web site as the most cost-effective means of communicating with the public and would provide parents and community members with the additional information needed to hold the board accountable for items discussed and decisions made during board meetings.
The district has made good progress in its efforts to reduce the overall operating costs of its Food Service Operations through increased meal participation (Recommendation #25) and increased productivity of its cafeteria staff using established meals per labor hour (Recommendation #24). CCISD administrators are, however, encouraged to continue monitoring monthly meals per labor hours for cafeteria workers and to continue exploring other cost saving alternatives such as joining a food cooperative. The district is commended for initiating discussions with Region 15 regarding a food cooperative. Increasing staff productivity as well as meal participation through innovative programs will help the district to increase federal reimbursements and thereby become financially self-sufficient.
The Texas School Performance Review team does not assume that its process for performing school reviews works so well that it cannot be improved. Therefore, as part of the progress report preparation, TSPR asked Christoval ISD board members and administrators what went right and what went wrong-and how the process could be improved.
The feedback TSPR has received from other districts led to improvements in the review process. For example, early reports did not include implementation strategies, and districts told TSPR they needed help getting started. As a result, the reports now include IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINEs to complement the recommendations. District officials have told TSPR these blueprints are invaluable to achieving the desired results. It is important however, for TSPR staff to be mindful of those things that did not work as intended so that the review process can be improved.
Christoval's superintendent noted that it was difficult for the consultants to understand the intricacies of a small district without spending more than two weeks in the district observing daily operations. He expressed concern about the process of including small districts that were doing well in this review process. However, he also said that all of the consultants were professional and knowledgeable about their respective subjects.
TSPR agrees that a strict two weeks on-site may not be enough time to conduct interviews and review in-house operations. Based on the unique needs of a district, TSPR does make adjustments to timelines when additional work is needed on-site, while still being sensitive to the fact that the presence of the review team can be disruptive to staff and administrators. In the future, these concerns will be given careful consideration.
Christoval board members also responded to a request for follow-up comments and made the following observations:
"Overall, I enjoyed the review and it has made a difference. As long as it remains advisory in nature and lets independent school districts operate independently, it is a useful tool."
"It would have made a difference, however, if the review team could have spent more time understanding the rural nature of Tom Green County and realizing the cost of travel to the cooperatives with other districts in regards to food service and bus driver training for example."
"The report also had recommendations that 'went by the book' without regard to why we did things a certain way. A follow-up site visit after three to six months before releasing the report would have given the review team better information to respond to those particular areas of need for us and other districts."
TSPR takes these comments seriously, and continually uses feedback to revise its procedures to ensure that the process is beneficial for both large and small districts. Most recently, TSPR assembled a task force of volunteer large and small school district administrators and experts to assist in updating the audit protocols that guide each review - from district organization and educational service delivery to food service operations and transportation. Comments and suggestions from CISD staff and administrators will be welcomed.