RUNGE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
Improving the TSPR
TSPR in the Runge ISD
Runge ISD in Profile
Exemplary Programs and Practices
TSPR Key Recommendations
What Still Needs to be Done?
Runge ISD's Ideas for Improving the TSPR
In August 2001, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn completed a review of the Runge Independent School District (RISD) as part of a four-district project that also included reviews of the neighboring Karnes City, Kenedy and Falls City school districts. These four districts are located geographically near each other in Karnes County. During November 2002, 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 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 55 subsequent reviews show that more than 90 percent of TSPR's combined proposals have been acted upon, saving taxpayers more than $120 million, with the full savings estimated to grow in the future.
Comptroller Carole Keeton 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 Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) 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 will be 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 Karnes County.
Recognizing that only about 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 will school districts' best practices and exemplary models be left 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 will be 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 will 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 continually 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 Runge Independent School District (RISD) as part of a four-district project that also included reviews of the neighboring Karnes City, Kenedy and Falls City school districts. These four districts are located geographically near each other in Karnes County. In the final report issued in August 2001, four key challenges surfaced--ensuring that board members are adequately trained in rules and regulations; recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers; improving students' academic performance; and effectively managing financial operations.
The Comptroller contracted with International Business Machines to assist 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 21, at the Runge school cafeteria from 5 to 7 p.m. To obtain additional comments, the review team conducted small focus group sessions with teachers, administrators and staff, employees, students, parents and community members. The Comptroller's office also received letters and phone calls from a wide array of parents, teachers and community members.
TSPR also mailed surveys to students, parents, teachers and campus administrators. Because no parent surveys were returned, TSPR conducted a telephone survey and obtained responses from 10 randomly selected families. In all, 74 respondents answered these written and phone surveys, including 18 campus and central administrators and support workers, 27 teachers, 10 parents and 19 students.
RISD selected peer districts for comparative purposes, based on similarities in student enrollment, student performance and community and student demographics. The districts chosen were Balmorhea, Hart, Loraine, Lorenzo and New Summerfield.
During its almost six-month review, TSPR developed recommendations to improve RISD's operations and save its taxpayers $170,346 by 2005-06. Cumulative net savings from all recommendations (savings minus recommended investments or expenditures) would reach $156,846 by 2005-06.
RISD is located in Karnes County, about 20 miles east of the city of Kenedy. Ranching and farming are key components of the county economy, and many residents commute to work in San Antonio or Victoria. The district is nestled in a small, quiet and deeply religious community.
RISD's high school, elementary and administrative offices are located in the same building. Enrollment for 2000-01 totaled 330 students, representing an increase of 5.1 percent over the last five years. The other districts in the county under review by TSPR have had declining student enrollments over the last five years, except for Falls City, which had less than 1 percent growth. More than 71 percent of RISD's student body is considered to be economically disadvantaged.
In 2001-02, the district served a population that is 17 percent Anglo, 1.3 percent African-American, 81 percent Hispanic and 0.7 percent Native American.
On August 16, 2001, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) results for the 2001-02 school year. RISD received an overall Academically Unacceptable rating because only 47.6 percent of students passed the Social Studies portion of the TAAS. While the district's Elementary School was rated Academically Acceptable, the High School was rated Low Performing due to the Social Studies passing rate.
In 2001-02, 83.8 percent of all students passed the Reading portion of the TAAS, 88.1 percent passed the Math portion, 70.0 percent passed the Writing portion and 72.9 percent of students passed all tests taken.
In 2001-02, the district employed a staff of 61.7 employees, with teachers accounting for 37.9 employees, or more than 61.5 percent of RISD staffing. The district had expenditures of $2.7 million in 2002-03. In 2002-03, 24 percent of RISD's budgeted revenues were generated through local taxes, 1 percent came from other local and intermediate sources and 63 percent came from the state, while 12 percent came from the federal government.
In 2001-02, RISD budgeted 56.7 cents of every tax dollar on classroom instruction compared with the state average of 51 cents.
Over the last year, significant changes have occurred in the district. Mr. Harold King, who had been superintendent in RISD for 12 years, retired at the end of the last school year, and Mr. Ernest Havner joined the district as superintendent in June 2002. He added a reading specialist to work with students with reading difficulties and has begun a three-year process of curriculum development. Enrollment has decreased by about 50 students since August 2001, when the report was issued.
The superintendent's main goal is to move the district to Exemplary status by focusing on curriculum. His approach involves a site-based philosophy, involving everyone, including teachers, parents and community members in the process of improvement. Mr. Havner noted that he was able to increase community involvement by soliciting and receiving donations for new scoreboards for athletic facilities and obtaining a marquis for the elementary school when the city replaced the marquis in the park with a newer one, all of which increase the community's awareness of and pride in the district.
While the district still has a lot of work to do, both RISD staff and TSPR team members have a sense of steady progress. Ten recommendations have been implemented, 17 are in various stages of progress and 3 have been reviewed but not implemented. Only one recommendation was rejected outright because the district did not feel that it was workable. (See Appendix A for details on the recommendations' status.)
Runge ISD Report Card
Excellent = More than 80% complete
Chapter Total Complete In
Rejected Percent Complete/
Grades District Organization and Management 8 1 6 0 1 13%/75% Satisfactory Educational Service Delivery and Safety 5 1 4 0 0 20%/80% Satisfactory Financial Management 6 5 1 0 0 83%/17% Excellent Support Services 12 3 6 3 0 25%/50% Needs Work Overall Grade 31 10 17 3 1 32%/55% Satisfactory
Satisfactory = 80% to 100% complete or in progress
Needs Work = Less than 80% complete or in progress
TSPR identified numerous "best practices" in RISD. Through commendations in each chapter, this report highlights model programs, operations and services provided by RISD administrators, teachers and staff members. Other school districts throughout Texas are encouraged to examine these exemplary programs and services to see if they can be adapted to meet their local needs. TSPR's commendations include the following:
- RISD has taken positive steps to promote good working relationships that inspire public confidence and support. RISD's administration successfully establishes an adequate infrastructure for site-based decision-making and avoids unnecessary layers of management. Managers at various levels display a strong sense of commitment and association with the district. This relatively flat and effective management structure fosters a team environment among its staff.
In an effort to involve all segments of the community, the district now publishes a Spanish- language newspaper and presents a Spanish- language radio show once a week.
- RISD's gifted and talented students have used their research skills to benefit their community. The Runge Elementary gifted and talented class created the Lake Paul Project, which studied water and wildlife samples from a local lake. The students identified the need for substantial cleanup of the area, but recognizing the job was beyond their means, they developed a plan of action and made a formal presentation the Runge City Council. The result has been recognition of the students' efforts by Texas Parks and Wildlife, the San Antonio River Authority and the Lower Colorado River Authority.
As of November 2002, students continue to work with the City in the Lake Paul Project cleanup efforts. Water samples from the lake are being obtained and taken to class for analysis. The class is also building birdhouses that are being hung around lake.
- RISD has lowered its energy costs by using grants to purchase energy-efficient lighting. The district modernized its lighting equipment with a 1996 grant from the State Energy Conservation Office. New equipment costs can be recovered in a few years through energy savings.
RISD continues to accrue energy savings from the energy efficient lighting project and is now buying its electricity through the Texas Association of School Administrators Buy Board, which has helped them to hold the line on energy costs.
- RISD's technology plan provides a sound foundation and framework for the effective use and evaluation of technology in support of the district's educational goals. The district's technology plan contains goals and strategies designed to move the district forward technologically.
In October 2001, the district received a $50,000 Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund grant, which it used to replace and integrate its old server with three new servers that back each other up. New Career and Technology labs were added to allow students access to additional courses through a joint grant with the Austwell Tivioli School District. The district also upgraded its e-mail system. The grant also allowed RISD to place a Special Education computer in each classroom and to obtain a new network printer for teachers to use for Admission, Review and Dismissal data collected for each special education student in the district.
The following 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 as 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 5 - Develop a strategic plan for RISD. While the district is only just beginning this process with goal setting by the board in February 2003, the superintendent said his philosophy for the district focuses on the needs of the district's students, therefore the students must be at the heart of the planning effort. He also believes that planning must involve all of the stakeholders so that when a plan is developed, everyone in the district will be focused on implementing the plan and achieving Exemplary student performance.
Educational Service Delivery and Safety
Recommendation 10 - Improve TAAS student scores by setting goals for increased participation of all groups and using the test results to modify teaching strategies. As the state moves away from the TAAS and implements the more rigorous Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), the superintendent said that he feels that a complete curriculum alignment is necessary for the district. Teaching strategies and curriculum guides must address these more rigorous standards, and through a three year process, which includes participation in the Texas Rural Systemic Initiative (TRSI) and the South Texas Rural Systemic Initiative (STRSI),which are systemic reform projects that work with participating school districts to improve the mathematics and science performance of all students, RISD can realize its goal of Exemplary student performance. Funding for TRSI and STRSI is provided through a grant from the National Science Foundation. The partnership developed by the Texas A&M University System includes K-12 school districts, universities, education service centers, the Texas Education Agency and others in mathematics and science education. One of the major attributes of the partnership, developed by the Texas A&M University System, is the successful implementation of the math and science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) through:
- vertical alignment of math and science curriculum K-12;
- teachers prepared in TEKS implementation, assessment, inquiry-based activities, technology and use of available resources;
- inquiry-based learning for all students;
- technology tools and training; and
- alignment of professional development.
In all, this recommendation is not only important as the district addresses the Low Performing status of its high school today or the more rigorous testing requirements in the future, but it is critically important for the future success of RISD students.
Recommendation 18 - Develop and implement a year-round budget calendar. The superintendent identified this recommendation as a key to the district's financial health in the future. Creating this calendar and working through the various steps in the budget process helped him and the board to better understand the challenges facing the district and to make needed operational improvements.
Recommendation 24 - Establish strategies for increasing participation in breakfast and lunch on campus.
Recommendation 25 - Review food service budget revenue annually to determine if the estimates are reasonable.
Recommendation 26 - Annually review meal prices to ensure that prices paid for meals cover costs.
These three recommendations have proven critical in making and keeping the food service operation of the district self-supporting. The district is looking at the whole operation and is implementing strategies to increase participation. The meal prices for adults were raised to ensure that the price covered the cost of the meals, but through increased participation and other cost cutting strategies, the district was able to keep meal prices for students at previous levels.
RISD has made steady progress in implementing TSPR recommendations, particularly considering that it transitioned in a new superintendent during this time. Ten recommendations have been implemented, 17 are in various stages of progress and three have not yet been addressed. Only one recommendation was rejected outright because the board and administration did not feel that it was workable. This section addresses the key areas requiring additional attention.
The superintendent is making great strides with the current curriculum alignment project (Recommendation #10), but it is a project that cannot be accomplished overnight. TSPR applauds the district for undertaking this mammoth project, and we also agree that this is probably the most important project that this district will undertake in the next three years. But board and community members and parents may tend to become discouraged when the more rigorous TAKS tests are given and results are mixed, as is expected in nearly every district in the state. What is being done here today with the alignment project can and will improve the student performance in the future and no matter how discouraged individuals may become during the process, TSPR encourages the district to hold the course.
Facility Use and Management
Recommendations for developing a long range facility master plan (Recommendation #20), establishing a heating ventilation and air conditioning replacement schedule (Recommendation #22) and reinforcing energy conservation programs (Recommendation #21) are all linked to facility needs. Because the two largest cost drivers in any district are personnel and facilities, developing a facility master plan with strategies and prioritized goals, which the superintendent is now beginning to address, should be given full attention in the coming year.
As the district expands its technology infrastructure the need for a comprehensive disaster recovery plan becomes even more critical (Recommendation #31). Should natural or man-made disasters occur, not only is the backing up of data important, but everyone in the district needs to have a well-documented plan for restoring the district to full operation as quickly and efficiently as possible. One district that TSPR worked with that had a good, simple disaster recovery plan that could be used as a template by other districts is the Glen Rose ISD. TSPR urges the administration to explore the Glen Rose ISD's Web site and pull down this document for review and replication.
The TSPR 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 Runge ISD staff 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 in getting started. As a result, the reports now include IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINEs to complement the recommendations. Districts have told TSPR these blueprints are invaluable to achieving the desired results. But, it is important for TSPR to continually be mindful of those things that did not work as intended so that the review process can be continually improved.
Two of the seven board members responded to the TSPR survey, and RISD administrators and board members made the following observations:
One board member strongly agreed that the performance review fairly portrayed the exemplary programs as well as the challenges facing the district. This board member also strongly agreed that the report contained background information and suggestions that were useful to the district and stated that the review provided focus and direction for the district.
Another board member indicated that the biggest challenge the district currently faces is improving the district's Low Performing status and suggested that TSPR could have reviewed TAAS for the prior year and discussed or explained this information to the board in greater detail. This board member strongly agreed that the business operations had improved in the district since the issuance of the report but expressed some concern about the costs associated with implementing some of the recommendations, given the district's financial status. TSPR is available to work with school boards and administrators, both during and after a review to better explain the issues in the report and assist the district in implementing needed changes. In the future, TSPR will reiterate this service to the districts under review so that such items as student performance and potential reinvestment opportunities can be discussed in greater detail.
The new superintendent was complimentary of the review, stating that he used the information contained in the report both during his interview process for the position and as a guide as he assumed his new role as superintendent. At this time, neither he nor his staff had suggestions for improvement of the process.