San Angelo Independent School District
The San Angelo Independent School District (SAISD) is the largest school district in Tom Green County serving a culturally diverse population of more than 16,000 students in 28 schools. While student performance continues to outpace the state’s averages, organizational and financial controversies have surrounded the district for some time.
When we started this review we found a district in turmoil, plagued with deeply disturbing problems. The board and administrators were embroiled in internal in-fighting, denying a problem existed and unwilling to accept responsibility or make the hard decisions that would ultimately bring the focus back to the district’s primary mission of educating children.
Student enrollment has declined over the last five years as have the number of teachers. Yet, administrative and support staffing levels have increased, netting the district an overall increase in staffing and related salaries. Consequently, the district now finds itself with dangerously low financial reserves and has declared financial exigency, which gives the district the authority under Texas law to reduce expenditures by terminating professional term contracts during the contract period.
After more than six months of work, my Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) team and I found that the district needs to address four major challenges:
- financial instability
- a weak system of internal controls;
- inadequate planning; and
- a lack of accountability.
San Angelo ISD must take swift, corrective action to restore trust with its community and ensure that its students receive the highest quality education.
We found several ways the district could better control its finances. First, the board needs to recognize the financial condition of the district is real, and administrative and support level staffing cuts are absolutely necessary to restore financial stability to the district. Our report recommends staffing reductions, primarily through attrition, that will net savings of more than $7 million annually. Furthermore, controls must be put in place to ensure that the district’s resources are used appropriately. Receipts must be demanded for all employee reimbursements, state purchasing and bid laws must not be circumvented and the district should consider hiring an internal auditor to continually monitor these internal controls and report findings directly to the board.
Another serious concern is in the area of planning, particularly for facilities. Inadequate planning has left some schools in the district underused while others are overcrowded. By adjusting attendance zones at the elementary school level the district can eliminate an elementary school and provide a greater balance of enrollment both in the physical plant and in the area of educational opportunities. Utility and staff savings alone could net the district $180,000 annually.
My performance review makes 112 recommendations that, if implemented, would save San Angelo ISD taxpayers more than $40.6 million over a five-year period, while reinvesting nearly $1.9 million. Net savings are estimated to reach more than $38.7 million. That is money that could be used to rectify some of the financial shortfalls in the district and ensure that every possible dollar is driven directly into the classroom where it belongs.
By addressing these issues and others, I believe San Angelo ISD can get back on track and set an example for other school districts in Texas and across the nation to follow. I am confident that school board members, school administrators, teachers and parents are all committed to making the district the best it can be for their students.
Carole Keeton Rylander
Comptroller of Public Accounts