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Progress Report
San Angelo Independent School District

July 2003

Transmittal Letter
Improving TSPR
TSPR in San Angelo ISD
San Angelo ISD in Profile
Report Card
Exemplary Programs and Practices
TSPR Key Recommendations
What Still Needs to Be Done?
SAISD's Ideas for Improving the TSPR

Appendix A - Status of Recommendations and Savings

In December 2000 Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced her intent to conduct a review of the San Angelo Independent School District (SAISD) at the request from Representative Rob Junell and the San Angelo Parents Rights Organization (SAPRO), a local citizens group. SAPRO had expressed numerous concerns regarding the management of the district and the district’s declining fund balance, the equivalent of the district’s savings account. In follow-up conversations Representative Junell asked the Comptroller to include all of the five smaller districts in Tom Green County in the review.

The Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) division of the Comptroller’s office conducts school district reviews. TSPR began work in San Angelo in March 2001. Based upon more than six months of work, the August 2001 report identified SAISD’s exemplary programs and suggested concrete ways to improve district operations. If fully implemented, the Comptroller’s 112 recommendations could result in net savings of more than $38.7 million over the next five years. During December 2002, TSPR staff returned to SAISD 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 five-year periods in more than 80 public school districts throughout Texas. TSPR also conducts follow-up reviews of districts that have had at least one year to implement the recommendations. These 60 subsequent reviews showed that school districts have acted on more than 90 percent of TSPR’s proposals, saving taxpayers nearly $125 million. The Comptroller’s office expects the full savings to grow in the future.


Improving the Texas School Performance Review

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 TSPR more valuable, even vital, to the state’s more than 1,000 school districts. With the perspective of a former teacher, and school board president, the Comptroller has vowed to steer TSPR toward increased accountability 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 now given to districts judged poor performing academically or financially, and to hands-on reviews that benefit the greatest number of students. To ensure this process also serves small districts, reviews of numerous school districts in close proximity, regardless of academic or financial status, are also completed to achieve some economy of scale, as was the case with the smaller districts reviewed in Tom Green 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 are school districts’ best practices and exemplary models left buried inside individual TSPR reports. Instead, Comptroller Strayhorn has ordered TSPR to share best practices and exemplary programs 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 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 www.window.state.tx.us.


TSPR in the San Angelo ISD

TSPR began its performance review of SAISD on March 26, 2001. Superintendent Dr. Joe Gonzales announced his resignation on April 26, 2001. A number of senior managers also announced that they would not return in 2001-02. The board appointed Mark Gesch, SAISD’s former executive director for General Administrative Services, as interim superintendent while it searched for a permanent replacement.

TSPR contracted with Gibson Consulting Group Inc.—an Austin-based consulting firm—to assist with the review of SAISD. TSPR later amended the original contract to allow the contracting firm to perform additional analyses of district transactions that the review team uncovered during its on-site work. The team interviewed district employees, school board members, parents, business leaders and community members. The team also conducted three public forums at two district junior high schools, on March 28 and 29, 2001 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and at one elementary school on March 29 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

To obtain additional comments, the review team met with eight small focus groups that included teachers, principals, 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. To ensure that all stakeholder groups had input, TSPR sent surveys to students, parents, teachers, support staff and administrators at the schools and district offices.

The team received 479 survey responses from: 73 administrative and support staff; 26 principals and assistant principals; 101 teachers; 108 parents; and 171students.

The review team also consulted two databases of comparative educational information maintained by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which compiles information from school districts in its Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) and the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS).

SAISD selected peer districts for comparisons based on similarities in student enrollment, student performance and community and student demographics. SAISD chose Abilene ISD, Ector County ISD, Midland ISD and Waco ISD as its peer districts. TSPR also compared SAISD to district averages in TEA’s Regional Education Service Center XV (Region 15), to which SAISD belongs, and the state as a whole.


San Angelo ISD in Profile

The largest school district in Tom Green County, SAISD serves a culturally diverse population of more than 15,000 students in 2002-03. SAISD has 28 schools: 20 elementary schools, four middle schools, two high schools and two alternative education schools. SAISD’s students consists of: 45 percent Anglo, 47.4 percent Hispanic, 6.3 percent African American, 1.1 percent Asian Pacific Islander and 0.2 percent Native American. Economically disadvantaged students make up 49.3 percent of the district’s student population.

Five of SAISD’s schools received an Exemplary rating from TEA in 2002: Bonham, Bowie, Glenmore, Santa Rita and Travis elementary schools. Seven schools received a Recognized rating the same year: including the Austin, Belaire, Crockett, Fannin, Goliad and McGill Elementary Schools and the Glenn Junior High School. All other district schools rated Academically Acceptable, and the district overall received an Academically Acceptable rating.

In 2001-02, 89.2 percent of all SAISD students passed the reading portion of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS); 90.1 percent passed the math portion of the test; 86.1 percent passed the writing portion of the test; and 81.8 percent of students passed all tests taken.

In 2002-03, the district employed a staff of 1,876.5 employees. SAISD employed 1,001 teachers —53.3 percent of its staff—that year. The district budgeted $90 million in 2002-03. That same year, SAISD generated 33.2 percent of SAISD’s budgeted revenues through local taxes; 4.5 percent from other local and intermediate sources; 58.3 percent from the state; and 4.0 percent from the federal government.

SAISD budgeted 51.6 cents of every tax dollar on classroom instruction in 2002-03. The state average is 51 cents of each tax dollar.

The district restored stability by hiring a new superintendent in 2002. The new superintendent and his staff reorganized the district to provide support for academics and tighter control over financial management, helping to reduce public concern and controversy regarding district operations.

SAISD’s staff and the TSPR team members have a sense of steady progress. The district has implemented 71 of the Comptroller’s recommendations. The district is working toward completing another 32 recommendations and has accepted five recommendations but not implemented them. SAISD chose to reject four of the review team’s recommendations. Appendix A provides the details on the status of each recommendation that TSPR made in its original report.


San Angelo ISD Report Card

Chapter Total Complete In Progress Not Implemented Rejected Percent Complete/In Progress Grades
District Organization and Management12 9 3 0 0 75%/25% Satisfactory
Educational Service Delivery 11 5 4 0 2 45%/36% Satisfactory
Community Involvement1 1 0 0 0 100%/0% Excellent
Personnel Management8 7 1 0 0 88%/12% Excellent
Facilities Use and Maintenance12 3 7 2 0 25%/58% Satisfactory
Asset and Risk Management12 8 2 0 2 67%/17% Satisfactory
Financial Management19 14 3 2 0 74%/16% Satisfactory
Purchasing and Warehouse8 5 3 0 0 63%/37% Satisfactory
Computers and Technology8 3 5 0 0 38%/62% Satisfactory
Transportation 11 8 3 0 0 73%/27% Satisfactory
Food Services 7 6 0 1 0 86%/0% Excellent
Safety and Security3 2 1 0 0 67%/33% Satisfactory
Overall Grade 112 71 32 5 4 63%/29% Satisfactory
Excellent = More than 80% complete
Satisfactory = 80% to 100% complete or in progress
Needs Work = Less than 80% complete or in progress


Exemplary Programs and Practices

SAISD 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 SAISD administrators, teachers and staff members. The Comptroller’s office encourages other school districts throughout Texas to examine these exemplary programs and services to see if they could be adapted to meet local needs. TSPR lists its original commendations below and provides updated information on each topic in italics underneath the original commendation.

  • SAISD provides incentives to Bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers. The district provides incentives to encourage teachers to seek either bilingual or ESL certification. The district provides study sessions and a one-time $250 stipend when teachers receive their credentials. Since its inception in 1995, 330 SAISD teachers have received their certifications and are now qualified to work with the district’s bilingual and ESL students.

    The district continues to provide incentives to teachers who seek bilingual or ESL certification. All program participants must pass an Examination of Certification of Educators in Texas (EXCET) in bilingual/ESL education to receive certification. In 2001-02, 66 SAISD teachers received certification.

  • The Up and Coming Scholars Program assists economically disadvantaged students. In partnership with Angelo State University (ASU), economically disadvantaged students who rank in the top one-third of their eighth grade class, successfully complete the program and graduate, are awarded an academic scholarship to attend ASU. The scholarship covers the full cost of tuition and required fees for four years of undergraduate study.

    SAISD continues to award students with academic scholarships through this program. Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, a national magazine, recognized the program for its successes. The scholarship includes the full cost of tuition and all required fees for four years of undergraduate studies. In 2001-02, 42 SAISD students entered the university as a result of this program.

  • SAISD’s online training system streamlines staff development registration. SAISD staff can access the district’s Web site and register instantly for staff development, instead of registering by mail and waiting for confirmation. In addition, principals can electronically check the training that each teacher has completed and use that information as part of the teacher’s growth plan.

    The district is enhancing this system with new Web-based technologies. The district will debut its new design in spring 2003.

  • The district’s campus beautification program creates pride in the community. A local hospital funds half of the prize money awarded to staff, students and parents for improving their school grounds. The hospital judges the schools and participates in the awards ceremony. The contest has encouraged pride in the appearance of each campus by students, staff and parents, and it saves the district money that would otherwise have been spent to maintain and beautify the school grounds.

    SAISD discontinued this program because of a lack of funds and community participation.

  • Santa Rita Elementary’s principal and staff have successfully integrated technology, instruction and real life challenges into the classroom curriculum. SAISD’s Santa Rita Elementary School has implemented several programs to improve student performance, introduce students to real life challenges and build self-confidence:

    • Students use video and computer equipment to produce a daily 15-minute morning show patterned after shows such as Good Morning America.
    • Fifth-grade students build their own robot vehicle from a Lego kit in the Lego Robotics program.
    • Students in a fourth-grade stock market club use computers to track stock market activity and execute mock buy/sell decisions.
    • Using a multi-media and an Alpha “Smart Board” in the computer lab, students can connect to Internet broadcasts, such as the space shuttle launching.

    The district stated this program continues to be a great success. Santa Rita Elementary uses its technology allotment funds to enhance its instructional technology curriculum. These programs provide an excellent example of how technology can improve student education and can help students understand the world around them.

  • SAISD’s Transportation Department and the City of San Angelo successfully share a vehicle maintenance facility. Beginning in the 1970s, the city and district built a shared vehicle maintenance facility. The city donated the land and the city, and the district split the construction costs. SAISD and the city also share a vehicle wash system, fueling system and oil storage facility. Shared diesel fuel purchases alone are saving the district $9,000 annually.

    SAISD continues to successfully share a vehicle maintenance facility with the city of San Angelo. The district has expanded the program to include antifreeze recycling and sharing of specialized tools and other equipment. These improvements have resulted in extra cost savings for both the district and the city.

  • SAISD’s alternative education programs are comprehensive and multi-dimensional, taking into account a broad range of needs for at-risk students. SAISD’s programs address the special needs of students who cannot function in the traditional classroom, who need a short term-disciplinary setting or who might need more intense instruction/counseling in a military setting. Its Preparing Area Youth for Success (PAYS) program has been recognized nationally and statewide for its innovative teaching strategies. Programs are individualized and self-paced as long as students make suitable progress.

    SAISD has continued alternative education programs such as those at Carver and the Student Adjustment Centers. During 2001-02, the district moved the PAYS program to Lake View High School and allowed the students who were attending PAYS to complete their program in a modified school within a school setting. During 2002-03, the district developed a credit recovery program at Central High School. SAISD modeled this program on PAYS. During the first five months of school, the new program has shown great success at getting students in an alternative education setting to operate on a more traditional campus and be successful.

  • SAISD’s Teacher Occupational Training encourages students to pursue teaching as a career. SAISD created a Teacher Occupational Training course by using existing TEA-approved course guidelines to provide students opportunities to experience the classroom as teachers with the goal that more students will pursue teaching as a career.

    The district continues to teach this course. The course provides students planning a career as a teacher with actual classroom instruction experience. Student interns on elementary schools provide instructional assistance and support to classroom teachers for about an hour twice a week. The course currently has 55 students enrolled.

  • The School Service Worker Program helps keep children in school. The School Service Worker Program is an innovative program that uses an interdisciplinary team of school psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses, principals, and/or classroom teachers to conduct home visits and prepare an intervention plan for the student and/or parents with the ultimate goal of improving attendance. Since the program’s inception in 1997, the dropout rate in SAISD dropped from 2.3 percent in 1997 to 1.4 percent in 1999-2000.

    The School Service Worker Program continues to be a success in SAISD. During the last four years, the program helped SAISD cut its dropout rate in half. The district’s dropout rate decreased to 1.3 percent in 2000-01, bringing it even with the state average.

  • The Maintenance Department has implemented a “forward maintenance crew” to visit schools yearly and perform preventive maintenance and low priority work orders. The forward maintenance crew, which includes mechanical, electrical, carpentry, painting and plumbing expertise, comes to each school at least once a year to make the repairs that have not been emergencies but are needed to upgrade facilities and provide appropriate spaces for the educational program. The crews satisfy the majority of maintenance needs that are either preventive maintenance or have not been of sufficient priority to receive immediate attention.

    SAISD continues to use the forward maintenance crew to satisfy the majority of non-emergency maintenance needs that schools have. The crew visits each school at least once a year. The crew schedules additional visits as it has staff available. School administrators continue to be satisfied with this program.


TSPR Key Recommendations

Administrators and staff identified the TSPR recommendations that they said had the greatest impact on district operations. The recommendations are organized by chapter and area of operation 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 6: Adhere to district policy on how board members shall respond to complaints from the public and prepare procedures for the handling of citizen requests and complaints.

After much discussion, the board adopted new comprehensive standard operating procedures in October 2002. The new procedures facilitate more effective teamwork and cooperation between the board, the superintendent and his leadership team. District staff drafted the new procedures during a special board workshop in the summer of 2001-02. The district said this was a significant step for the board because it established its first set of clear guidelines on how the board should operate and relate to staff and the community. In November 2002 the board conducted its first comprehensive self-evaluation.

Recommendation 8: Streamline central and campus administration and reorganize the district to reflect a more logical grouping of related functions.

The assistant superintendent of Support Services and several of his key staff said this recommendation and the staffing allocation formula assisted the district in reducing labor and reorganizing staff in 2000-01 and 2001-02. The recommendation helped the district streamline departments and the administration, eliminating the deputy superintendent position, one assistant superintendent and one executive director position while significantly improving the assignment of duties and responsibilities to administrators.

Educational Service Delivery

Recommendation 22: Create a five-year plan including grant funding and budget reallocations to improve library programs to meet the state standard of “acceptable” or higher.

District administrators said that they had discussed this idea for many years, but had not obtained enough support to begin the process. After TSPR made the recommendation, district staff inventoried all the libraries. SAISD issued a report in January 2002 that detailed the inventory and listed what each library needed to bring it up to the “acceptable” standard. The report also included a cost estimate for making the changes. The board supported the staff report and voted in November 2002 to set aside $500,000 to upgrade all the libraries. The board also established a specific annual allocation of funds for each campus library that it began using in the 2002-03 budget.

Personnel Management

Recommendation 25: Implement a staffing allocation formula for all staffing categories and reduce staffing.

In June 2001 the district declared a state of financial exigency. This move gave the district the authority under Texas law to reduce expenditures by terminating professional term contracts during the contract period. The district stated that adopting staffing formulas helped it determine how to staff the district to best meet the student’s needs. According to the district, the staffing formulas proved particularly helpful at the secondary level. The district plans to adopt newer, more aggressive staffing formulas for the coming school year to keep up with the district’s student changes.

Recommendation 26: Eliminate one director position in the Personnel Office.

The district eliminated two director positions in the Personnel Office. In the past, five directors performed work that is now handled by the three remaining directors. The district anticipates a five-year savings of more than $450,000. This is a 78 percent greater reduction in staff salaries than TSPR originally estimated.

Facilities Use and Management

Recommendation 33: Develop a comprehensive, long-range facilities master plan.

Recommendation 34: Close one elementary school and adjust attendance zones to allow enrollment at other smaller elementary schools to be increased.

District financial managers said that developing a long-range facilities master plan was one of the board’s five goals for the district before the TSPR review. With declining enrollment, the district needed to identify ways to cut costs while still effectively educating students. The district said they saw these two recommendations as intertwined and integral to the administration’s decision to closing one elementary school and adjusting the attendance zones. The district closed Day Elementary School in the fall of 2002. While the district had recognized the need to adjust attendance zones based on changing enrollments, the recommendation of an outside third party helped the administration convince the community that the district needed to close a school and adjust the zones to save money. One administrator even remarked that “the recommendation showed that it wasn’t just administrators who were saying these things.” The district leased the school to a Head Start program, which is responsible for maintaining the building. The lease results in $5,500 a month in rental income for the district.

The board created a committee to develop a comprehensive, long-range facilities master plan. The district issued a request for quotations (RFQs) for a facilities study in January 2003. Fifteen firms responded and central office administrative personnel conducted an evaluation of the proposals. The RFQ committee selected six firms to be

interviewed by the administration. The administration narrowed the list to three firms for the board to interview. The board conducted the interviews on February 26 and February 27, 2003 but postponed a decision until March 17, 2003. In March 2003 the board decided to conduct a facilities planning workshop before making any final decisions.

Financial Management

Recommendation 67: Restrict Accounts Payable’s ability to create new vendors in the district’s financial accounting system.

The department revised its procedures and now only allows purchasers to set up new vendors in the system. District administrators said this important recommendation identified a risk of which they were unaware. By restricting the number of people allowed to set up new vendors, the district has mitigated its risk.

Recommendation 69: Require accounting staff to test all revisions and upgrades to software prior to installing the upgrades in the district’s financial accounting system.

Finance management noted that many of the recommendations in the financial management section of the report related to improving communication, which the district said was poor at the time of the review. Many of the recommendations focused on improving communication in the financial areas and between administrators. District administrators said having more frequent and effective meetings, improved procedures and efficient use of email as key to improving communication.

By improving communication and requiring accounting staff to test all financial accounting system software revisions and upgrades, the district has significantly improved its use of technology to manage its finances and has provided for increased accountability within the district and better financial information to its board.

Purchasing and Warehouse

Recommendation 77: Develop a purchasing procedures manual and provide training to all district staff on purchasing policies, procedures and practices.

Recommendation 83: Eliminate the district’s central supply service and order supplies on a just-in-time basis.

The purchasing manager considered these two recommendations as the most significant for the purchasing functions. The new purchasing director, who had been a school administrator at the time of the review, said that the district had many gaps in its purchasing program before developing its purchasing procedures manual. Purchasing staff have significantly improved purchase order processing, and the manual has been exceptionally useful in training school staff on purchasing rules and procedures. The board recognized that many of the stored items could be acquired through the just-in-time method of procurement. The district now purchases almost all school supplies through just-in-time acquisitions. Staff used to wait between four and five days to receive supplies from the district’s warehouse. Now they order the supplies directly from the manufacturer or supplier and receive them in 48 hours or less.

Transportation

Recommendation 95: Stagger bell times to improve the performance of SAISD regular bus routes.

District administrators had considered making this change but had not implemented it because of community opposition. The board and administration conducted a careful study of the proposed change, examining how other districts used a staggered bell system to improve transportation efficiency and reduce costs. After careful assessment, the board adopted the policy change by a vote of seven to zero. The change also increased ridership at the junior high level. The transportation director said that the buses are routinely full now. The community has accepted the change, and the district anticipates it will realize a savings of nearly $400,000 over the course of five years.

Recommendation 100: Adopt a vehicle replacement plan that reduces the spare ratio and commits funds to the plan annually.

The Transportation director said that while the recommendation will cost the district money initially, the district will eventually realize savings in terms of maintenance costs and improved operations. The plan adopted by the district will reduce the age at which the district replaces buses. Instead of every 17 years, the district will now replace its buses every 14 years. This recommendation, in conjunction with staggering the bell times at the schools, has allowed the district to reduce the number of spare buses it maintains by five while adding three additional routes at no additional cost to the district.

Food Services

Recommendation 103: Develop strategies to increase the identification of eligible students for free and reduced-price meal benefits.

The Food Services director identified this as a key recommendation for helping the district limit losses in compensatory and child nutrition funding. The district identified more students initially and realized some savings. But the district has not been able to increase income because of declining student enrollment. The district experienced a 1 percent increase in students eligible for free and reduced-priced meals in 2001-02 despite an overall decline in student enrollment. In 2002-03, the number of students who were eligible for benefits decreased by 3.64 percent from the base year comparison. The Food Services director said that the district would have experienced greater losses if the department had not increased its efforts to identify all eligible students the previous year.


What Still Needs to be Done?

SAISD has made steady progress towards implementing TSPR’s recommendations. The district has implemented 71 recommendations, 32 are in various stages of progress and five have been reviewed but have not been addressed and four were rejected. The district chose not to implement four of the review team’s recommendations. This section addresses the key areas that require additional attention from the district.

Facilities Use and Management

TSPR recommended that the district develop a comprehensive long-range facilities master plan (Recommendation 33) and establish a policy (Recommendation 36) governing the use of portable classrooms. Based on an analysis of SAISD’s student distribution among schools at the time of the review and a projected declining enrollment, TSPR encouraged SAISD to develop a long-range plan to determine how it should manage and maintain its existing schools and prepare for declining enrollment. SAISD has taken some steps towards developing a plan, such as hiring a consultant to update a demographics study, and is in the process of issuing and evaluating responses to an RFP for a facilities plan. SAISD needs to complete this process and finalize the facilities plan in order to determine how it will distribute children between the schools and where SAISD will spend its limited maintenance dollars in the coming years. SAISD has stated a desire to eliminate the use of portable buildings in the district. The district should take the next step in formalizing this goal and establishing a board policy on how and when the district will use and maintain portable buildings. Portable buildings are more costly to maintain, clean and use more energy than permanent buildings. A board policy will help the district limit the need for this type of classroom.

Asset and Risk Management

The district has not fully implemented Recommendation 50. This recommendation calls for the creation of a workers’ compensation task force to help the district identify ways to save money. The district has assigned the task to a committee; the committee began meeting in fall 2002. The TSPR review showed that the number of claims had risen more than 14 percent since 1997-98 and that the average cost per claim had risen more than 85 percent during the same period. The district should accelerate the committee’s work in determining solutions for decreasing claims and improving the safety of district personnel.

Financial Management

The district chose not to implement Recommendation 75. The recommendation suggested that the district hire an internal auditor who would directly report to the board. District administrators said that because of recent budget cuts and staff reductions the position was not a priority. TSPR made this recommendation to SAISD in 1995 and again during its 2001 review. SAISD’s own cash investment manager also recommended that the district hire an internal auditor in July 1999. The Texas State Auditor’s Office recommends that all school districts with annual expenditures of more than $20 million and with more than 5,000 students have an internal auditor position. With a 2001-02 budget of $88 million and more than 15,000 students, SAISD meets these criteria. Internal auditors help ensure that districts spend funds for the intended purpose and assist districts in identifying waste and unnecessary spending. The district has worked through a number of financial challenges in the past two years and with a declining student enrollment will likely continue to be financially challenged in the near future. The district should reconsider hiring an internal auditor to fill this valuable function. The district should ensure that the internal auditor maintains independence by having the position report to the board.


SAISD’s Ideas for Improving the Texas School Performance Review

TSPR 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 process, TSPR asked SAISD staff members and administrators to discuss 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. Districts have told TSPR these blueprints are invaluable to implementing the recommendations. It is important for TSPR to continually be mindful of things that did not work as intended so the review process can be improved.

San Angelo administrators and board members made the following observations.

One administrator said that he felt the report made people aware of the challenges facing the district from an independent third party source rather than the administration. The superintendent and key administrators who visited with the Comptroller’s staff said that the report helped the district focus on issues. They said the report assisted them on tackling some difficult projects, which may not have been possible without the supporting documentation provided in the report. The state’s issuance of a report also lent weight to making these changes.

One administrator said TSPR needed to create a mechanism for tracking the time that district staff uses to prepare for the review and respond to questions. TSPR is investigating which portions of a review are more time or labor intensive for district and is looking at how its procedures could be altered to reduce that impact.

Several administrators asked if the Comptroller or some other official could determine a way to coordinate all the different state agency and federal agency visits. A dozen organizations reviewed the district in 2000-01 and 2001-02. Each visit required staff to stop performing their usual duties and focus on the needs of the reviewer. One board member also requested increased coordination between TSPR consultants and TEA, the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators. While the district acknowledged that certain reviews were necessary, better coordination would benefit every district that faced multiple assessments from differing regulatory agencies. TSPR checks with the Texas Education Agency concerning any intended visits by TEA to a district being reviewed and TSPR works with the district to improve coordination of TSPR’s visit to the district. TSPR continues to investigate ways to minimize the impact of visits on district operations.

Several administrators concurred with the statement that overall the review was a positive process because it helped the organization focus on examining its operations and making any necessary changes. One assistant superintendent added that this report made the district better. District officials said they viewed the report as a tool, which resulted in staff taking their jobs more seriously.

The district’s staff pointed out that some recommendations did not take into account the district’s location and the resources available to SAISD. For example, they said Recommendation 36 was difficult to implement because there were no vendors in the area able to perform these duties. Some administrators were also frustrated because many of the interviews and data gathering were confined to only a few people within the district.

They said the team did not talk to all of the parties involved with an issue. Consequently, they said some of the information reflected only one side of an issue. They suggested that consultants should have interviewed a broader base of employees and obtained more documentation to ensure all sides of an issue were explored.

TSPR takes this comment seriously and will examine its procedures to ensure that consultants thoroughly research all recommendations to determine if they can be implemented or if some procedural change can be made to incorporate the suggestion into the process. TSPR also uses the findings meeting, where the district reads the draft report, as a tool to correct inaccurate information and provide districts the ability to add information or correct perceptions of the current situation.