In March 2000, the Comptroller of Public Accounts' Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) staff and consultants completed a comprehensive school review of the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD). During May 2001, TSPR staff returned to assess the district's progress in implementing the recommendations.
Since 1991, TSPR has recommended nearly 5,000 ways to save taxpayers more than $570 million over a five-year period in 52 different public school districts throughout Texas. TSPR also conducts follow-up reviews of districts that have had at least one year to implement recommendations. These 34 subsequent reviews show that almost 90 percent of TSPR's combined proposals have been acted upon, saving taxpayers more than $97 million, with the full savings estimated to grow in the future.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, 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 Rylander 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. These are the school districts and children that need help the most.
Recognizing that only about 51 cents of every education dollar is spent on instruction, Comptroller Rylander's goal is to drive more of every education dollar into the classroom. In addition, no longer will school districts' best practices and exemplary models be left buried inside individual TSPR reports. Instead, Comptroller Rylander 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 Rylander 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 of SAISD 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 Rylander's approach, the TSPR team and consultants will work with districts to:
Finally, Comptroller Rylander 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.
- 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 enhances education;
- develop strategies to ensure the districts' processes and programs are continually assessed and improved;
- understand the link between 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," which says 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.
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.
In September 1999, the Comptroller's office began an unprecedented second performance review of the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD). The first review, conducted in 1991, was performed as part of a pilot study of districts. In keeping with her pledge to give priority to districts judged poor performing academically or financially, and to reviews that will benefit the greatest number of students, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander selected the SAISD for review after a number of key indicators signaled that financial and management-related problems plagued the district.
During its six-month review of the district, TSPR developed 154 recommendations to improve operations and save taxpayers nearly $28.3 million by 2004-2005. Cumulative net savings from all recommendations (savings less recommended investments) would reach more than $25.1 million by 2004-05.
The TSPR team interviewed district employees, school board members, parents, business leaders, and community members and held community meetings in SAISD's eight high schools. To obtain additional comments, the review team conducted focus group sessions with parents, teachers, principals, business leaders and representatives from community organizations. The Comptroller also received letters from a wide array of parents, teachers and community members and staff fielded calls to the Comptroller's toll-free hotline. After receiving preliminary reports from the review team, the Comptroller held a town meeting to hear comments from the public and concerned parents first hand.
Three hundred and thirty-six administrators and support staff; 100 principals and assistant principals; 379 teachers; 104 parents; and 604 community residents completed surveys as part of the review.
The team sent written surveys to district personnel, students and parents.
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). SAISD selected peer districts for comparative purposes based on similarities in size, location, student enrollment and property values. The selected peers were the Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Fort Worth and Ysleta ISDs. TSPR also compared SAISD to district averages in TEA's Region 20 Education Service Center, to which SAISD belongs, and the state as a whole.
SAISD served 57,339 students during 2000-01, a 6.17 percent decrease from the 1997-98 enrollment level of 61,112. SAISD has eight high schools, 17 middle schools, 64 elementary schools and five special campuses for a total of 94 campuses.
SAISD's property value of $106,000 per student is 46 percent lower than the state average of $190,000 per student.
More than 85 percent of SAISD's students are Hispanic, 10 percent are African-American, 4.2 percent are Anglo and less than 1 percent are classified as Other. Ninety-three percent of SAISD's students were classified economically disadvantaged in 2000-01.
SAISD has improved its student performance in the last few years. In 1994-95, SAISD had 13 "low-performing" schools, as measured by the TEA's criteria, and had been warned about accreditation problems. In 1999-2000, SAISD was rated Academically Acceptable and had four Exemplary schools and 19 Recognized schools; only three schools were rated Low Performing.
Still, SAISD's student performance remains below the state average. In 1999-2000, 65.6 percent of SAISD students passed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test compared to 79.9 percent statewide.
For 2000-01, the district employs 7,501 employees, with teachers accounting for 3,563 or 47.5 percent, of SAISD staffing. The district has budgeted expenditures of $311,043,230 for 2000-01. Approximately 32.83 percent of SAISD's revenues are generated locally, 65.83 percent come from the state, and less than 1.34 percent come from the federal government.
At the time TSPR began the SAISD review, the district was without a permanent superintendent, was experiencing a governance crisis and had significant financial and academic challenges. Dr. Rubén Olivárez was hired as superintendent and came to the district shortly before TSPR's report was released in March 2000. The new administration embraced the review and used it as a guide for comprehensive planning and restructuring.
In an interview with Dr. Olivarez, he said five key areas of the review were used continuously over the last year by the board and by his administration as a reference point. Those areas included:
Governance — the board and administration were determined to develop a better working structure. Following the Comptroller's recommendations, they sought to find ways for the administration and the board to work together, for meetings to be shorter and more productive and to restore the community's confidence in the district.
Financial Management — the district restructured the budget process, enforced policies and procedures including staffing allocations and restored a dwindling fund balance to optimum levels in just over one year.
Academic Programs — acknowledging improvements of the past, the board and administration sought to sustain and accelerate the process. The approach has been a gradual, yet deliberate, reorganization aimed at making the central office more service oriented for campuses and improving the overall quality of services provided to students, all with an eye toward cutting costs to match a declining student enrollment.
Bond Program — insuring the integrity and management of the construction programs is a high priority. The board carefully examined and reaffirmed the role of the Citizen Oversight Committee and its own internal management structure. On May 5, 2001, the voters approved the passage of a $126.5 million bond construction program. The district first began exploring the possibility of another bond issue during the development of Vision 2005 when a variety of needs emerged, including the need for renovated or new facilities for early childhood, state-of-the art music facilities at all eight high schools, special education classrooms and an advanced academic center in partnership with the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) downtown. The district will seek federal funds to assist in paying up to 60 percent of the bond debt. The sale of the bonds is contingent on the availability of federal funding assistance. The district's contract with the voters is that SAISD taxpayers will not experience a tax increase with the sale of the bonds.
Planning — the board and administration recognized a need for a comprehensive strategic plan to guide the district into the future. On December 11, 2000, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved SAISD Vision 2005 - Destination: Exemplary, the district's five-year improvement plan. The plan is designed to guide the SAISD on its journey to Exemplary by the year 2005. Work on Vision 2005 first began in early spring 2000 as stakeholders representing employees, parents, community leaders and other patrons, along with religious and business leaders, met to provide their ideas on how the district can reach Exemplary status. Vision 2005 also includes the district's new mission statement and is designed to serve as a guidebook for every board and administrative decision. It is organized around the district's nine basic functions: governance, academics, student support, administration, human resources, communications, school-community relations, facilities improvement and technology.
In all, a little more than one year later, SAISD is a far different district than the one the Comptroller found during the review. And, while the district still has a lot of work to do, both SAISD staff and board members have a sense of steady progress. Seventy-nine recommendations have been implemented, 66 are in various stages of progress and five have not been addressed. SAISD officials rejected four recommendations because they believed implementation was not feasible at this time. (See Appendix A for details on the recommendations' status.)
Chapter Total Complete In
Not Implemented Rejected Percent Complete/
Grades District Organization and Management 22 16 6 0 0 73%/27% Satisfactory Educational Service Delivery and Performance Measures 25 12 13 0 0 48%/52% Satisfactory Community Involvement 6 5 1 0 0 83%/17% Excellent Personnel Management 10 3 6 0 1 30%/60% Satisfactory Facilities Use and Management 14 8 5 1 0 57%/36% Satisfactory Asset and Risk Management 8 2 4 2 0 25%/50% Needs Work Financial Management 13 9 4 0 0 69%/31% Satisfactory Purchasing and Contract Management 8 1 7 0 0 13%/88% Satisfactory Management Information Systems 9 7 1 1 0 78%/11% Satisfactory Transportation 13 3 8 1 1 23%/62% Satisfactory Food Services 9 2 6 0 1 22%/67% Satisfactory Safety and Security 17 11 5 0 1 65%/29% Satisfactory Overall Grade 154 79 66 5 4 51%/43% =94% Excellent = More than 80% complete
Satisfactory = 80% to 100% complete or in progress
Needs Work = Less than 80% complete or in progress
TSPR identified numerous "best practices" in SAISD. Through commendations in each chapter, the report highlights model programs, operations and services provided by SAISD administrators, teachers and staff members. Other school districts throughout Texas are encouraged to examine the exemplary programs and services to see if they could be adapted to meet local needs. The TSPR commendations include:
- SAISD posts all board meeting agendas and supporting materials on its Web site. Web browsers can download not only the agenda, but also many supporting documents as well. No other Texas school district reviewed by TSPR to date has disseminated this level of detail to the public in this manner.
Since the review, TSPR has regularly pointed to SAISD's Web site as a model site for other school districts, both large and small.
- SAISD collaborates with two area universities, Trinity University and University of Incarnate Word, in programs designed to help principals and teachers attain advanced degrees.
SAISD has fostered partnerships with colleges and universities throughout the county. St. Philips College, San Antonio Community College and Palo Alto College work in high schools offering dual credit opportunities to students. St. Mary's University offers a Reading Specialist Program for a cohort of SAISD teachers. UTSA is developing a reading specialist program as well as a program for Master Reading Teachers. UTSA works with the Advanced Academics and GT Department evaluating grants and offering Advanced Placement training for staff, and with Early Childhood Department's endeavors to offer ongoing professional development to Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers. Texas Lutheran University and Our Lady of the Lake University also offer teachers Pre-AP and AP training.
- UTSA is involved in an initiative with SAISD that is in its developmental stages but poses a great opportunity for our students to make a seamless transition to a four year University. The effort involves a strong university/district partnership to offer our high school students specialized classes in a student's specified area of interest while staying enrolled at their home campus.
During the summer, SAISD provides migrant students with at-home weekly instruction by qualified teachers supported with distance learning technology. This program serves as an alternative to traditional summer school.
SAISD's summer and distance learning programs for migrant students continue to provide alternative educational opportunities for students that might otherwise be lost to the system. Other migrant program initiatives have been added to further enhance the program such as: tutorials during the school year for secondary students needing assistance to pass their classes, additional assistance in completing college applications for high school seniors wishing to go to colleges and creation of Career and College Awareness Days to highlight opportunities after high school graduation.
- SAISD effectively uses intervention teams to aid its lowest performing schools. These teams make frequent school visits and assist with the implementation of best practices to improve performance.
Through the use of the three-area approach recommended by TSPR, SAISD's central office is adopting a service orientation for campuses that makes the services and resources more accessible to the campuses.
- SAISD attracts many business and community volunteers through an effective system of letters, phone calls and personal visits. The volunteer mentor program, made up of dozens of business partners, uses more than 3,000 volunteers to mentor children from throughout the district.
Dr. Olivárez has emphasized community and business involvement and community involvement by making it one of the nine key areas addressed in Vision 2005. The plan and the implementation of that plan hold significant promise for educational excellence in the district.
- Employees use SAISD's "Intranet," the district's internal Web site, extensively. The site is very well organized and contains useful day-to-day information concerning district policies and procedures.
The district's Intranet continues to be a vital source of communication within the district. The administrative procedures are now completely accessible on-line through the district Intranet. The SAISD administration has developed a comprehensive administrative procedures manual with clear links to board policy. The manual and all of the corresponding forms can be viewed and printed by all staff members, and the search engine makes all procedures more usable as a resource tool.
- SAISD was one of the first districts in the state to operate school-based clinics using health care resources from the area as well as district staff. These clinics provide immunizations and primary health care to students and families. Parents expressed overwhelming satisfaction with students' access to health care.
The six school-based clinics in the district are located at Brewer, Hillcrest, Smith, Nelson, Hawthorne and Bowden elementary schools. For the 2000-01 school year, SAISD nurse practitioners served a total of 451 students (combination of Medicaid physicals and acute care visits). For the same period, the El Centro Del Barrio Clinic located on the Lanier campus recorded 950 medical and 390 dental visits.
- SAISD used a systematic method to assess facility needs when it developed its bond proposal. The level of detail employed allowed the district to provide complete information to SAISD voters and was a major factor in the success of the bond campaign.
The district bond program is progressing on target. A combination of the original detailed assessment and priorities, communication to the schools and public, value engineering and conservative management continues to result in a positive outlook. A current financial assessment shows the availability of $77 million after all major projects and priorities are completed. A similar process of needs re-assessment is being implemented to identify projects to match these funds.
- SAISD uses a unique process for selecting architects. The district selects eight lead architects to form a design team for each project, resulting in a wide variety of expertise.
This selection process continues to work well for the district. The Team Leader Concept has proved to successfully combine standard professional design services with team leader project management expertise resulting in project completion that is more economical than using third party program management companies. Most recently, a presentation on the Team Leader Concept to the Council of Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI) was well received by other school districts, architects and engineers. SAISD has been able to satisfy its obligation to involve historically under-utilized companies without sacrificing the quality of its projects at a cost saving to the taxpayers.
- SAISD manages student activity funds centrally and maximizes interest yields, by investing cash in interest-bearing accounts. The interest earned is funneled back to the individual schools and programs.
While activity funds are always a challenge to control, SAISD finds that the centralized approach to managing these funds continues to work well. Stronger control is in place over the schools' purchases from student activity funds and the practice of deficit spending has significantly decreased.
- SAISD analyzes the total cost of ownership to determine whether the district should lease rather than purchase computers. The district has saved millions of dollars over the last three years through this strategy.
Technology remains a high priority for the district. As such, the district has developed a schedule by which all schools are being cabled with either bond money or with federal e-rate funds by 2003.
- SAISD's police force receives rigorous training that far exceeds state requirements and contributes to an effective and responsive force.
Training for the police force remains a high priority. From January 2000 until April 2001, various officers have attended 18 new training programs designed to increase their effectiveness when dealing with a school crisis and threats to student safety as well as overall leadership development of officers.
- SAISD's police force continues to increase the value of its technology. The following projects are either completed or in progress: 1) enhanced telephone system with caller ID; 2) property room management with bar code labels; 3) department inventory management with bar code labels and software; 4) automatic warrant and affidavit preparation; 5) investigative case management with solvability calculations; and 6) restraining order tracking and alerts.
The police force continues to work with the City of San Antonio on one technology-related area of police force operations in need of improvement, the communications system. If a grant can be obtained for a collaborative effort, SAISD could upgrade its communication system to ensure full coverage of all district locations.
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
#14 Build three "vertical teams" to provide an infrastructure of support for the district's schools. According to the superintendent, the central office formerly used a shotgun approach, trying to serve everyone in the district at once. Now, individuals are assigned to and accountable for assisting one part of the district in the areas of personnel, maintenance and operations, custodial operations and food service. #21 Improve the student enrollment projection process in SAISD and link enrollment planning with strategic planning initiatives. The administration instituted, for the first time, a staffing leveling process whereby actual enrollment is analyzed in October and staffing is adjusted to match the number of students in attendance. In previous years, excess staff were retained, resulting in overstaffing and inefficiencies in many areas of the district. Adhering to staffing allocation formulas (Recommendation #88) and monitoring actual versus projected enrollment resulted in $7.1 million in staffing reductions during this last school year.
Educational Service Delivery and Performance Measures
#29 Establish specific criteria for selecting, implementing, monitoring and evaluating all new educational programs. The district pointed out that many of the recommendations in the Education Service Delivery section of the report have fed directly into the Vision 2005 planning process. This particular recommendation for establishing a program evaluation process provided a focus that is a thread throughout the Vision 2005 plan. Each core curriculum department is required to conduct a needs assessment including a review of curriculum programs and past initiatives. Department action plans are designed to meet the goals set in Vision 2005. Strategies and initiatives must be researched-based, have timelines for implementation and include formative and summative evaluations. A district wide plan that includes criteria for program selection, review and continuation will be presented to the superintendent's executive team in the fall of 2001 for approval.
#50 Develop a community involvement plan in conjunction with existing business and civic partners. Restoring the community's confidence in the district is a top priority of the superintendent; consequently, this recommendation and the planning that went into the community involvement section of Vision 2005 were of particular importance to him. Some of the mentoring programs in the district have been recognized for their excellence at the National Mentoring Conference in Washington, D. C. and by the local newspaper. SAISD will be a presenter at the 27th Annual Governor's Volunteer Leadership Conference in October. The strategies used to increase mentoring programs will also be used to recruit community, business and college partnerships.
#59 Implement quality control measures in the Human Resources Department. #60 Create a summary screen of employees' historical personnel data and eliminate the use of the district's service record card. Establishing this new automated system will have significant impacts on the way SAISD does business. The district believes that not only will quality control be improved, but that customer service and overall departmental efficiency will be enhanced. #61 Develop a formal recruitment plan with written procedures and an evaluation component. Moving toward a customer service orientation and organizing into the three area teams is something the district believes is critical. Recruiting to the needs of the areas and evaluating the effectiveness of those efforts will ensure that the services are being provided in a way that meets the end-users' needs and holds central office employees accountable to the campuses they serve.
Facilities Use and Management
#70 Eliminate two drafting positions. The district needed drafting positions for the new bond program. This recommendation highlighted the fact that these positions existed in another area and were no longer needed there. Consequently, shifting the positions to Construction Management, and paying for the position with bond proceeds, helped the district in several ways. #75 Develop and implement a site-based energy management program. Energy costs are skyrocketing and although SAISD has implemented a number of districtwide initiatives that are saving the district money, they have not engaged campus-level groups in the process. The district anticipates that working with the Comptroller's State Energy Conservation Office could potentially save the district even more money and teach children and staff valuable energy conservation techniques.
Asset and Risk Management
#82 Hold principals accountable for ensuring that identification tags are applied to assets placed in their schools. Fixed asset management was a hot topic for SAISD over the last year and accountability is the key. By holding campus-level administrators accountable for the assets they have under their control, the district is ensuring that the resources entrusted to the district by its taxpayers are protected.
#88 Review all instructional budget allocation formulas annually. SAISD has been financially challenged over the last few years due to declining enrollment. When attempting to streamline the budget to address these issues, the district was forced to take a careful look at these allocation formulas and found a lack of adherance to them. In past years, the district had not leveled staff once actual enrollment numbers were known. Consequently, the district was hiring and paying for staff that was not needed based upon current enrollment figures. By applying its own allocation formulas in 2000-01, the district shifted some individuals from campus to campus and eliminated 142 positions, including instructional guides, administrative assistants, counselors, teachers and visiting teachers. This critical step saved the district more than $7 million, and has been a stepping-stone to improved public confidence in the district's management. #90 Develop a five-year revenue model to manage the cash flow so that the district's fund balance will be increased to the minimum level recommended by the Texas Education Agency. At the time of the review, SAISD's fund balance was dangerously low. According to financial records, the district's fund balance was $24 million below the optimum level recommended by TEA. As of August 2000, the district had increased the fund balance by $10 million, up to $42.5 million. Projections show the August 2001 fund balance will rise to $58.8 million or approximately $2 million above the optimum, thereby restoring financial stability to the district.
Purchasing and Contract Management
#100 Issue procurement cards for staff purchases from local vendors. The district is in the process of implementing Bank of America's purchasing card. When all of the obstacles are overcome, the district will be able to eliminate emergency checks at the campus level, paperwork will be reduced and controls over purchasing will be improved through built-in limits on cards. Further, the district believes the cards will also save money on travel expenditures since travel can then be booked over the Internet at discounted rates.
Management Information Systems
#107 Develop a set of formal, written performance measures to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of services provided by the Technology Department. #115 Stagger the hotline's hours of operation between 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to allow for more coverage to receive customer calls. The resounding message being heard from all district administrators during the follow-up review process was "customer service." These recommendations and several others in the technology area were pointed to as key because they have helped the department focus on customer service, measuring customer satisfaction and responding to customers' needs.
#117 Purchase a two-bay maintenance facility. #118 Hire two mechanics and one mechanic/ apprentice. #128 Outsource the maintenance of district police vehicles. In trying to address some pressing vehicle maintenance needs within very tight budgetary constraints, SAISD discovered that solutions to problems are often right on your doorstep. Lanier High School has a vehicle maintenance program with 23 bays and students who work during the day and in the evening who are capable of performing the kind of maintenance needed by the district. By negotiating an internal agreement, not only will the district benefit, but students will be given real life, hands-on experience and will make extra money as well. Everybody is a winner.
#130 Develop and implement strategies to increase breakfast participation in all middle and high school. While this recommendation is still in progress, district administrators said that in analyzing this recommendation they were forced to focus on the level of participation at each campus and for each meal, and found there was a need for improvement. The district understands the role of good nutrition in all areas of the educational process, including student performance, discipline management and attendance. Through greater focus, lunch participation is improving, but the district acknowledges that work is needed in the breakfast programs.
Safety and Security
#138 Require each school to complete a security threat assessment of its campus and enforce better physical security measures. Safety has been a big issue for the district in the last year, and administrators told the review team that this recommendation helped them to focus on the issues and helped principals to become more aware of the threats that existed on their campuses. As a result, exterior doors and alarms have been checked and are secure. Additional motion sensors are scheduled to be installed. High school and middle school vault doors have been re-keyed. A summer safe storage procedure has been implemented in all schools. Overall, procedures have improved.
SAISD has made steady progress in implementing TSPR recommendations, particularly considering the district hired a new superintendent during this time. Ninety-four percent of the TSPR recommendations either have been implemented or are being implemented at the present time. District administrators have rejected four of the report's recommendations, and have provided their reasons for their delay or inaction on five others. This section addresses the key areas requiring additional attention.
Asset and Risk Management
District administrators said that the board was reluctant to raise the capitalization threshold for fixed assets to $5,000 because of the recent problems the district has experienced in accounting for fixed assets. The issues of "accounting for" fixed assets and "counting" fixed assets need to be looked at separately. First, TSPR encourages the district to maintain a control inventory of assets that is unrelated to the fixed asset accounting system. A control inventory will list all of the items the board and district feel need to be "tagged, tracked and counted" regardless of the item's dollar value. The control inventory would include those items, such as computer equipment, that may have a lower dollar value but are prone to theft or loss.
The formal, fixed asset inventory, however, is a different matter. With the coming implementation of new accounting guidelines set forth in GASB 34, the district will have to depreciate all fixed assets and maintain much more detailed records on these items. Raising the capitalization threshold to $5,000 will significantly reduce the number of items that must be depreciated and accounted for under this burdensome process. Understanding this significant difference, TSPR encourages the board to act swiftly to raise this threshold, while still maintaining tight controls over the district's assets through a separate control inventory.
SAISD has made monumental strides in bringing accountability to its fixed asset and financial systems, but there is clearly work that still needs to be done. Of particular concern is the fact that the district's current software through Region 20 is incapable of providing certain functions and services to the district. We encourage the district and Region 20 to work closely together to make the modifications that are needed for SAISD. By serving SAISD's needs, TSPR believes that Region 20 will then be better able to serve the needs of the smaller districts that it serves.
SAISD has tightened its belt in the last year to the point that the integrity of the fund balance has been replenished, financial stability has been restored and public confidence in the district is on the rise. It is critically important, however, that the board and the administration continue to approach the financial situation of the district with the same passion and vigor with which they have addressed the recent crisis. Although some may encourage the district to return to spending and staffing practices of the past, now is not the time to let down its guard. TSPR encourages district officials to remember the lessons learned in the past and to follow through with the plan and direction for the future — a plan that envisions an exemplary district in terms of student performance, an exemplary district in terms of board governance and an exemplary district in terms of financial strength.
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 San Antonio 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 be aware of those things that did not work as intended so that the review process can be continually improved.
San Antonio administrators and board members pointed out that the fiscal impact associated with the much-publicized error in the annual salaries of custodians discussed in Recommendation #72 was controversial. This was an issue that the Comptroller did not take lightly, and swift action was taken to not only reduce the amount paid to the private consulting firm for their services but also to improve TSPR's internal procedures so that this would not happen again.
One of the most significant changes in the way TSPR now conducts reviews is that work papers are obtained from the consulting firms at the time that they submit the final drafts to the Comptroller. In the past, TSPR had depended upon the consultant to verify facts and ensure accuracy as part of the contract agreement. By obtaining the work papers in advance of the release of the report, every fact and figure is now verified by TSPR staff against the work papers to ensure that every number is supported and that all calculations are correct. Other changes to TSPR procedures that resulted from this unfortunate incident included the addition of orientation sessions for consulting firms where the importance of work papers and accuracy are emphasized, the strengthening of contract provisions and the institution of more rigorous editing procedures before a TSPR report is released.
Additionally, TSPR now uses tracking sheets during findings meeting with district administrators. These tracking sheets provide written evidence that all findings in the report have been reviewed and corrected where necessary by district staff and administrators before the report is finalized. While this was a very difficult process for TSPR, it has proven to be a growing experience that has strengthened and improved the process for future reviews.