Improving the TSPR
TSPR in the Water Valley ISD
Water Valley ISD in Profile
Exemplary Programs and Practice
TSPR Key Recommendations
What Still Needs to Be Done?
WVISD's Ideas for Improving the TSPR
In March 2001, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn began a review of the Water Valley Independent School District (WVISD) as part of a six-district project in Tom Green County that also included Wall, Veribest, Grape Creek, Christoval and San Angelo school districts. In August 2001, the completed Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) of WVISD detailed 44 recommendations that could, if fully implemented, result in net savings of $235,251 over five years. During December 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 throughout Texas. TSPR also conducts follow-up reviews of districts that have had at least one year to implement its recommendations. These 56 subsequent reviews show that more than 90 percent of TSPR's combined proposals have been acted upon, saving taxpayers nearly $125 million, with the full savings estimated to grow in the future.
Comptroller 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 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 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 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 http://www.window.state.tx.us.
At the request of former state Representative Rob Junell, reviews of the six Tom Green County school districts began on March 1, 2001. The Comptroller contracted with Gibson Consulting Group Inc., an Austin-based consulting firm to assist with the WVISD review. The team interviewed district employees, school board members, students and parents and held a public forum at Water Valley Elementary School cafeteria on March 27, 2001. The review team conducted focus groups with teachers and members of the district's two Site-Based Decision-Making Committees. The Comptroller's office also received letters and phone calls from community members.
The team received 116 responses to a written survey from five district administrators and support staff, 55 parents, 17 teachers and 39 students.
The review team also consulted two databases of comparative educational information maintained by the Texas Education Agency (TEA)-the Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) and the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS).
During its more than seven-month review, TSPR developed recommendations to improve WVISD operations and save taxpayers more than $254,376 by 2005-06. Cumulative net savings from all recommendations (savings minus recommended investments or expenditures) could equal $235,251 by 2005-06.
WVISD selected peer districts for comparisons based on similarities in student enrollment, student performance and community and student demographics. The districts included Bronte, Eden, Veribest and North Zulch ISDs. TSPR also compared WVISD to district averages in TEA's Regional Education Service Center XV (Region 15) , to which WVISD belongs, and the state as a whole.
Located in Tom Green County, WVISD lies 22 miles northwest of San Angelo. The district's facilities, which include an elementary school, high school and an administrative office, are located in the same area but in separate buildings.
In 2001-02, the ethnic breakdown of the WVISD student population consisted of 79.4 percent Anglo, 18.4 percent Hispanic, .9 percent African American and 1.2 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American. Economically disadvantaged students made up 41.1 percent of the district's student population.
TEA gave WVISD's high school and elementary campuses, as well as the district, a Recognized rating in 2002.
In 2001-02, 94.1 percent of all students passed the reading portion of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test; 92.5 percent passed the math portion of the test; 86 percent passed the writing portion of the test; and 83.8 percent of students passed all tests taken.
The district employed a staff of 51 employees in 2001-02, including 30 teachers, or 58.9 percent of staffing. The district budgeted expenditures of $2.6 million for 2001-02. For the same period, WVISD percent from local taxes; 4.3 percent from other local and intermediate sources; 65.4 percent from the state; and 2.1 percent from the federal government.
In 2001-02, WVISD budgeted 49.4 cents of every tax dollar on classroom instruction compared to the state average of 51 cents.
While work continues in the district, WVISD staff and TSPR team members concur that the district has made steady progress. The district has implemented 21 recommendations; has 16 in various stages of progress; reviewed six but not implemented them; and rejected one outright. (See Appendix A for details on the recommendations' status.)
Water Valley ISD Report Card
Excellent = More than 80% complete
Chapter Total Complete In
Rejected Percent Complete/
Grades District Organization and Management 9 3 2 3 1 33%/22% Needs Work Educational Service Delivery 12 8 3 1 0 67%/25% Satisfactory Financial Management 6 3 3 0 0 50%/50% Satisfactory Operations 17 7 8 2 0 41%/47% Satisfactory Overall Grade 44 21 16 6 1 48%/36% Satisfactory
Satisfactory = 80% to 100% complete or in progress
Needs Work = Less than 80% complete or in progress
WVISD has experienced notable successes, and TSPR identified numerous "best practices" in the district. Through commendations in each chapter, the original report highlighted model programs, operations and services provided by WVISD administrators, teachers and staff members. The Comptroller's office encourages other school districts throughout Texas to examine these exemplary programs and services to determine if they could be adapted to meet local needs. TSPR's commendations are listed below followed by updated information in italics.
- The superintendent effectively uses technology and graphics to present information at board meetings. The superintendent uses a laptop computer and a TV screen to present each agenda item at WVISD board meetings. Each item is presented in a format that can be easily understood by the board and community members.
The WVISD superintendent continues to use a laptop computer and a TV screen to present each agenda item at district board meetings. Board members and the community said using technology and graphs at board meetings effectively communicates important information and ensures that all participants follow and comprehend presented issues.
- WVISD provides a host of opportunities for involving parents and the community in the schools. The district has combined its Academic Booster Club and Athletic Booster Club to form the Water Valley Booster Club, so the two entities would not compete with one another. The Water Valley Volunteer Program and Grandmother Volunteer Program use community volunteers to aid in the library and assist with district and campus clerical duties. WVISD also maintains an active alumni association that has created and maintains the district's Web site.
Community and parental involvement in WVISD remains one of the district's greatest strengths. The community supports the district by contributing time and expertise. For example, all of the booster clubs, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and several other clubs and organizations and community groups repainted the football stands in July 2002. In addition, after district schools sent letters of support to New York following the 9-11 tragedy, the community also supported a community-wide event that a paramedic involved in the 9-11 tragedy attended.
- The district's online policy manual is accessible by teachers, administrators and the general public. WVISD has placed its policy manual on the district's Web site at http://www.watervalley.netxv.net/. A key-word search capability allows staff, students and the community to quickly identify all policies applicable to a particular issue.
The online policy manual continues to serve as a good resource for the district and the community. Administrators said they can direct public inquiries to the Web site where many questions can be addressed quickly and efficiently. The online manual also serves as a good tool for board members, particularly newer board members, when they are deciding on an appropriate course of action.
- WVISD has implemented several instructional initiatives that have improved overall student performance. WVISD has aggressively worked to ensure high performance on the TAAS. The district has, for instance, computerized its grading system so that student records are easily accessible. The district also has used the Accelerated Reader program to make reading a top priority with students.
The district continues its efforts to improve student performance in all grades. Currently, the district is educating the parents of 2003 third graders about the social promotion laws, which will prevent children who cannot pass the state's Grade 3 assessment testing in 2003 from being promoted to Grade 4. As noted in the response to Recommendation #10, the district plans to offer remediation through tutorials after school to ensure that anyone who does not pass the new, more rigorous, Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) will be afforded every opportunity to move on to the next grade level with their class.
- The district seeks grants to improve its technological resources. WVISD has obtained state Telecommun-ications Infrastructure Fund and Technology in Education grants and other grants in the amount of $151,709. As a result, much of the district's computer technology is less than three years old.
WVISD continues to seek grants; however, with the hold placed on Telecommunication Infrastructure Grants (TIF), some of these grant opportunities are no longer available.
- A breakfast burrito program at the high school has increased Food Services revenue and breakfast participation. Each morning the superintendent delivers grab-and-go breakfasts, consisting of burritos, to high school students. This popular program allows students to develop a relationship with district administration while bolstering Food Services revenue.
As a result of the new Food Services director actively engaging students in menu selections and food preparation changes, the district has continued to increase revenue, while reducing supplements from the general operating funds.
TSPR analyzed the district's response to each of the recommendations and highlighted those that appear to have had a significant impact on the district's operations. The key recommendations are organized by chapter and by the area of operation as contained in the original report.
Educational Service Delivery
Recommendation 14: Improve communication and coordination to ensure that special education teachers have appropriate support from the Small Schools Cooperative and school staff.
A number of changes at the Small Schools Cooperative, in which the district participates, have improved services and resulted in cost savings. After the prior Small Schools Cooperative director's contract expired, a new director was hired in February 2002. Under the new director, communication between the cooperative and schools has improved, and teachers report a higher level of support from the cooperative. In addition, the overall cost for the new director reduced the district's cooperative participation costs by $20,000 annually. According to administrators, the district will achieve additional savings because the cooperative's overhead also has been reduced.
Recommendation 26: Enter the acquisition date of each fixed asset into the RSCCC fixed asset module.
Recommendation 27: Perform an annual physical inventory and install a bar-coding system to track fixed assets.
These two recommendations were in progress at the time of the review. In August 2001, the district contracted with RCI to perform an annual inventory. This year acquisition dates have been added to the files. Now that the assets have been identified, the district is debating whether to continue the contract or conduct the annual inventories and reconciliations in-house. Implementing these two recommendations helped the district comply with GASB 34, as well as provide assurances to district taxpayers that all assets are tracked.
Recommendation 41: Revise written menus to identify meals made from scratch.
Recommendation 42: Disable the vending machines located outside the cafeteria during serving hours.
Recommendation 44: Encourage increased meal participation in district cafeterias.
The new Food Services director is working to reduce or eliminate the deficit WVISD has experienced annually. She actively engages students in menu preparation and monitors costs at all levels. Administrators told TSPR that as a result of more appealing and nutritious food, students are buying more lunches. A monthly tracking sheet presented to the board shows that participation rose from 3,787 meals served in September 2000 to 4,784 in September 2002. In October 2002, the district served 5,690 meals compared to 4,139 in October 2000. As a result of the changes between October 2002 and October 2003, the district increased revenues by $2,800 and decreased expenditures by $12,028. TSPR congratulates the district for its accomplishments in this series of recommendations.
WVISD has made steady progress in implementing TSPR recommendations. The district has implemented 21 recommendations; has 16 in various stages of progress; reviewed six but not implemented them; and rejected one outright. This section addresses the key areas requiring additional attention.
TSPR recommended that WVISD develop a long-range strategic plan incorporating alternate growth scenarios (Recommendation #1). The district has begun by examining the Texas Association of School Boards' strategic planning models and is working on technology and facility elements of the planning process. However, actual planning has been delayed because of anticipated board turnover in the upcoming May 2003 elections. In the past five years, WVISD has experienced constant board member and superintendent turnover, which has resulted in several changes of direction. Using a good strategic planning model that involves all stakeholders in the process could bring continuity to the district's operations and provide old and new board members, administrators and staff a shared vision for the future, which they could work together to accomplish.
The district has not fully implemented recommendations #6 and #23, which concern the budget development process. Recommen-dation #6 suggested increasing communication with the site-based decision-making committees (SBDM) in developing school budgets and staff decisions by defining levels of authority within the SBDM process. Recommendation #23 suggested creating a budget committee to identify the district's financial goals and constraints for the next five years and prepare a budget calendar. As a result of the elimination of one of its principals, the district now has only one SBDM committee operating for the entire district. This committee receives copies of all related board policies and does participate as an advisory group to the principal, superintendent and the board. WVISD's administrators said it is not necessary to create a budget committee consisting of all of the key district stakeholders as well as designated board members. These TSPR recommendations, as well in the strategic planning recommendation discussed above, sought to improve the lines of communication enabling WVISD to develop a long-range shared vision for the future fully supported by the adopted budgets.
Recommended High School Program
In anticipation of legislative mandates, TSPR recommended WVISD adopt the state's recommended high school graduation program as its standard (Recommendation #13). The principal and the superintendent said the district will comply with the state law concerning the Recommended High School Program; however, the district has not been aggressively implementing this program. The principal and superintendent said that their programs were equal to or greater than the recommended program.
The district determined that there would be little benefit from adopting the plan just forthe sake of adopting the plan. In addition, officials said that the more rigorous state program would discourage some students and full implementation would increase the dropout rate for at-risk students. The district may not have considered that students seeking to qualify for Texas Grant scholarships, which pay full tuition to any state-supported college or university, must graduate under the recommended state program. By reconsidering its position on this program, WVISD could provide students with the basics that research shows make them more successful incollege and ensures that district students, who might not otherwise afford college, qualify for Texas Grant scholarships.
Recommendation #40 suggesting that the WVISD coordinate with other Tom Green County districts to expand training for school bus drivers has not been implemented. The district continues to rely on Region 15 for the initial 20 hours of state-mandated training for new drivers and the required periodic eight-hour refresher courses. TSPR did not intend for this recommendation to replace training through Region 15, but to supplement it. For example, the district may determine that all drivers could benefit from extra training in discipline management, or there may be one or two drivers who need specific training to improve their performance.
This individualized training might not be available through Region 15, but might be obtained from an experienced individual from another district. By contracting with San Angelo ISD for specialized safety training, Grape Creek ISD used this methodology successfully. As the district identifies intermittent training needs, TSPR encourages WVISD to work with area school districts to supplement the state-required training offered through Region 15.
While Region 15 provides backup space to the district for its data files, WVISD does not have a formal disaster recovery plan to guide district personnel during a disaster. Individuals need to know who to call, where to go, where to obtain compatible hardware if necessary and how to recover the data from Region 15. Ensuring district computers are operational following a disaster should be the number one goal of the plan. The district might consider using Glen Rose ISD's plan, which is available online at http://www.grisd.net/tech/support/GRISDDisasterRecoveryPlan.htm, as a guide.
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 WVISD 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 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. 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 improved.
Water Valley administrators made the following observations listed below.
The superintendent said TSPR should use in-house people instead of contractors to conduct these reviews. The review team members should be knowledgeable about education and state requirements. For example, he said that the individual who spoke with the athletic director was unfamiliar with smaller 1A or 2A district regulations or standards. He did not feel that any of the consultants had ever worked in or with a smaller district. In another example, he stated that the individual examining transportation expenditures asked why the extracurricular travel costs increased. He said she should have realized that travel had been increasing because the distance to WVISD's competitors had increased. The superintendent also was concerned that the consultants used a template written before their district visit. For example, the report referenced an old Texas Education
Agency District Effectiveness and Compliance (DEC) report that was not updated to reflect district actions since TEA's visit.
TSPR agrees that consultants should be better matched to the districts that they are reviewing. TSPR no longer contracts with one firm for all of the districts in a county. Instead, TSPR now uses a pooled contract in which a number of individuals and firms are competitively pre-qualified to conduct a portion of a review. As a result, when a smaller district or districts are selected for a review, TSPR assigns consultants to the project with the expertise to match the district under review.
TSPR disagrees with the statement that the consultant should know certain facts before the onset of the review. Every district, whether large or small, urban or rural, rich or poor, is unique. The only way to ascertain a district's operations or costs is to ask questions. The audit protocols used by TSPR contain a series of exercises and questions that are asked in every review. The answers vary widely, as do the challenges that each district faces.
The superintendent also said that when a district asks for help, TSPR should provide it. For example, the superintendent, who had asked for help in ending the energy management contract with Honeywell, said TSPR's recommendation did not provide enough assistance. While TSPR could not become involved in contract negotiations with a vendor, the report indicated that the company was not fulfilling its contractual obligations and that a buyout of the contract should be negotiated. It is unclear how much further TSPR could have legally assisted the district on this issue, but the superintendent's comment is duly noted.
The district said it was unable to replicate the price of used buses suggested in the TSPR recommendation. The superintendent could not find a company willing to sell him a bus for the price quoted in the report and said the fiscal impact was not conservative or even reasonable. TSPR agrees that the price shown was low. However, the price was obtained from a reputable vendor and based upon the district's inability to budget for a new bus. This TSPR recommendation was made as an interim measure until the district could afford a new or moderately used bus. In the future, TSPR will be more conservative in such matters. In addition, TSPR will give the district contact information for school districts or vendors that deal in surplus buses.
The superintendent also felt that TSPR should take the politics out of the review process. For example, he said he was disturbed that the report said it contained 44 recommendations to save the district $235,000 when only three recommendations actually contained costs savings. TSPR is sensitive to the fact that school districts receive media attention following the release of its reports. Reports are intended to be fair and objective while seeking to save the district and taxpayers money and improve district operations and services.
Administrators said that the district was given only 90 minutes to read the draft findings report and make comments. They said that the consultants arrived late in the day and demanded an immediate response. TSPR will ensure that every district, whether large or small, is given ample time to read and to comment on the draft report. TSPR has begun to use tracking sheets to record administrators' comments and respond in a timely manner. In addition, the time for district response to the draft findings has been extended in cases where the district said it needed more time to gather additional data.
On a positive note, the superintendent said that the most helpful part of the review involved the survey documents provided in the appendices. In particular, he said that he used the negative opinions provided about the Food Services operation to make substantive department changes.