Wilmer-Hutchins Independent School District
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced her intent to conduct a review of the Wilmer-Hutchins Independent School District (WHISD) in July 2001 at the request of the new superintendent, several board members and constituents concerned about the district's history of leadership instability, mismanagement and lack of financial and educational accountability.
The Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) began work in Wilmer-Hutchins in September 2001. Based upon more than six months of work, the March 2002 report identified WHISD's exemplary programs and suggested concrete ways to improve district operations. If fully implemented, the Comptroller's 98 recommendations could result in net savings of more than $7.3 million by 2006-07. During May 2003, TSPR staff returned to WHISD to assess the district's progress in implementing the recommendations.
Since 1991, TSPR has recommended more than 7,600 ways to save taxpayers more than $780 million over five-year periods in more than 100 public school districts throughout Texas. TSPR also conducts follow-up reviews of districts that have had at least one year to implement the recommendations. More than 60 subsequent reviews showed that school districts have acted on more than 90 percent of TSPR's proposals, saving taxpayers nearly $135 million. The Comptroller's office expects the full savings 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 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.
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 are included in the Comptroller's best practices database, A+ Ideas for Managing Schools (AIMS), which is 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 began its performance review of WHISD on September 24, 2001 with the assistance of Gibson Consulting Group Inc. - an Austin-based consulting firm. The team interviewed district employees, school board members, parents, business leaders and community members. The team also conducted a public forum in the high school library, on September 27, 2001 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
To obtain additional comments, the review team also conducted two focus group sessions, one with teachers and one with parents and community members. The Comptroller's office also received letters and phone calls from 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 248 survey responses from: 68 administrative and support staff; five principals and assistant principals; 68 teachers; 43 parents and 64 students.
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).
WHISD selected peer districts for comparisons based on similarities in student enrollment, student performance and community and student demographics. WHISD chose DeSoto ISD, Lancaster ISD and LaMarque ISD as its peer districts. TSPR also compared WHISD to district averages in TEA's Regional Education Service Center X (Region 10), to which WHISD belongs, and the state as a whole.
WHISD served a culturally diverse population of 2,902 students in 2002-03 in eight schools: one pre-Kindergarten school, four elementary schools, one middle school, one high school and one alternative education school. WHISD's students consisted of 70.4 percent African American, 25.4 percent Hispanic, 3.9 percent White, .2 percent Native American and .1 percent Asian/Pacific Islander. Economically disadvantaged students made up 63.1 percent of the district's student population in 2002-03, a decrease from 68.7 percent in 2001-02. The district's 2002-03 enrollment declined by 123 students from the 3,025 enrollment in 2001-02. Enrollment has steadily declined since 1998-99, when enrollment was 3,651.
TEA rated WHISD overall as Academically Acceptable in 2001-02. The rating remained the same for 2002-03 as the state switched from administering the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test to the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. TEA rated C.S. Winn Elementary School as Recognized and the other elementary schools, middle school, junior high and high school as Academically Acceptable. The alternative and pre-Kindergarten schools did not receive ratings.
In spring of 2003, 94 percent of third grade students passed the reading and math portions of the TAKS. In fifth grade, 75 percent, 76 percent and 77 percent passed reading, math and science, respectively. In sixth grade, 51 percent passed in reading and 59 percent in math. In seventh grade, 65 percent of the students passed reading, 38 percent passed math, and 60 percent passing writing. In eighth grade, 72 percent, 49 percent and 71 percent of students passed reading, math and social studies. In ninth grade, 55 percent of students passed reading and 31 percent passed math. In tenth grade, 29 percent, passed English Language Arts, 25 percent passed math, 60 percent passed social studies and 22 percent passed science. In eleventh grade, 19 percent passed English Language Arts, 25 percent passed math, 48 percent passed social studies and 19 percent passed science.
In 2002-03, the district employed a staff of 421 employees including 221 teachers or 52 percent of all employees. The district also budgeted $20 million for expenditures in 2002-03 designating $6,549 per pupil for operating expenditures compared to the state average of $6,317. That same year, WHISD generated 32.9 percent of WHISD's budgeted revenues through local taxes; 2.0 percent from other local and intermediate sources; 60.2 percent from the state; and 4.9 percent from the federal government.
WHISD budgeted 45.7 cents of every tax dollar on classroom instruction in 2002-03 compared to the state average of 51 cents. The district's tumultuous governance history and high turnover of superintendents continues. Shortly after the report's release, the district fired the superintendent who requested the review and, in December 2002 rehired a former superintendent with 10 years of experience in WHISD.
In January 2003, the district opened the A. L. Morney Learning Center, a preschool serving 29 three- and four-year old students with a capacity to hold 120 students. Board members hope the superintendent's professional and district history and the addition of new educational programs will help reverse the district's declining enrollment trend. The district reports an enrollment of 3,060 students in April 2003 an increase of 35 students from the start of the year. In August 2003, the district also opened a secondary performing arts magnet school.
WHISD participated in groundbreaking ceremonies for a 200 single-family home subdivision within district boundaries in Spring 2003. According to City of Hutchins officials, this is the first major city development in 30 years.
Despite governance issues, WHISD's staff and the TSPR team members have a sense of progress. The district has implemented 61 of the Comptroller's recommendations. The district is working toward completing another 30 recommendations and has accepted five recommendations but not implemented them. WHISD chose to reject two of the review team's recommendations including the first key recommendation that the district petition TEA for official assistance in district governance. Appendix A provides the details on the status of each recommendation that TSPR made in its original report.
Wilmer-Hutchins ISD Report Card
Excellent = More than 80% complete
Chapter Total Complete In Progress Not Implemented Rejected Percent Complete/In Progress Grades District Organization and Management 15 8 4 1 2 53%/27% Satisfactory Educational Service Delivery 12 6 5 1 0 50%/42% Satisfactory Human Resources Management 9 3 5 1 0 33%/56% Satisfactory Facilities Use and Management 9 3 4 2 0 33%/44% Needs Work Asset and Risk Management 9 7 2 0 0 78%/22% Satisfactory Financial Management 10 6 4 0 0 60%/40% Satisfactory Purchasing and Warehousing 8 8 0 0 0 100%/0% Excellent Computers and Technology 7 5 2 0 0 71%/29% Satisfactory Student Transportation 9 9 0 0 0 100%/0% Excellent Food Services 4 2 2 0 0 50%/50% Satisfactory Safety and Security 6 4 2 0 0 67%/33% Satisfactory Overall Grade 98 61 30 5 2 62%/31% Satisfactory
Satisfactory = 80% to 100% complete or in progress
Needs Work = Less than 80% complete or in progress
WHISD is a school district with some notable successes, and TSPR has identified "best practices." Through commendations in many chapters, the original report highlighted model programs, operations and services provided by WHISD 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.
- WHISD conducted an internal needs assessment to improve district educational service delivery. Recognizing the need for improvement in academics and student services, the district's director of Research, Development and Planning designed, conducted and published an internal needs assessment highlighting specific programs and services and using disaggregated data when available.
The district continues to use this original document as an on-going blueprint for advancement in the district.
- WHISD raised teacher salaries to remain competitive in the local market. In order to compete with other local districts, the district effected a teacher pay raise to bolster recruitment efforts and help retain teachers who might leave the district for better pay schedules.
To improve recruiting and retention efforts, the district's competitive starting teacher salaries of $37,100, as well as annual stipends of $1,500 for Bilingual/English as a Second Language, foreign language, math and special education teachers are paired with $1,000 signing bonuses for new teachers.
- WHISD uses grants and business donations to support student and community programs. In order to promote collaboration between the district and the community, WHISD entered into a collaboration agreement with the John C. Ford Program to provide future assistance in obtaining grants and academic, social and emotional support to the district's students through a variety of programs. Kennedy-Curry Middle School is the only school currently involved in this program. The district additionally received a donation of computers and related equipment from InterVoice Brite, Inc. valued between $800,000 and $1 million in January 2002 to assist in their efforts to provide student and community access to computers.
District administrators collaborate with local business and community leaders to solicit business donations, volunteer services and grants to fund academic and community efforts. For example, the district spearheaded an in-house tutoring program, Hutchins Academic Center, for students at risk of failing at Kennedy-Curry Middle School. The district recruited four tutors and used a $25,000 state grant to purchase Reconnect, a computer-based curriculum for credit recovery.
- The district efficiently uses cooperative agreements. WHISD participates in three cooperative purchasing agreements to obtain goods and equipment at reasonable prices while eliminating the effort and expense associated with the bidding process. These agreements save both time and money in the procurement process and ensure district compliance with state laws for the items purchased through cooperative bid participation.
The district continues to participate in three cooperatives maximizing savings for the district. Through bulk purchases the district reduces administrative effort while complying with all purchasing regulations.
- The district increased interest income by diversifying its investment portfolio.Historically, the district has conservatively invested excess funds into a six-month certificate of deposit. The district changed its investment strategy, as permitted by local investment policy, to include investments in the LoneStar Liquidity Plus Fund to increase interest income.
During 2002-03, the district maintained investments in the state's LoneStar Liquidity Plus Fund at 1.8 percent interest.
- WHISD provides meals exceeding national program standards. The director of Nutrition Services and cafeteria managers cooperate to carefully plan and prepare breakfast and lunch menus to meet or exceed all nutritional standards set by the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The district uses NutriKid software to ensure meals adhere to all national dietary guidelines.
Use of the NutriKid software and careful nutritional planning helped the director of Child Nutrition easily implement more restrictive federal and state nutritional guidelines. The director of Child Nutrition continues to prioritize nutritious meals for students at breakfast and lunch.
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 administrators and board members during the TSPR team's follow-up visit to the district.
District Organization and Management
Recommendation 4: Designate a staff person to develop, review and update board policies and disseminate policy information to the public.
Recommendation 6:Prepare more detailed board minutes and improve the report format. The district assigned an administrative assistant to the board to develop, review and update board policies and disseminate policy information to the public. This reorganization and delegation of duties also allowed the board to prepare more detailed board minutes and track board member training. After the board's administrative assistant compiled training folders for each of the board members during 2002-03, all members exceeded the number of recommended training hours required by the state. The board president said dedicating an administrative assistant to the board has improved the efficiency with which it handles routine records maintenance and administrative functions.
Educational Service Delivery,
Recommendation 23: Examine special education referral and identification methods and incorporate more effective strategies into the Student Support Committee process. District administrators noted completion of this recommendation as key because the district turned the special education program under state scrutiny with an assigned monitor during 2002, into a program found by TEA to be compliant with applicable federal and state regulations. In February 2003, TEA removed the monitor from the district.
To achieve this status, the director of Special Education implemented a new referral process based upon the legal framework of TEA's Child-Centered Special Education Process. The district also implemented a database system to monitor the progress and outcome of all special education referrals, provide compliance due dates to administrators and generate weekly and monthly reports for the district's diagnostic and teaching staff.
The director of Special Education also worked as part of a United States Office of Special Education Programs focus group that wrote and produced, An Administrator's Guide, The Pre-referral Intervention Process: Addressing Over-Representation of African American Students in Special Education, in conjunction with IDEA Partnerships of the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Alliance of Black School Educators. This staff participation provided the district with a unique opportunity to provide in-house professional development to special education, general education and administrative staff in the pre-referral and referral processes and all aspects of academically serving students with special needs at no cost.
Recommendation 61: Close the Tax Office and enter into an interlocal agreement with Dallas County to collect the district's property taxes. WHISD's board acted quickly after the report release and closed the Tax Office transferring all regular collection efforts to Dallas County for 2002-03. Administrators identified this recommendation as key because collection rates as of March 2003 increased generating $453,456 more in revenues compared to revenues received at the same time in 2002.
Basing savings on 2003 increased revenues and salary savings from the Tax collector/assessor and Tax clerk positions which total $74,014 annually, the district projects five-year savings to be almost double those projected in the original report.
Recommendation 64: Hire an internal auditor to report directly to the Board of Trustees. 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 2002-03 budget of $20 million, WHISD met the recommended financial criteria. District administrators said they prioritized this recommendation and hired an internal auditor that reports to the superintendent in March 2003 after completing a thorough hiring process. Although reporting to the superintendent, the internal auditor gives scheduled report to the board. The district agreed that the internal auditor will help ensure that WHISD spends funds for intended purposes and will further help in identifying waste and unnecessary spending.
Purchasing and Warehousing
Recommendation 65: Develop and implement purchasing procedures that include a system of internal controls.
Recommendation 68: Close the district's supply warehouse and order supplies on a just-in-time basis. The director of Business and director of Purchasing considered these two recommendations as the most significant for the purchasing functions. An administrator said Purchasing Department staff have significantly improved purchase order processing. Developing and using a purchasing manual has been exceptionally useful in training department and school staff on purchasing rules and procedures.
The district closed its supply warehouse using the facility as storage for lawnmowers and maintenance equipment as recommended in the original report. The district reassigned the warehouse clerk to another administrative position within the district and realized $110,000 in savings from maintenance costs and the salaries for the supervisor and delivery/maintenance employees. The board recognized that many of the previously stored items can be acquired through the just-in-time procurement method. The district purchases most supplies on a just-in-time basis now.
Recommendation 80: Issue Request for Proposals to outsource student transportation. District administrators identified this recommendation as the most significant in the entire report because the district improved the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of transportation services. The district negotiated a contract favoring the district including reimbursement for half of the cost of several buses in 2001-02. To date, the district has realized more than $311,000 in operational savings in one year and based on these figures, expects five-year savings to reach more than $1.2 million.
In addition to financial savings, the district has eliminated a variety of associated transportation problems including departmental record keeping and program monitoring problems, inefficient routing and poor customer service and inadequate driver training. The new contractor, Dallas County Schools provides the district with monthly reports, efficiently schedules routes, trains drivers, handles employee discipline, supervises employees, tracks on-time performance, properly maintains buses and provides the district with a bus replacement schedule. The decision to outsource transportation services helped the district to complete many of the other chapter recommendations.
WHISD has made progress towards implementing TSPR's recommendations. The district has implemented 61 recommendations, 30 are in various stages of progress and five have been reviewed but have not been addressed. The district chose not to implement two of the review team's recommendations. This section addresses the key areas that require additional attention from the district.
Stabilizing leadership and board governance continues to be at issue in the district.
TSPR recommended the board develop and implement a Code of Conduct and provide communication training (Recommendation 5) to delineate respective roles between the superintendent and the board and establish a means of self-censorship. Although the district developed the Code of Conduct and a majority of members attended a variety of professional development and training, pending lawsuits alleging election tampering and slanderous comments from within the board suggest the board has not fully implemented a method of "self censorship." Board members continue to air public and legal disagreements.
TSPR urges board members to adhere collectively and individually to the Code of Conduct and consider imposing sanctions or additional training to address infractions. In addition board members may consider ethics training as part of annual professional development. The board is encouraged to remove discussion of any personal or private disagreements from board functions.
To increase representation of district areas historically unrepresented on the board, TSPR also recommended the district change its board member election to increase the number of single-member district positions from three to five (Recommendation 3). The district rejected this recommendation saying all members are currently elected at-large providing anyone in the district with the opportunity to vote. The district has 16 precincts, three (#3331, #3549 and #3905) have no registered voters, one (#3809) has five or fewer and three (#3517, #3556 and #3800) have less than 50. Of the 12,553 registered voters in the district's 16 precincts, 2,203 voted in the May 2003 election for six of the nine board seats. No voters cast ballots in five of the precincts in the May 2003 elections and four precincts recorded votes of 15 or less. TSPR urges the district to partner with the community in voting registration efforts and to initiate actions to ensure representation in the underrepresented areas of the district.
While progress has been made in improving the quality of education the district's TAKS scores show the district still has a work to be done. Grade three scores of 94 percent passing rates in math and reading are encouraging, but the district does not want to fail the students in the middle and high school grades. Sixty percent or less of the students in high school passed all tested areas of the TAKS. TSPR encouraged the district to use student achievement data (Recommendation 18) to improve student performance. While the district filled a vacant director of Curriculum position (Recommendation 16), challenges in instruction remain. The director of Curriculum used 2001-02 TAAS data to provide professional development (Recommendation 22) in 2002-03 and is using the TAKS scores to similarly mold training for teachers in 2003-04. The district must ensure this training is directly correlated to student achievement every year.
The district has also developed curriculum guides (Recommendation 17) and should ensure all teachers are trained for full implementation to help ensure students master basic information before transitioning to the next grade. The district's teachers, while competitively paid, must be certified and know the material that they present to students. The district should continue working with representatives from Region 10 to increase national and state recruiting efforts (Recommendation 32).
While the district revised and detailed a Bilingual Education program manual for 2002-03, documented bilingual education training for teachers districtwide and provided a $1,500 stipend to bilingual teachers, the district still has significant work to do to implement a high-quality program (Recommendation 26). During 2002-03, the district received $92,565 in bilingual funds from the state, and in December 2002, TEA issued a district effectiveness and compliance (DEC) report of the bilingual education/English as a Second Language program. TEA found the district to be noncompliant in 16 of 26 assessed areas.
TSPR urges WHISD to immediately address identified deficiencies, increase efforts to recruit qualified bilingual education teachers and retrain existing teachers to provide students in the program with quality services. In addition, TSPR further recommends the district begin offering bilingual education to three- and four-year old students in a proactive measure and students in grades Pre-K through 3 where there are 20 or more identified students per grade level, in accordance with law.
Facilities Use and Management
WHISD has taken small steps toward developing a long-range facilities master plan (Recommendation 37) including use of a consultant to complete and present a facilities needs study to the board in March 2003. The needs assessment completed by the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), confirms what TSPR identified over a year ago (Recommendation 38), the district's facilities are in grave condition. TASA told district officials that all facilities except Wilmer-Hutchins High School are rated unacceptable according to industry standards with only 6 percent of the district's classroom space deemed operational.
The district must aggressively develop a long-range facility plan and include energy efficient retrofits into construction and renovation plans to ensure the safety of students and staff housed daily in the district's buildings.
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 WHISD 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.
Wilmer-Hutchins administrators and board members made the following observations.
Two key administrators said that they felt the report was very thorough, and the most significant changes since the report release were the change in district leadership and the management of the Business Office.
The board members, superintendent and key administrators said that the report helped the district focus on operational issues and continue to emphasize education and the resiliency of students and staff amidst adversarial situations.
A key administrator said the report assisted them on tackling some difficult projects and obtaining services such as outsourcing transportation, which the district had been unable to accomplish in the past. The state's issuance of a report provided credibility and lent weight to making these changes through provided documentation, implementation strategies and calculated fiscal impacts.
All board members and key administrators agreed that the perception of the district's image as a whole is very important and continues to be a key issue for future growth.
Key administrators also said that some corrections sent from the district after reviewing a draft of the report were not addressed in the final report.
While it appears some comments were received without adequate documentation to support a change, TSPR will examine the tracking sheets used to obtain comments and corrections to determine if clarifying language should be added specifying that no factual or numeric changes will be made to reported findings without supporting documentation.