Comptroller Report Keeps Tabs On ISD Spending
School districts around East Texas received dramatically different reviews in a Texas Comptroller's Office report that measured academic progress relative to school spending.
The report, released last week, shows that two East Texas districts -- Canton and Jacksonville ISDs -- received a five-star rating, the report's highest.
The area's largest school districts -- Tyler and Longview -- received 2 stars.
New Summerfield and Martins Mill school districts, in Cherokee and Van Zandt counties, respectively, received 4 1/2-star ratings.
Seven area districts including Lindale, Whitehouse, Henderson, Gilmer, Quitman, Van and LaPoynor, each received 4 stars.
The report, commissioned by the 2009 Texas Legislature, relies on existing student performance and financial data collected by the Texas Education Agency.
Analysts used results from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, to determine student, campus and district-level progress over time, according to information on the report's website.
The report used student performance data over a three-year period through 2009.
Using a complex formula, analysts controlled for certain factors such as student gender, ethnicity and family income in order to put the students, campuses and districts "on equal footing for comparisons across the state," according to the report.
To figure spending comparisons, researchers grouped the school districts according to size, student demographics and regional wage variations.
Districts were then rated based on where they placed within their peer group according to core operating expenditures per pupil.
School district superintendents said the report will provide a resource to see what other districts are doing to maximize dollars.
"I think any study at all (with a) comparative aspect has merit," Jacksonville ISD Superintendent Dr. Joe Wardell said. "It's not the complete story of things, but every time you get any information like that we can compare and use, it's good."
In Lindale ISD, Superintendent Stan Surratt said he was pleased with his district's four-star rating.
"We're very proud and this rating shows that we're highly efficient and doing a good job TAKS wise," he said.
However, he said, he was a little surprised they didn't get the fifth star.
Canton ISD Superintendent Larry Davis said his district's five-star rating is a result of the hard work by teachers and the strong financial management.
"I felt like we were fiscally responsible and I knew academically we did well," he said. "To be in this category is an honor."
Tyler ISD Superintendent Dr. Randy Reid said in an interview last week that he still had some questions about how the analysts arrived at the ratings.
Although he was not necessarily surprised by TISD's rating given the district's TAKS performance is below state average, he was surprised by the district's TISD was compared with, he said.
He said the report can serve as a tool to point districts toward more efficiency. However, he cautioned residents from making quick judgments based on the star rating.
"I don't think they intended it to be used as a way for our public to criticize what we're doing, but to work with us to help us improve efficiencies where we can," Reid said.
In addition to the district-level data, the report also includes reviews of individual campus performance and recommendations for improved efficiency.
Recommendations dealt with a variety issues such as instruction and data reporting. The Comptroller's office suggests relaxing the class size limit of 22 students in kindergarten through fourth-grade to permit an average of 22 students per class. This could save school districts statewide more than $500 million, according to the report.
Another suggestion calls for an expansion of online coursework opportunities for students and the replacement of traditional textbooks with e-textbooks, which cost up to 40 percent less, according to the report.
Staff Writers Melissa Crowe and Kelly Gooch contributed to this report.