More than a few parents were likely stunned to find Avalon ISD receive an "F" in the financial integrity category of the recently released A—F Accountability rating. And they weren't alone.
Avalon ISD Superintendent Dr. David Del Bosque and staff were left to decipher the data and determine what caused the poor grade. They quickly discovered a significant error with the rating issued in the first-ever A–F Accountability report published by the Texas Education Association.
Even though txschools.org reflected an “F” rating for finances, tea.texas.gov displayed a “B” rating.
Del Bosque found the low grade was based on the 2016-17 school year but comprised of 2015-16 data.
On Aug. 20, Del Bosque called TEA to settle the issue. That same day, TEA responded and put the blame on programming and the new website — txschool.org — and was not sure how it pulled incorrect information. However, Del Bosque said that TEA relayed to him the website was in the process of updating its program, and it would reflect the correct rating of "Above Standard," which would be a "B."
The Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) is based on an analysis of the district’s financial data for the fiscal year 2016-17. Ronnie Burchett, media relations and internal communications for Texas Education Agency, said school districts have the opportunity to file a written appeal with supporting evidence to the Financial Accountability Section by Sept. 10. When the Daily Light requested the number of current appeals, Burchett assured those would be released after Sept. 10.
Del Bosque did clarify that he did not have to file an appeal because the district technically earned the "B" rating, which should be reflected on the AISD report card as soon as the website is fixed.
As of Aug. 23, txschools.org still reflected the wrong letter grade in the FIRST category.
On Aug. 15, Del Bosque issued a letter on Facebook to inform parents about the unexpected expenses during the 2015-16 school year that caused the district to have expenditures that exceeded its revenues for that school year.
Unexpectedly, that year the district had to provide a new roof on the high school, replace an aged bus and a dealt with a significant increase in costs with the Special Services Cooperative — informally referenced as the co-op. During that school year, the Texas Educational Consultative Service Inc. performed consultant work. When the district received the invoice for the TECS services, the payment of the $900 bill was coded incorrectly.
A phone audit was conducted by TEA during the 2016-17 school year and caught the miscode. The purchase order for TECS services was then corrected. Del Bosque said this error was wrongly reflected in the 2016-17 data, which significantly impacted the finance indicator.
“It’s old data — it’s this amount and the miscoding of a check because the Federal Department of Education was auditing TEA at that time. TEA goes through there and does audits at random. We were one of the lucky ones," Del Bosque explained. "That one error cost the district 10 points itself in the FIRST indicators, and we were short by eight points to a standard rating.”
“At the end of this year, 2017-18, we had nearly three months reserve, so we replaced what we had to put out to fix the repairs of the bus and the roof and to the co-op doubled expenses,” he added.
The co-op is comprised of Italy, Milford and Avalon ISDs — Ferris ISD is no longer in the co-op. This is the first year the co-op is called the Ellis County Southside Shared Services. Del Bosque stated that Italy ISD was the fiscal agent for the group.
The three districts share resources, personnel and expenses through the co-op, which reorganized for the 2018-2019 school year and is in its first year of services. The percent of students that make up the total enrolled in schools that comprise the co-op suggests the percent of the budget each district is required to contribute.
“The reorganization is going great. This is how smaller districts are able to provide specialized services such as diagnosticians, psychiatrists, alternative schools, speech therapists, etc.,” Del Bosque emphasized.
THOUGHTS ON A—F ACCOUNTABILITY
Del Bosque expressed he does not think the A—F Accountability rating system is a proper comparison of schools.
“This is not reflective of where we are at. Most certainly not,” he emphasized. “And, there’s always much more to what’s in the picture than a letter grade. There really is. And another thing that freaked people out is that we didn’t have an accountability rating, letter grade.”
He explained how the “met standard” label confused taxpayers and expressed that it was unfair to not be labeled with the letter grade earned.
One campus districts are recognized as either “Met Standard” or “Improvement Required.” The one-campus districts do receive a distinctive letter grade, but that letter does not identify the school overall.
"'Met Standard' could include anything from a high 90 to a low 70 with no other distinction. Thus, by this measure, an 'A' is the same as a 'C' grade," Del Bosque said.
Also, since Avalon ISD is comprised of one campus with several buildings, only the district received a letter grade and not each elementary, middle and high school campus.
According to TEA, there are 38 single-campus districts in Texas.
This is Del Bosque's 25th year with the district and his 17th year as superintendent. He is one of seven superintendents since 1925. Del Bosque then iterated the particulars that make the district unique.
“How misleading this stuff is with these letter grades — they are just slapping the letter grades on kids without any consideration for the differences between every kid and every community," he said.
A complete break down of the official "B" Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas for Avalon ISD can be found at, https://tealprod.tea.state.tx.us/First/forms/District.aspx?year=2016&district=070901.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450