Key Findings and Recommendations
TSPR examined Dallas ISD (DISD) operations and heard from employees, school board members, teachers, students, parents, and community and business leaders. Following are the major proposals TSPR has developed to help the district address various issues:
Inadequate Focus on Education
- Match the criteria used in DISD's school improvement system with the state's accountability system. The district's School Effectiveness Indices (SEI), which it uses as the basis for its School Improvement Awards, does not employ the same standards used by the state's Academic Excellence Indicator System. In 1999-2000, seven DISD schools rated Low-Performing by the Texas Education Agency--the lowest possible rating--received a Silver SEI rating, the district's second-highest rating. Matching the SEI ratings with the state accountability ratings, and basing the monetary rewards on three-year averages, should help ensure the schools receive a consistent accountability measure from both the district and the state.
- Increase the district's number of "teacher technologists" to better integrate technology into the classroom. DISD's teacher technologists have become its first line of defense against computer problems, but these individuals are being overwhelmed with requests for their services. By designating more teachers as teacher technologists the district could reduce the workload on its existing technologists while giving teachers additional support.
- Get out from under court-ordered desegregation. Seven years after DISD was granted unitary status, the district remains under court-ordered desegregation. DISD, with more than 90 percent of its students classified as minority, is a majority-minority district. The cost for maintaining a compliance office to monitor the court order is more than $560,000 annually, and still the district has no plan in place to remedy its few remaining areas of non-compliance. By preparing a short-term plan and petitioning the courts for dismissal, the district will ensure that it is serving all children equitably and can eliminate the monitoring office.
- Give counselors more time to work with students. Counselors' responsibility for coordinating an average of 16 student-testing programs negatively impacts the effectiveness and quality of counseling services to students. In some schools, counselors are unable to provide an effective guidance program because the testing program consumes more than half of their time. By hiring test coordinators and allowing counselors to do their job, the district could ensure that students receive the help they need to succeed in school.
- Improve special education services. DISD's special education program has serious and persistent problems. The district has failed to identify, evaluate and appropriately serve children with disabilities living in residential facilities for a number of years. As a result of this persistent failure, TEA assigned a special education monitor to DISD in February 2000. DISD should reorganize its special education personnel, provide them with annual training and create an automated tracking system to ensure that DISD adheres to the mandated timelines for student special education assessments.
Lack of Accountability
- Limit the use of administrative leave. According to DISD records, as of January 2001, 25 district employees were on "administrative leave with pay pending an investigation," with annual salaries of more than $1 million. Administrative leave with pay is used when it is believed an employee would hinder an investigation or is a threat to the well-being of students or staff. DISD has no clear, written guidelines for the use of administrative leave with pay. By limiting the length of time employees can remain on administrative leave and developing a prompt approach for handling administrative complaints and investigations, the district can control expenses while ensuring fair and consistent treatment of its employees.
- Eliminate employee contracts that are not required by law. DISD issues employment contracts to more than 600 professional non-certified employees. This practice is costly at time of termination, time-consuming to administer all seven contract types and not required by the Texas Education Code. Discontinuing contracts when the law does not require them will reduce the district's administrative workload and avoid the risk of unnecessary lawsuits related to contract terms.
- Create a pay-for-performance system. Trying to put more dollars into the hands of teachers is commendable, but DISD's current system of longevity pay is costly and does not address the issue of performance. Existing funds budgeted for longevity pay should be examined in light of the long-term financial implications as well as the system's impact on productivity and performance. DISD should redesign its performance rating categories and merit increase system to more accurately reflect a pay for performance plan.
Leadership Instability and Board Turmoil
- Restructure DISD's central and area offices; cut central administrative staffing. Some of DISD's central office functions have illogical reporting relationships that allow employees to circumvent the chain of command. The district should change its organizational structure to include four deputy superintendents and reduce its more than 3,100 central office positions by 93 positions, or 3 percent, to control administrative costs during a period of flat enrollment. By trimming the central office staff and pushing functions out into the district's nine areas, closer to the people they serve, the bureaucracy will be reduced and services to campuses improved, saving more than $3.8 million annually.
- Expand the code of conduct to discourage micromanagement by the school board. Most of DISD's board members routinely exceed their policy-making role and attempt to micromanage various district functions. For example, some board members conduct monthly meetings with school principals in their areas, interfere in personnel decisions and saddle administrators with time-consuming data requests. By clarifying its own policies, expanding the code of conduct and levying sanctions against board members that meddle in day-to-day administration, the board can begin operating more effectively, as a cohesive unit.
Poorly Planned and Managed Contracted Services
- Renegotiate key district contracts valued at $53.8 million. DISD's contracts with Edison Schools, Inc. (ESI), Community Education Partners (CEP), and Dallas County Schools (DCS) are not favorable to the district. They contain very few specific performance criteria which are not linked to compensation. These three major contracts were negotiated and approved by DISD without adequate review by the district's purchasing department and its legal counsel. DISD should examine each contract carefully and renegotiate their terms to ensure the district's vendors deliver high-quality services at a fair and reasonable price.
- Provide oversight for all contracts. DISD uses many contracted services, yet some contracts have no one assigned to oversee them. For example, no DISD employee is responsible for managing the $10.6 million outsourced transportation contract. Disputes about past charges and the ownership of buses remain unresolved. By assigning a qualified individual for contract oversight and project management, the district could better monitor the quality of services it purchases and ensure the district's interests are protected.
- Enforce terms of contracts. In many cases, DISD administrators proved to be unaware of the terms of various district contracts, and TSPR found little was being done to enforce contract terms. In May 2000, for example, DISD's armored car service missed 111 scheduled pickups. When this happens, cash must be placed in school safes, a practice that has led to theft. By enforcing contract conditions more stringently DISD can help ensure that public resources remain protected.
Failure of Core Business Functions
- Improve human resource management. DISD's Human Resource Services department has been disrupted by constant managerial and organizational changes, with no fewer than five different department heads since 1996. This chaos has caused the district's hiring, recruiting and employee administration activities to break down over the years, forcing or allowing campuses and departments to take on these functions themselves. In February 2001, DISD's executive management finally addressed the department's problems by hiring an experienced department head. To reverse the department's long slide, however, the district needs a strategic operating plan that outlines both short- and long-term performance improvement goals.
- Develop a comprehensive fixed-asset management system. DISD does not have a comprehensive system for keeping tabs on its fixed assets, which are currently valued at more than $1 billion. The last inventory was conducted in 1998, but variances detected at that time were not investigated adequately and inventory records were not adjusted to reflect the new counts. Many of the district's records are incomplete, making it difficult to track and protect public property. By creating a comprehensive fixed-asset management system DISD will improve the accountability of its existing fixed assets and will create a process for the safekeeping of new fixed-asset purchases.
- Fix administrative technology systems. Inadequate or underused technology is at the center of many of DISD's problems. The district's computerized payroll, personnel management, vendor management and financial systems are not running properly, despite a $5.7 million investment. Before DISD makes any more moves in this area it should conduct a comprehensive business-case analysis of its needs and decide, based on the best evidence, whether to repair or replace the current system.
- Establish a strong purchasing system. DISD has been plagued by illegal and inappropriate purchasing practices for many years. Its purchasing controls are weak and, because its processes are cumbersome, many district employees simply circumvent the system to obtain the goods and services they need to do their jobs. A comprehensive purchasing infrastructure that enforces district policy and holds employees accountable would help the district prevent abuses and improve the services offered to its employees.
- Make facilities safe for students and staff. In November 2000, DISD's schools had 138 outstanding fire code violations, some of them two to five years old. In addition, school entry and exit controls are inconsistent throughout the district and the district estimates that only about half of the metal detectors installed in its schools work. DISD does not conduct regular safety and security assessments of its schools, has no objective performance criteria for grading school safety, and does not hold anyone accountable for fixing problems related to safety and security. A districtwide inspection program would ensure that such problems are identified and addressed efficiently and quickly.
- Apply an equitable custodial staffing formula. Custodians are not assigned based on the unique characteristics of schools, causing overstaffing at some schools and understaffing at others. The district should apply an equitable custodial staffing formula and increase the square footage allocated per custodian. This would save the DISD almost $3 million per year.