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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Executive Summary Overview
Summary of Costs and Savings by Recommendation (Exhibit 5)

In February 2002, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander began a review of the Divide Independent School District (DISD) as part of a five-district project that also included reviews of the neighboring Kerrville, Ingram, Center Point and Hunt school districts. These five districts are located geographically near each other in Kerr County. Based upon more than four months of work, this report identifies DISD's exemplary programs and suggests concrete ways to improve district operations. If fully implemented, the Comptroller's 19 recommendations could result in net savings of $121,620 over the next five years.

Improving the Texas School Performance Review

Soon after taking office in January 1999, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander consulted school district officials, parents and teachers from across Texas and carefully examined past reviews and progress reports to make the Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) more valuable to the state's school districts. With the perspective of a former teacher and school board president, the Comptroller has vowed to use TSPR to increase local school districts' accountability to the communities they serve.

Recognizing that only 52 cents of every education dollar is spent on instruction, Comptroller Rylander's goal is to drive more of every education dollar directly into the classroom. Comptroller Rylander also has ordered TSPR staff to share best practices and exemplary programs quickly and systematically with all the state's school districts and with anyone else who requests such information. Comptroller Rylander has directed TSPR to serve as a clearinghouse of the best ideas in Texas public education.

Under Comptroller Rylander's approach, consultants and the TSPR team will work with districts to:

  • ensure students and teachers receive the support and resources necessary to succeed;
  • identify innovative ways to address the district's core management challenges;
  • ensure administrative duties are performed efficiently, without duplication and in a way that fosters education;
  • develop strategies to ensure the district's processes and programs are continuously assessed and improved;
  • 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 Rylander has opened her door to Texans who share her optimism about the potential for public education. Suggestions to improve Texas schools or the school reviews are welcome at any time. The Comptroller believes public schools deserve all the attention and assistance they can get.

For more information, contact TSPR by calling toll-free 1-800-531-5441, extension 5-3676, or see the Comptroller's Web site at www.window.state.tx.us .

TSPR in DISD

DISD is located approximately 35 miles west of Kerrville. The Divide School is one of the few remaining active one-room schoolhouses in the United States. The district was founded in 1882 and the school was moved to different locations within the district's boundaries based upon where the majority of kids could be served until 1936, when a permanent structure was built.

The district covers an attendance area of 340 square miles. There is one school in the district that serves 20 students in grades pre-K through grade 6. DISD sends its students to middle school and high school in the Ingram ISD. The district is served by the Texas Education Agency's (TEA's) Regional Education Service Center XX (Region 20) in San Antonio, Texas.

The Comptroller's office selected Carter C. Scherff, CPA, a consultant based in Wichita Falls, Texas, EGS Consulting, a consultant based in Austin, Texas, and WCL ENTERPRISES, a consultant based in Houston, Texas, to assist with the review. The team interviewed district employees, school board members, parents, business leaders and community members and held a public forum on Wednesday, February 6, 2002, at the Divide School from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Comptroller's office also received letters and phone calls from a wide array of parents, teachers and community members.

To ensure all stakeholders had an opportunity to comment, TSPR sent surveys to parents, teachers, campus and central administration and support staff. A total of 10 respondents answered these surveys: five teachers and five parents completed written surveys. Details from the surveys and focus group comments appear in Appendices A and B.

The review team also consulted two databases of comparative educational information maintained by TEA-the Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) and the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS).

DISD selected peer districts for comparisons based on similarities in student enrollment, student performance and community and student demographics. The districts chosen were Hunt, Mirando City, Pringle-Morse and San Vicente.

During its more than four-month review, TSPR developed 19 recommendations to improve operations and save taxpayers $127,770 over the next five years. Cumulative net savings from all recommendations (savings minus recommended investments or expenditures) would reach $121,620 by 2006-07.

A detailed list of costs and savings by recommendation appears in Exhibit 5. Some TSPR recommendations would not have a direct financial impact, but would improve the district's overall operations.

Acknowledgments

The Comptroller's office, Carter C. Scherff, CPA, EGS Consulting and WCL ENTERPRISES wish to express their appreciation to the DISD Board of Trustees, Superintendent Bill Bacon and the district employees, students, parents and community residents who helped during the review.

Divide Independent School District

In 2001-02, DISD served 20 students. Of these, 60 percent were Anglo, 40 percent were Hispanic and 55 percent were identified as economically disadvantaged. Exhibit 1 details the demographic characteristics of the DISD, its peer districts, Region 20 and the state.

Exhibit 1
Demographic Characteristics of DISD,
Peer School Districts, Region 20 and the State
2001-02
District Student
Enrollment
Ethnic Group
(Percent)
Economically
Disadvantaged
African American Hispanic White Other
Hunt 205 0.0% 26.3% 73.2% 0.5% 33.2%
Pringle-Morse 106 0.0% 47.2% 52.8% 0.0% 64.2%
Mirando City 45 0.0% 100.0% 0.0% 0.0% 77.8%
Divide 20 0.0% 40.0% 60.0% 0.0% 55.0%
San Vicente 20 5.0% 55.0% 40.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Region 20 337,299 7.0% 64.2% 27.3% 1.4% 61.0%
State 4,150,741 14.4% 41.7% 40.8% 3.1% 50.5%
Source: Texas Education Agency (TEA), Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS), 2001-02.

The district's annual budget is $293,753 for 2001-02. For 2001-02, compared to its peer districts, DISD has the second lowest property tax rate (Exhibit 2) and the highest property value per student.

Exhibit 2
Property Tax Value per Student and Tax Rates
2001-02
District Property Tax
Value per Student
Tax Rate
Divide $1,291,304 $1.180
Pringle-Morse $900,734 $1.337
Hunt $730,220 $1.200
Mirando City $560,817 $1.500
San Vicente $277,765 $1.090
State $236,543 $1.485
Source: TEA, PEIMS, 2001-02.

On August 16, 2001, TEA released the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) results for the 2000-01 school year. DISD received an overall Exemplary rating, the same as the 1999-2000 rating.

Between 1996-97 and 2000-01, DISD significantly improved its TAAS scores while maintaining a high rate of TAAS participation. In 1996-97, DISD had the lowest average TAAS scores among its peers, Region 20 and the state. In both 1999-2000 and 2000-01, all DISD students who took the TAAS passed it, and the district had the highest average TAAS scores among its peers, Region 20 and the state (Exhibit 3).

Exhibit 3
Percentage of Students Passing TAAS, All Tests Taken (Grades 3-8 & 10)
DISD, Peer Districts, State and Regional Averages
1996-97 through 2000-01
District 1996-97 1997-98* 1998-99** 1999-2000** 2000-01** Percent Change
from
1996-97 to
2000-01
Hunt 94.5% 91.8% 82.1% 78.1% 85.1% (9.9%)
Pringle-Morse 77.8% 100.0% 97.0% 89.6% 93.0% 19.5%
Mirando City 63.6% 67.7% 76.7% 42.1% 77.4% 21.7%
San Vicente 62.5% 90.0% 50.0% 80.0% 85.7% 37.1%
Divide 55.6% 66.7% 87.5% 100.0% 100.0% 79.8%
Region 20 66.6% 72.3% 74.4% 77.1% 79.3% 19.1%
State 73.2% 73.1% 78.1% 79.9% 82.1% 12.2%
Source: TEA, AEIS, 1996-97 through 2000-01.
*Recalculated from original posting to include special education and grades 3 and 4 Spanish TAAS.
**Recalculated from original posting to include special education and grades 3-6 Spanish TAAS.

DISD has many exemplary programs that enjoy strong support from area residents. There still are some areas, however, where the district is facing challenges, including:

  • Planning for the future;
  • Reporting student information to TEA and maximizing funding; and
  • Maintaining quality educational services.

Key Findings and Recommendations

Plan for the Future

Conduct a formal needs assessment and convene a community forum to discuss and evaluate the need for additional school space. DISD has not completed a formal evaluation of space needs, and the district has not determined if there is community support for refurbishing or adding onto the current facility. DISD's former status as a property wealthy, or Chapter 41 school district, greatly limited the funds available for facility repair and renovation. Since DISD is no longer a Chapter 41 school district, it has additional resources it can use on repair and renovation projects. Conducting a formal needs assessment with community input could help the board to prioritize its facilities' needs.

Establish an encumbrance system to ensure that expenditures do not exceed the amount budgeted by the board. The district does not use encumbrance accounting, which is a control system that records purchase orders or anticipated expenditures before the orders are placed to prevent expenditures in excess of the amount budgeted by the board. The number and amount of purchases in DISD are small, and the business manager and superintendent are able to estimate the cost of purchases outstanding. Knowing how much money has been spent to date is generally insufficient. The amount committed also must be known to avoid spending more than is budgeted. An encumbrance accounting system ensures expenditures do not exceed the amount budgeted.

Report Student Information to TEA and Maximize Funding

Collect the necessary information from families in the district to determine the number of students for which DISD can receive State Compensatory Education funding. DISD does not receive State Compensatory Education (SCE) funding from the state to improve student achievement and to reduce the dropout rate of identified students because it does not have a lunch program for its students, which is the basis for SCE eligibility. The 2001 Texas Legislature, however, amended the Texas Education Code (TEC) Section 42.152(b) to allow school districts that do not participate in the national school lunch or breakfast programs to receive SCE funding. By identifying eligible students, the district could increase state funding by more than $9,300 annually.

Report expenditures for special education services and claim funding for the services provided. DISD did not receive special education funding in the 2000-01 year. DISD received special education services through the Cluster VII Special Education Services for which Kerrville ISD (KISD) was the fiscal agent until August 31, 2001. The cluster, however, was dissolved because it was no longer fiscally viable for KISD. DISD has received contracted special education services through Ingram ISD since the cluster dissolved. In the transition from the cluster to contracted services, DISD failed to file the necessary reports to receive special education funds. Filing those reports would enable the district again to receive funding for special education services.

Prepare and file the reports with TEA required to receive transportation funding from the state. DISD did not file the necessary transportation reports with TEA to receive transportation state funding for the 2000-01 year. The district ceased to file the required reports when it became a Chapter 41 district and was no longer eligible to receive transportation funding. When the district received the sparcity adjustment under Section 42.105 of the TEC, DISD became eligible to receive the transportation allotment from the state. Filing the necessary reports with TEA would ensure the district receives the transportation allotment for the 2000-01 year and beyond.

Review the investment policy and invest excess cash in approved investment instruments. DISD does not receive interest on all of its excess funds. The district keeps all funds at the depository bank where it invested $200,000 in Certificates of Deposit and the remainder is left in a checking account. According to the checking account statements, the bank was not paying interest on the account funds. DISD could earn as much as an additional $6,400 annually by keeping excess funds invested in board-approved instruments.

Maintain Quality Educational Services

Hire a part-time teacher to take over some of the teaching duties of the superintendent. DISD's superintendent serves as a principal and teacher, and the former superintendent serves as an advisor to the current superintendent and is responsible for some limited but vital business functions. The former superintendent will be retiring at the end of the current school year, and his duties will be transferred to the current superintendent. It is unlikely the current superintendent can take on the additional duties without receiving some relief in other areas. By hiring a part-time teacher that could take over some of the superintendent's teaching duties, the superintendent would have more time to complete the other functions of the district.

Align DISD's curriculum with Ingram ISD's middle school curriculum. DISD's curriculum is not vertically aligned with the curriculum of Ingram ISD, the district where DISD students attend middle school. While DISD's superintendent has received informal reports on the performance of the district's former students in Ingram ISD, the two districts have not formally aligned their curriculum so that one year's subject matter builds on the previous years. Aligning its curriculum with the Ingram ISD middle school would ensure the academic preparedness of DISD students entering Ingram ISD.

Exemplary Programs and Practices

TSPR identified numerous "best practices" in DISD. Through commendations in each chapter, the report highlights model programs, operations and services provided by DISD administrators, teachers and staff. Other school districts throughout Texas are encouraged to examine these exemplary programs and services to see if they could be adapted to meet their local needs. TSPR's commendations include the following:

  • DISD individualizes curriculum and instruction to help students succeed academically. DISD identifies individual students' areas of strength and weakness and helps students practice and master skills before the students take the TAAS. In 1996-97, DISD had a 55.6 percent passing rate for all tests taken on the TAAS compared to a 100 percent passing rate for all tests taken on the TAAS in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. The superintendent attributes the improved TAAS scores to the district's focus on reading and writing, the low student-teacher ratio, individualized curriculum and instruction and after-school tutoring for students who have academic difficulties.
  • DISD has effectively used federal, state and local funding sources for infrastructure, hardware and software acquisition. DISD received a Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund grant in 1998 for $40,000, which helped the district integrate the Internet into its curriculum. In addition, the district received an E-Rate discount from the Universal Service Fund for Schools and Libraries provided by the federal government to help pay for telecommunications services. DISD also received a grant for purchasing software, and it participates in the Region 20 STARnet Collaborative. The Region 20 STARnet Collaborative connects all Region 20 school districts to each other and to resources across the region. This proactive approach to integrating technology has led to a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio in DISD.
  • DISD involves parents and community members in activities that support the school and the students. DISD has an active Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) that includes both parents and community members. The PTO meets three to four times a year and communicates mostly by telephone. The PTO surveys parents at the beginning of the school year to ask what activities they would like to see the district initiate. The survey also asks for suggestions on field trips and an end-of-school trip. The PTO organizes two fundraisers annually: the Sausage Supper and Raffle in the spring and the Hunters Wild Game Dinner in the fall.

Savings and Investment Requirements

Some of TSPR's recommendations would result in savings and increased revenue that could be used to improve classroom instruction. The savings identified in this report are conservative and should be considered minimums. Proposed investments of additional funds usually are related to increased efficiencies or savings or improved productivity and effectiveness.

TSPR recommended 19 ways to save DISD $127,770 in gross savings over a five-year period. Reinvestment opportunities will cost the district $6,150 during the same period. Full implementation of all recommendations in this report could produce net savings of $121,620 by 2006-07.

Exhibit 4
Summary of Net Savings
TSPR Review of Divide Independent School District
Year Total
2002-03 Initial Annual Net Savings
2003-04 Additional Annual Net Savings
2004-05 Additional Annual Net Savings
2005-06 Additional Annual Net Savings
2006-07 Additional Annual Net Savings
One Time Net (Costs)/Savings
$24,004
$24,604
$24,604
$24,604
$24,604
($800)
TOTAL SAVINGS PROJECTED FOR 2002-2007 $121,620

A detailed list of costs and savings by recommendation appears in Exhibit 5. Each recommendation's page number is listed in the summary chart for reference purposes. Detailed implementation strategies, timelines and the estimates of fiscal impact follow each recommendation in this report. The implementation section associated with each recommendation highlights the actions necessary to achieve the proposed results. Some items should be implemented immediately, some over the next year or two and some over several years.

TSPR recommends the DISD board ask district administrators to review the recommendations, develop an implementation plan and monitor its progress. As always, TSPR staff is available to help implement proposals.