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East Texas school districts' finances receive high marks

By Christina Lane
July 11, 2012 at 10 p.m.

East Texas school districts' finances rank among the top in the state.

Most Gregg County school districts and those immediately surrounding the county earned the state's highest distinction - Superior Achievement - on the preliminary financial integrity ratings released by the Texas Education Agency this month.

"I think the FIRST rating is one of the most important ratings we get," said Kilgore ISD Superintendent Jody Clements. "I commend our board and our business office staff for their continued hard work to maintain the highest rating."

The Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas reviews school district finances on 20 indicators, including annual financial audit reports, fund balance and core classroom expenditures.

The preliminary ratings are based on 2010-11 financial reports. Final ratings will be released in September.

"Each year, Pine Tree ISD's goal is to receive a Superior Achievement rating while maintaining excellence in education. It takes a team to produce the rating for the district," said Finance Director Judy Downing.

The state rating system was designed to ensure that school districts are held accountable for the quality of their financial management practices and achieve improved performance in managing their finances, according to the Texas Education Agency.

"We are excited that we were designated Superior Achievement and are able to provide an outstanding education to our students while being stewards of the taxpayer dollar," said Union Grove ISD Superintendent Brian Gray. "Union Grove ISD will continue to strive to be exemplary in all that we do."

Longview, Hallsville and White Oak ISD officials each reported their districts received perfect scores of 70. Districts must score at least 52 points on the 20 indicators to make the superior distinction.

"Director of Business Tami Demers does an outstanding job of monitoring and complying with the state's required accounting practices," said White Oak Superintendent Mike Gilbert. "This ensures that the taxpayers of White Oak ISD are getting good use and an accurate accounting of the monies entrusted to the district."

This past year, Hallsville ISD was rated above standard achievement, the state's second-highest rating. The district moved up a rating this year by addressing all of its indicators, district spokeswoman Carol Greer said.

"The district is very pleased with its rating of Superior Achievement," Greer said.

Like Hallsville, Gladewater ISD also jumped a rating this year, moving from above standard on its 2009-10 finances to superior achievement on 2010-11 financial reports.

Gladewater ISD Business Director Susie Stephens attributed the rating increase to two factors. First, the district reduced its staff-to-student ratio when positions were eliminated, she said. The district's ratio was previously higher than the state recommends.

Second, the district's expenditures did not exceed its revenues, Stephens said. In previous school years, Gladewater ISD's expenditures had exceeded revenues, causing the district to lose five points toward its rating.

"I'm excited," Stephens said. "I'm very proud of what we've accomplished here under the direction of Dr. Richardson. He has a good team built, and we all work together."

Sabine ISD Superintendent Stacey Bryce noted his district has received the superior achievement designation since the inception of the Financial Integrity Rating System.

"I believe we have been able to maintain that top rating over the years because we pay close attention to where every dollar is spent," Bryce said. "All of our campus and central office administrators are tuned in to the finances of the district, especially since the state has recently cut funding drastically."

Bryce as well as Henderson ISD Director of Human Resources Stacey Sullivan each said their districts have been fortunate to have dedicated staff in their business offices.

"Henderson ISD's success is the result of attention to detail and exemplary financial management on the part of all directly involved in this process, especially the staff of the business office," Sullivan said.



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