Two surveys give MISD diverging financial scores
By Joe Holloway firstname.lastname@example.org
Oct. 3, 2012 at 10 p.m.
Marshall schools garnered mixed results from two different recently released reports regarding the district's finances.
The "superior" ranking MISD received Friday from the Texas Education Agency's Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas is the highest ranking given by the assessment.
Known as FIRST, the ranking system determines whether a school district puts appropriate amounts of money where it should.
"It's just certain criteria and certain indicators that gauge how well a school district spends their funds, is transparent with their funds," said MISD Executive Director of Finance Matt Calvert.
Calvert said the current rankings are based on the 2010-2011 school year and reflect mostly information gathered from the district's audit.
"They just look through it and make sure that audit meets their criteria and they assign a rating to it based on a lot of that information in the audit," he said. "Money that's being spent where it's supposed to be. What we're saying we're spending it on matches up with what we're actually spending on it, that sort of thing."
MISD scored 68 out of a possible 70 points in the assessment. The only points the district missed out on came in the "ratio of students to total staff" category, indicator No. 17.
"There's one for teachers and there's one for overall staff," said TEA spokesperson DeAtta Culbertson. "That's total staff. Is your ratio of students to total staff acceptable for a district of Marshall's population size?"
Marshall scored 3 out of a possible 5 points in the category that Calvert said the district wasn't too worried about.
"What that basically means is, according to their criteria, we had too many staff for the number of students enrolled, which is subject to interpretation," he said. "That means your class sizes are lower, that sort of thing. We don't mind taking a hit on that indicator. It's definitely a good thing."
Ms. Culbertson said the criteria for how schools are scored in FIRST have been in place for several years and that the criteria not required be law in it were agreed upon by the districts, who were asked for their input at its inception.
"Mainly, it's set by rule and these were rules that were agreed to by the districts and that the districts had input on," she said. "When we were putting the rules in place for Schools FIRST, we took input from districts and from administrators and everybody concerned."
While MISD's excelled in the FIRST rankings, the district didn't fare as well in the Texas Comptroller's Financial Allocation Study for Texas, receiving just 2 out of 5 stars.
According to the FAST website, fastexas.org, the study attempts to "examine district and campus resource allocation – and the relationship between these allocations and student achievement."
Essentially, FAST tries to determine education bang for the buck. It looks at how much a district spends, judges "academic progress" by looking that district's Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) scores over the past 3 years, and compares those numbers to those of other districts.
A "five-star" FAST district has a composite progress rating between 80 and 99 and a spending index of "very low." A "one-star" district has a rating of 20 or lower and a "very high" spending index.
According to this year's FAST, MISD had "average" spending, but was only in the 7th academic progress percentile.
"The percentile number, that represents the percentage of districts that the district students are making more progress than," said Tom Currah, senior advisor and data analysis director at the Texas Comptroller. "In the case of Marshall ISD, they're in the seventh percentile, which means their students are making as much or more progress than students in seven percent of the districts in Texas."
Currah said FAST is based on an individual student's test scores from one school year to the next, but that all the students' scores are aggregated at the district level and those are what are compared to other districts.
"Basically, students will take a test in third grade, they're take a test in fourth grade, and you can see how much progress they've made over the course of the year," he said. "It's aggregated at the district level, all the students in the district, sort of the average progress their making over the course of the year compared to the progress being made by other school districts."
Of the surrounding school districts, Hallsville and Elysian Fields scored the highest with 4 out of 5 stars. HISD was in the 90th percentile and had average spending. EFISD had very low spending and was in the 55th percentile.
Waskom and Pine Tree ISDs both had 3 out of 5 stars while Jefferson ISD got 2.5. Longview and Karnack ISDs tied for the lowest with 1.5 out of 5 stars.