While Lancaster ISD has made gains in academics and teacher development, the district’s finance department also has a reason to celebrate. The district received a Superior Achievement rating from the Texas Education Agency Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST).
“This is the district’s financial report card and we got an A (scoring 67 out of 70 or 95.7% of possible points) The FIRST report grades a district on its financial management and solvency,” Lancaster ISD Chief Financial Officer Kay Kizziar said. “It relates best financial practices for staffing, and financial reserves for the district. The FIRST report allows the district business office to be compared to other districts across the state.”
The evaluation system uses 20 questions or indicators to rate each district. The first six questions can trigger an automatic failure and are based on having money in the bank and a clean financial audit. The others align how close the district can get to statewide best practices based on district size. Currently, only the preliminary ratings have been released—the official report will come out in September. A rating of Superior Achievement is the highest rating that a school district can receive. The other ratings are Above Standard Achievement, Standard Achievement and Substandard Achievement (which is failing).
The agency reports out a year behind so this rating reflects data from the 2010-2011 school year. Last year (2009-2010 data), Lancaster ISD received a Standard Achievement rating. The last time that the district received a Superior Achievement rating was in 2004.
Lancaster ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael D. McFarland said that getting the district to this point financially was a collective effort.
“It was tough because we were asking staff, teachers and administrators to do more with less and they answered the call. But the great thing is that the level of classroom instruction and engagement did not decrease as a result,” he said. “It took a lot of sacrifices from everyone. We sacrificed resources but replaced it with will and determination. Even in this time of declining finances, our will was unchanged, our expectations remained high and our results are a testament to our efforts.”
Currently, the district has 26% in fund balance, well above the recommended amount of 15%.
According to TEA, the purpose of the financial accountability rating system is to ensure that school districts and open-enrollment charter schools are held accountable for the quality of their financial management practices and achieve improved performance in the management of their financial resources. The system is designed to encourage Texas public schools to manage their financial resources better in order to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes. The system will also disclose the quality of local management and decision-making processes that impact the allocation of financial resources in Texas public schools.
“Basically, you can have the best educational system in the world, but if you don’t have any financial stability or accountability, you are not doing your job,” Kizziar said. Kizziar is continuing to work with the finance department and is currently outlining goals for the upcoming year.
“We are dedicated to allocating the funding provided in such a manner to provide a quality educational environment for our students, while conducting business in an honest and open manner,” she said. “We strive to provide value for the tax dollar, reserves to address the cash flows and emergencies, fair wages for our employees, prompt payment and respect for our vendors and transparency in our financial transactions.”