Texas Rising - April/May 2011

Biting into FAST

Apples to Apples

Comptroller study evaluates public school spending and student progress

by Gerard MacCrossan

FAST Offers Financial Efficiency Ideas to Schools

The most effective form of government stretches the tax dollars it collects as far as it possibly can. For Texas school districts, not only is that wise, it is imperative.

The 2009 Texas Legislature charged the Comptroller with identifying school districts that combine academic achievement with cost-effective operations — in effect, to determine which districts are providing a good return on Texans’ investment. The Financial Allocation Study of Texas (FAST) examines how public schools and districts spend those dollars compared to fiscal peers of up to 40 other districts or campuses that operate in similar cost environments, based on factors that affect the cost of providing education, such as regional wages and student characteristics. It also scores the district’s effectiveness in improving its students’ performance in math and reading/English language arts relative to those expenditures.

“On the academic side, we looked at student academic progress, rather than absolute levels of achievement,” says Tom Currah, FAST’s research lead.

The FAST report provides an array of best practices from the most efficient and effective school districts that can be used by other districts wishing to improve their operations. It also offers a series of Comptroller recommendations that could save millions of dollars.

Savings Around Texas

Some of the biggest — and most easily identifiable — savings can come from purchasing.

In far West Texas, the 62,000-student El Paso ISD employs a variety of group purchasing arrangements, including the Texas Association of School Board’s BuyBoard, the Texas Procurement and Support Services-administered State of Texas CO-OP and Texas Multiple Award Schedule (TXMAS) and Education Services Center cooperatives. All combined, El Paso ISD estimates about $1 million annual procurement savings.

Construction Savings:

Many Texas districts, particularly in suburban areas, are constantly trying to stay ahead of population growth. Some have realized that when they’ve found a good design for a campus, they can save money by reusing those plans.

Construction savings aren’t just confined to education buildings. Cedar Hill ISD’s administration and the city share the Cedar Hill Government Center, saving the school district about $150,000 per year in operational costs compared with the former school building previously used for administration, and making a convenient location for citizens to transact business with both entities. According to the city, the $27.5 million government center saved about $4 million over building two separate facilities to serve the needs of the 8,200-student school district and 45,000-resident city. TR

Watch online how Cedar Hill ISD has saved money on construction costs, or go to the FAST website to view other Smart Practices.