Biting into FAST
Apples to Apples
Comptroller study evaluates public school spending and student progress
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.
“Over time, we think that school districts may be able to apply some things we’ve pointed out in our report to help improve their performance.”
Tom Currah, FAST Research Lead
Among the recommendations that could create potential savings:
- Change the 22-student limit for K-4 classrooms to an average class size of 22, permitting school districts the flexibility to work with their teachers to staff their classrooms in a manner consistent with local conditions and preferences without sacrificing student performance.
- Adopt electronic textbooks.
- Allow school districts to publish public notices electronically.
- Reduce school energy spending.
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.
“FAST examines how Texas public school district and campus spending practices lend themselves to efficient use of dollars for education. We are looking at spending and the intersection with academic outcomes. As new financial and academic data becomes available, the online FAST tool will be updated so that users can see how to continue to manage their resources.”
Beth Hallmark, Comptroller’s Data Services Division
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.
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