The rating system, known by the acronym FIRST — which stands for Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas — is based on 22 criteria. Each item is rated one through five. A passing score is 56; BISD’s score this year was 76.
Every school district in Texas is required to prepare an annual financial management report.
The district has received a superior achievement rating every year but one since the program started nine years ago.
“This shows that BISD is making the most of the taxpayer dollar,” says Linda O’Connell, the district’s executive director of finance.
O’Connell presented the financial score card to the BISD board of trustees Tuesday, Sept. 20, at its regular monthly meeting.
Of the 22 indicators, BISD received the highest score of five on all but three items.
It was ranked four on tax collections.
For a ranking of five, the state requires tax collections of 98 percent over the past three years; the BISD rate is 96.4 percent.
Measures are underway, O’Connell told the trustees, to raise that figure, including filing suit for payment of back taxes and establishing payment plans for taxpayers who are delinquent.
In 1999, the Texas Legislature voted to establish a statewide system of ensuring that state school districts manage their financial resources in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
The FIRST system was developed by the Texas Education Agency in response to that legislation.
The goal is made more significant due to the complexity of accounting associated with school finance systems.
For instance, one of the 22 indicators reads:
Was the total unrestricted net asset balance (net of accretion of interest on capital appreciation bonds) in the governmental activities column in the statement of net assets greater that zero? (If the district’s 5-year percent change in students was 10 percent more)?
“How they come up with some of these, I don’t know,” O’Connell admitted to the board.
The criteria’s scope extends beyond finances, but student learning as well.
One criterion queries the ratio of students to teachers.
The “superior achievement” is the highest rating, followed by “above-standard achievement,” “standard achievement” and “substandard achievement.”
The FIRST system also can give districts with serious quality problems a “suspended data quality” rating. Those districts must file a corrective action plan with the Texas Education Agency.
BISD has received only one “above-standard achievement” rating, which O’Connell says was based on a criteria item that FIRST later removed, deeming it irrelevant.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.