Four area districts may drop in financial ratings

McALLEN — The Texas Education Agency released its preliminary financial accountability ratings for public school districts and public charter schools this week and at least four area districts might see a decrease in their score.

The preliminary reports show Mercedes, Progreso, Hidalgo and Roma school districts going down from a “A= Superior” rating received in the 2015-16 school year to lower passing scores.

The School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas, known as FIRST, are calculated based on 2015-16 data looking into 15 financial indicators, including administrative costs versus the district’s average daily attendance, general fund revenues and current investments.

The Mercedes school district is in danger of seeing the most drastic decrease, going from an A, or Superior rating, to a “C,” barely meeting standard.

The two indicators that seem to be highly affecting their overall score are the balance between the school’s general fund revenue, which was reported by TEA at $53,364,950, versus the district’s expenditures, reported at $53,841,030. The other was the number of days with cash on hand and current investments on general funds to cover operating expenses, which according to the report were around 30 days, giving the district a low score on this section.

Several attempts to reach Mercedes school district Superintendent Daniel Treviño for comment went unanswered.

The official scores are scheduled to be released in October, and school districts are able to appeal the preliminary findings by sending their supporting documents to TEA by Sept. 8.

The other three school districts are seeing a slighter decrease, going down only one letter grade to a B, or Above Standard. This includes the Progreso school district where officials are looking into the numbers to decide whether to appeal TEA’s score.

According to the preliminary data, the district didn’t do a good job in proving that the total revenue reported is enough to cover expenditures, specifically as it applies to debt service and short-term debt.

Wilfredo Mata, business manager at Progreso, said the two areas that they need to verify are the reported fund balance, which is linked to tax collections, and administrative cost ratio.

The district’s tax collections are hard to predict considering these are tied to the economics in the area, he said, but on the administrative side the district has been looking to do some administrative reductions to prevent overspending.

“We are going to go back and review the calculations and collections to make sure that we are reporting correctly,” Mata said. “We think that the ‘B’ that we have now is very strong, however we would like to look at moving on to the ‘A’ category.”

The next step is a thorough review of the information submitted to TEA in order to find out whether or not it is appropriate to appeal, said Progreso Superintendent Martin Cuellar.

“We are looking at the numbers and hoping that maybe there’s a chance that we appeal so that it bumps us up to an ‘A,’” Cuellar said.