School districts’ financial ratings show drastic changes

School districts across the Rio Grande Valley either saw significant progress, regression or simply maintained their financial rating in the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas, a state program that holds school districts accountable for their money management practices.

The Texas Education Agency released the preliminary results for the schools districts in August. The FIRST ratings are based on the previous year’s data. For instance, the 2018-19 results are based on data from the 2017-18 school year.

Across the Valley, school districts saw increases or drops in ratings.

The Donna school district saw the highest increase, improving from an F to an A, with a perfect score of 100.

“It’s a huge improvement, and we’re very proud of it,” Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez said.

Last year, the school district had trouble with completing the audit on time, which contributed to a failing rating.

Part of this confusion came with new leadership. Azaiez began his tenure with the district in July 2018, and Ludivina Cansino, assistant superintendent for business finance, also started in May that same year, according to a previous article.

Cansino were doing calculations for the district, based on the formula.

Azaiez said the audit was completed for the 2018-19 rating year in advance, along with new procedures in place.

“The exciting thing is, we not only went from an F to a C, or B or an A, it was a perfect score, and I think that’s really what (is) kind of the icing on the cake,” Azaiez said.

TEA’s preliminary results showed that La Villa and Valley View school districts went from an A to a C, a passing score. Progreso school district decreased to a B from an A.

Eight school districts received an A, three received a B and three a C.

The Mission Consolidated Independent School District earned an A four times in the FIRST reports, according to the TEA website.

“We are very pleased to receive the highest rating yet again,” Mission CISD Assistant Superintendent for Finance Rumalda Ruiz said in a news release. “It is important that our taxpayers know that the district is continuing to make the most of our taxpayer dollars.”

Another school district is challenging the results.

Hidalgo ISD, which received 86 points in its weighted sum, enough to earn a B, is appealing its F rating due to a clerical error.

Despite getting a perfect score in seven of 10 indicators of the FIRST report that are based on a point system, all of the district’s 86 points were considered void due to the error, Hidalgo ISD Superintendent Xavier Salinas said.

“We’re financially sound…” Salinas stressed.

There are also four indicators that are based on a yes or no scoring system.

Salinas said the source of the error lies in one of the indicators, which asks whether an opinion in the district’s annual financial report is unmodified, being marked “no” by auditors, who have since corrected the issue, according to the superintendent.

The unmodified opinion is being sent to TEA as the district expects the results to be reversed by or before Oct. 31.