Test scores and fund balance both on the increase at Beaumont ISD

Test scores and fund balance both on the increase at Beaumont ISD

Refund coming for some BISD taxpayers

Two years isn’t a lot of time to raise a surplus $20 million, even out careening test scores in an impoverished and underfunded school district, implement innovative strategies to help thousands of students entering the workforce earn industry certifications, and budget staff raises to boot … but the Beaumont Independent School District’s Board of Managers and administration somehow found a way to do just that.

“We have a lot of challenges in our district,” BISD Superintendent John Frossard said. “But we have a lot of successes too.”

On the verge of bankruptcy, with teachers quitting the district en masse, BISD reached its low point when Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams set aside the district’s elected Board of Trustees and installed a state-appointed Board of Managers in July 2014. Consisting of community members and stakeholders agreeing to give the next two years of their lives for the good of BISD, the group was immediately tasked with securing a new superintendent, pushing out a budget that was already past due, working through a Reduction in Force (RIF) of hundreds of educators instigated by the previously removed school district officials, and addressing dozens of instances of criminal and civil litigation left in the wake of a prior group of individuals multiple state agencies including the TEA and the Legislative Budget Board deemed incompetent and/or corrupt.

For the most part, Frossard said, all those matters have been addressed as the current Board of Managers plans to bid a fond adieu to the BISD dais.

“We just got our first clean audit,” Frossard said. “We are no longer non-compliant in any area of special education, we’re building back up our teacher base, and we have a good fund balance.”

Frossard will have the chance to highlight how far BISD has come since the 2014 state intervention during a sit-down meeting scheduled with current TEA Commissioner Michael Morath on Friday, March 31, when the state official is set to make his way to Beaumont to visit the area’s Education Service Center and BISD. Morath is tasked with selecting BISD’s next governing Board of Managers when the current group steps aside in May.

According to Frossard, the next board to take the helm of the district will have a good foundation upon which to build. Frossard outlined eight distinct goals the board and administration have been working toward over the last two years:

1. To increase student academic achievement.

2. To ensure safe and secure schools.

3. To attract and retain an outstanding workforce.

4. To improve school climate and student engagement.

5. To increase community collaboration.

6. To evaluate programs in terms of cost-benefit.

7. To plan for long-term district improvement and innovation. 

8. And to promote fiscal responsibility, restore the general fund balance over time and eventually improve the district’s credit rating.

“We’re making progress,” Frossard said. Experienced educators leaving the district in 2014 really hurt student academic achievement, the superintendent noted, and being underfunded “always makes it a little harder,” but according to Frossard, there is a plan in place to combat those hindrances, negating much of their impact.

Derwin Samuels, a former human resources staffer who made quite an impression on administration with his ability to perform in educator acquisition, has been added as Frossard’s special assistant, with his chief responsibility being to focus on scouting experienced educators to add to the BISD team.

“We lost a lot of our experienced educators to neighboring districts,” Frossard said. “At that time, I can see why they left, and our loss was good fortune to some of these other districts who came in and scooped them up.

“I don’t see anything wrong with returning the favor a little bit.”

Although mostly in good humor, Frossard said he was serious about there just not being enough experienced educators to go around, and sometimes it takes aggressive pursuit to court the most attractive candidates.

The superintendent said that attracting experienced educators is currently the district’s top priority – as it is paramount, he believes, to increasing student academic achievement. Hiring incentives, implemented benchmark staffing and compensational studies, as well as aggressive search and hire methods are being employed to reach that goal. Additionally, Frossard said BISD has awarded 6 percent in raises over the past two years, and he hopes that upward momentum will entice educators to the team.

“Prior to this,” he stated, “employees received one raise in a five-year period.”

Enhancing safety in the schools should also be of benefit to attracting staff, and the district is currently implementing measures noted in completed school safety audits to address those concerns. Also, Frossard reported, the district has secured the services of an architect to design self-contained entry vestibules for select elementary schools to be installed over the summer for added security at those campuses.

Bus safety is likewise being addressed, as administration has found it more cost effective to lease a whole new fleet of buses rather than maintain the outdated transportation currently in use. The new fleet, Frossard said, has each bus equipped with three-point harness seatbelts, air conditioning, camera systems, GPS, orange driver seatbelts, heavy-duty brushless alternators, eco-friendly tires and Motorola radios.

“We evaluated the cost of operating our current and outdated bus fleet,” Frossard added. “We will be able to pay for the lease of an entirely new bus fleet for less than the maintenance costs of the old fleet and achieve additional district savings of several hundred thousand dollars.”

With outside-the-box analysis of cost saving possibilities such as the bus lease, Frossard said the district is not only celebrating its first “clean” audit, unmarred by unknown elements that have tarnished the district’s financial reviews since the Board of Managers first took office, but is also enjoying a surplus to pad the district’s coffers.

Frossard took pride in recounting that the district refunded and refinanced bonds resulting in a net present value savings of $31.9 million, as well as negotiated property value limitation agreements that brought in roughly $38 million in additional revenue.

“We increased the general fund balance from zero to $21 million while also restoring reductions in teaching positions,” Frossard reported, adding that the fund is expected to reach $28-$30 million by the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year. With all the work put into raising BISD’s fiscal outlook, two credit ratings services raised BISD’s position – going from Baa1 to an A3 rating with Moody’s, and BBB+ to A- with Fitch.

And the only thing that could surpass his excitement in bringing up BISD’s fund balance is the sheer euphoria Frossard enjoys in seeing rising test scores denoting progress in student academic achievement.

“I’m sure the cheating had something to do with it, but I think the biggest impact to our scores happened because we lost so many experienced educators,” Frossard said of student testing scores dropping dramatically the year after the Board of Managers was installed. However, working through the pain, BISD’s team has brought the numbers back up to a level where they were prior to the administration change.

“We’re not where I want us to be – which is at 100 percent,” Frossard said. “But we’re trending in the right direction,” which is what he’ll report to Morath.

“In fact, I’m optimist and stubborn. And because of that, we’ll continue to work until all of our goals are met 100 percent.”