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Few Texas School Districts Rate Highly In Report

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MESQUITE (AP) - Texas school districts have shown little progress in the two years since the state started measuring them for academic performance and district spending, with only about 4 percent of the districts earning the top rating, according to a report released Thursday.

The report from Comptroller Susan Combs nearly mirrored those from the report’s debut last year. Of the 46 districts getting the top rating of five stars this year — three more than last year — half got the designation in both years, including the suburban Dallas school district of Mesquite.

Combs said she would like to see an increase in those getting the top rating but noted that the purpose of the study was to inspire districts. The website featuring the report offers examples of ways districts are achieving greater efficiency while also seeing students achieve academic success, she said.

“You see a five-star district like Mesquite and then a nearby district says, ‘How did they do that?”‘ she said. “It’s meant to be positive. It’s not a ‘gotcha,’ it’s a ‘wow.”‘

Combs was asked by the 2009 Legislature to compile a report that showed which districts were getting both academic success and cost effectiveness in the way they spent money. In the face of a $27 billion state budget shortfall, the 2011 Texas Legislature cut $4 billion over the next two years in funding for school districts.

For the report, Combs ranked 1,237 school districts and charter schools. A district getting the highest designation ranks among the top 20 percent of districts in academic progress with spending kept among the lowest 20 percent of fiscally comparable districts.

About 21 percent of districts got ratings of four to four-and-a-half stars this year, compared to about 20 percent last year. About 34 percent got ratings of three to three-and-half stars, compared to about 36 percent last year. Meanwhile, about 30 percent got two to two-and-a-half stars this year compared to about 31 percent last year. And about 11 percent got one to one-and-a-half-star ratings this year compared to about 10 percent last year.

Combs said it’s a report she’ll update with new numbers each year.

Linda Henrie, superintendent of the Mesquite school district, said that they’ve found ways to cut costs including eliminating some positions through attrition and retrofitting their lighting system. She said they often have to be creative in how they save money, noting that the district this year has $4 million less in money from the state than they did last year.

“This is an affirmation that what we’re doing is working,” she said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)