Texas District Fights For Survival

Premont Independent School District currently serves 570 students, but was notified by the Texas Education Agency in July that it would be shutdown following years of mismanaged finances and weak academic performance.

The district did secure a one year delay however and is working hard to improve enough to convince the TEA to overturn their original decision. Premont has lost almost a quarter of its 2006 student population over the last five years and by failing to react to declining enrollment, a typical occurrence in rural districts, with comparable cuts to spending or staff, they accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. In a bid to fix its finances, a local tax increase was passed to give them some financial breathing room and the South Texas district has even cut its high school sports programs. Seeing that Premont is working hard to help itself, neighboring districts have agreed to help Premont raise the $100,000 it needs to reopen its science labs. The labs have been closed since a mold infestation a couple of years ago.

While the suspension of athletics at Premont has captured national attention and earned commendation from the state for Superintendent Ernest Singleton he is aware that financial restructuring is only one part of the problem, and to save Premont they will need to fix the academic performance issue.

However, not everyone blames Premont for their problems and instead some critics blame the state, saying the current accountability and finance systems are unfair to districts that serve low-income populations. Representative Scott Hochberg, Democrat of Houston and vice chairman of the House Public Education Committee, gathered information on the average amount of financing each district receives and its accountability ratings.

He found that districts with the lowest accountability ratings received on average $1,000 less per student than those with the highest ratings. Among those least-financed districts, Premont I.S.D. ranks near the bottom in per-student dollars.
“We are asking them to do more with less than we are asking 900 other school districts to do and then getting upset when they don’t,” Mr. Hochberg said. “I think the people of Premont ought to be outraged with the state. They are clearly not getting their fair share of state resources.”

This inequality is likely to be tested soon as more than 400 districts have joined lawsuits against the state regarding the matter.