With the horrible combination of poor academic performance and finances and dwindling student enrollment into the mid-level double digits, Novice Independent School District will likely dissolve.
The district in Coleman County about 35 miles south of Abilene had just 62 students in 2011-12, according to the Abilene Reporter-News, which has chronicled the district’s downward slide, which accelerated over the last 18 months.
Novice ISD trustees and Superintendent Dale Freeman have engaged the much larger nearby Coleman ISD on talks of consolidation. Also, Jim Ned CISD will accept transfers of residents from Novice, and Novice ISD trustees voted unanimously to pursue consolidation with the Coleman and Jim Ned districts.
Jim Ned CISD is the largest of the three with about 1,000 students. Coleman ISD has about 836.
While the district’s academic performance has improved in the last two years, Novice ISD was rated “academically unacceptable” in 2008 and 2009.
The Texas Education Agency has been watching the Novice school district for three years. Bad financial data emerged in November 2008 when the district reported a deficit of $400,000, and the TEA put the district’s accreditation on warning status in March 2010. Then, the district received $540,000 in excess state funds based on faulty enrollment numbers for the 2011-12 school year. When the district asked for an extension on repayment, the TEA said no.
Novice ISD trustees hired Freeman during this time, and TEA officials didn’t like the way the superintendent or trustees communicated to Novice ISD residents about the dire situation.
The Reporter-News chronicled the showdown, captured in an Aug. 2011 letter from TEA Commissioner Robert Scott to district leaders:
"Of additional concern is that, while the district has been cordial and helpful in its interactions with the conservator and the agency, its actions have indicated that the district and the board of trustees have not acknowledged the gravity of the district's financial situation and have not informed the community of concerns regarding the district's imminent financial insolvency."
Meanwhile, Novice ISD had a steady drop in student enrollment, with 89 students reported in 2009-10, followed by 79 in 2010-11 and 62 this year.
That’s no way to keep a district afloat, let alone attempt to inject new energy into it.
Contact Curt Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.
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Photo of 'old schoolbus' by flickr user crowdive, used via a Creative Commons license.