LA MARQUE — After more than a year and two earlier rejections, the La Marque school district this week got the state’s approval of its financial solvency plan.
However, the state warned that if the district didn’t follow the plan, its accreditation status, which is already probationary, could be lowered or the district could face “additional sanctions,” a state education agency spokeswoman said.
In a Monday letter to Superintendent Terri Watkins, the Texas Education Agency’s associate commissioner of school finance, Lisa Dawn-Fisher, said the state will monitor La Marque’s adherence to the solvency plan for the next three years.
“This has been kind of a euphoric day for me,” Watkins said. “There has been so much work and so much preparation to make sure the solvency plan is working.”
Watkins said she was elated to have a bit of good news.
“We haven’t had much of that lately,” she said. “I am so happy for the community and for our students. We are ready to move forward.
“We are really ready to move forward.”
While school district officials contended the state only had questions about its last solvency plan submission as the reason it was not accepted, that wasn’t necessarily the case, the state confirmed.
TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said that because the district brought in an outside agency to help formulate its plan, the revised plan better addressed the district’s financial woes.
La Marque partnered with the Harris County Department of Education to overhaul its solvency plan.
Watkins said while that plan formulation was key, she also credited the district’s staff and school board for making sure La Marque sticks with the plan.
“We have gone without some things that other districts have because we have to stick with the plan,” Watkins said. “Our staff and school board are committed to following the plan.”
The solvency plan’s approval doesn’t change the troubled school district’s status, Culbertson said. In February, state Education Commissioner Michael Williams notified the district its accreditation status was on probation.
In March, he appointed a conservator to oversee the district’s operations.
Conservator Carlos Price was appointed after La Marque failed to meet state standards in finance, academics or graduation rates for three consecutive years.
In 2011, the district received an unacceptable rating because of a poor completion rate. That is the rate at which students graduate high school.
In 2012, the district’s financial standing was found substandard by the state. As a result, the state ordered the district to come up with a solvency plan that has repeatedly been rejected. A new plan is under review.
Then, in the latest state review, the district failed to meet academic marks in two indexes.
Because of three straight years of low marks, the district’s accreditation was put on probation. Another failing grade in either academic or financial standards could result in the district having its accreditation revoked.
La Marque is appealing the state’s decision to put its accreditation status on probation.
Meanwhile, Price’s appointment is on hold as the state conducts a records review as part of La Marque’s appeal.
That review was done on April 2, but the state has not yet ruled on La Marque’s appeal, Culbertson said.
The school district in its appeal contends that because the state did not issue academic accreditation statuses two years ago, the TEA skipped a step before appointing a conservator. The statue would usually issue a “warn” accreditation status before going to a probationary status.
While academic ratings were not issued in 2012, financial statuses were, and in that year La Marque was found to be below state standards for its financial standing.
Watkins said after she met with state officials face-to-face earlier this month, she feels “good” about the district’s chances of getting a reprieve.
“It is not in our hands,” she said. “The district has done everything possible to convince the TEA that we know what needs to happen and we know what direction we need to move.”