DAMON — After a year of turmoil including a change of leadership, Damon ISD officials are addressing previous shortcomings and striding toward improvement.
A Texas Education Agency audit exposed repetitive requests for improvement addressed to the the Damon ISD Board of Trustees, who say they were not informed of the requests from previous years, despite the agency letter stating they should be.
This summer has shown many positive results for the district classified as “improvement required,” and the trustees credit much of that improvement to David Hayward, who became Damon ISD’s superintendent in January.
The board placed former superintendent Donald Rhodes on leave in September after Rhodes’ requested personal leave due in part to the district’s recent “F” rating from the state and its financial situation, The Facts reported at the time.
The board accepted his official resignation in October, the same month the district decided to dissolve its high school.
In October, Interim Superintendent Brett Springston told the board there was a lack of certified math, English and social studies teachers for the high school, according to meeting documents. The 11th- and 12th-grade students had the choice to stay at Damon’s school — which one did and graduated in May — while students in the younger grades split between Columbia-Brazoria ISD and Needville ISD.
Hayward was attracted to the job because of the district’s Texas Education Agency “F” ratings in both finance and curriculum, he said. While he wasn’t necessarily a fan of the state agency’s rating system, he said the rating could be why the board of trustees became aware of the dire situation they faced.
Hayward came from the job of principal for Moulton Elementary in Moulton, but spent two decades as a wildlife biologist before coming back to education, he said. His niche in his other career was going into ranches struggling with finance, business plans and other problems and getting them back into compliance with the Parks and Wildlife Department, he said.
“That’s always been the challenge, which I like,” he said.
The superintendent of a small school district wears many hats, and the board has seen Hayward juggle his responsibilities successfully, Trustee Ami George said.
“As a board, we made a very good decision in our hiring,” she said.
Because of the district’s financial rating, a lot of investigations were triggered, Trustee Helen Noble said. That included the Texas Education Agency audit, she said.
“When we got into it, we found out that we were a mess,” Noble said.
The letter from TEA Financial Desk Reviews Manager Paul Moreno from June 28 analyzed the 2017-18 school year, Hayward said. Many of the recommendations in the letter Hayward already had put in place, he said.
The letter states a series of 2017 maintenance tax notes from an account established for capital purposes were transferred for purposes inconsistent with their intended use.
It also noted a deficit fund balance in the national school breakfast/lunch program fund and expenditures that exceeded appropriations at the legal level of control in the general fund and the national school breakfast/lunch program fund. The letter states the 2017 management letter made similar comments, meaning the board should’ve been informed of them, but were not, Hayward said.
Money was spent on things other than instruction of students, Hayward said. A district can’t come into a position of an “F” financial rating without some mismanagement, he said.
He “began tightening the belt” and saw progress after a month and a half, he said.
When the interim superintendent joined the district, there was no fund balance and nothing left of the certificate of deposit, Hayward said. In the past, the board didn’t have to approve purchases below $10,000, and many were made, he said.
Hayward now brings every financial decision before the board, he said.
Thursday, he got a call stating that their cash flow analysis showed them $380,000 in the black, meaning they can replace more tile in the school before the school year begins, Hayward said.
The district hired a curriculum instruction consultant specialist, who helped the school align the curriculum among grade levels and ensure each staff member was in a place they could be successful, he said. There were teachers that were not properly certified, but that is all straightened out, Hayward said.
The district experienced across-the-board increases in State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness scores this year, he said.
The board approved increasing the pay for starting teachers from $41,000 to $50,000, putting them in a better position to compete with surrounding districts, Hayward said.
There was a time in Damon when students and parents knew exactly who their teachers would be because the retention was great and they stayed to teach multiple generations, Noble said.
“That’s what we’re striving to get back to,” she said.
Hayward is taking small steps and improving the district greatly, Board President Bubba Schneider said.
“The district has changed greatly,” Schneider said. “We were going through some hard times and it’s making real great improvements.”
Any changes made are for the benefit of the students, Hayward said.