An ‘A’ for finance: Harlingen School District nabs top score with money

HARLINGEN — “Hey, Mom. I got an A.”

“Really?” answers the mother. “In what?”

“For maintaining financial accountability last year,” the boy answers.

“You watch your language, young man,” retorts the mother. “I don’t understand a word you’re saying.”

Maybe this fictitious mother doesn’t understand finance, but the Harlingen school district certainly does.

For the 14th year in a row, the district has received a top rating under the Financial Integrity Reporting System of Texas (FIRST).

The primary goal of FIRST is to achieve quality performance in the management of school districts’ financial resources.

“It deals with financial integrity with school districts and making sure that school districts are being run appropriately and sound, and that we have our financial controls in place,” said Julio Cavazos, chief financial officer.

The rating is for the 2015 – 2016 school year.

The district learned of its top score when the Texas Education Agency released its FIRST reports earlier this month for about 1,200 school districts and charters.

The TEA website says almost 98 percent of all Texas school districts and charters earned an A, the highest preliminary rating possible for 2015-2016.

A school district or charter can receive an A, B, C or F, says the TEA website.

Harlingen received the highest rating of “A” which is the equivalent of the “superior” rating from previous years.

“I have a great staff and they know what they’re doing as far as accounting for public funds and financial reporting,” Cavazos said.

“We have a lot of experience,” he said. “We know what we need to do to make sure that we are accountable and financially transparent to our taxpayers. We have to maintain that to the highest integrity that we can.”

The rating was based on 15 indicators such as “Was your external audit completed on time before the deadline?”

Cavazos said the deadline required the district to submit its financial audit to TEA by Jan. 28.

His office tries to finish everything by the end of December.

Another indicator asks, “Was there a clean opinion from the external auditors?”

This indicator basically if the auditors found anything amiss, and the answer was no. The school district answered a quick yes to the question, “Is the district in compliance with all the debt payment agreements it has.”

Cavazos said he looked forward to holding a public hearing on the FIRST rating, probably in October.

“If you have the right staff in the right place, it helps us get to where we need to get,” he said.