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Dell City ISD Gets “Clean Opinion” on 2018-2019 Audit – District Considers “Laser Shot Simulator” for Guardian Program

Dell City ISD has received a “clean opinion” – a seal of approval for its bookkeeping and financial oversight – from the district's independent auditor.


“A clean opinion is what you want,” Robert Gattilia told school board members at their Jan. 16 meeting. “We found no material weaknesses, deficiencies or instance of material non-compliance.”


The audit report was for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. This was the third year that Gattilia, of the accounting firm Singleton, Clark & Company, has served as the district's independent auditor. Gattilia issued no “findings,” meaning he found no significant deficiencies or problems in the district's financial management.


Gattilia did note that the district's fund balance had declined from the previous year. At the end of the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Dell City ISD had a general-fund balance of more than $1 million. During the year, the district averaged $200,000 a month in expenses – so at the end of the fiscal year, the district had sufficient funds to cover school operations for about five months, in the unlikely event that revenues from federal, state and local sources were interrupted or delayed.


Gattilia said this his firm recommends districts have funds on-hand to cover between three and six months of operations, and Dell City ISD now falls within this recommended range. In previous years, Gattilia, and other independent auditors before him, had warned that the district's “unassigned” fund balance was actually too high – and could create the impression, in the local community, or for state officials, that the district was “hoarding” money.


The district made a number of important investments last year – including improvements to the school's physical facilities, and increasing the number of employees. Supt. Ruben Cervantes, who, along with Principal Carlos A. Contreras, joined the district last year, said that those investments had been necessary to improve lagging student achievement.


“We did a lot of projects last year,” Cervantes said. “We felt that, as a struggling campus, those were needed. Now, we're in a better place. When we got here, we had to do some things to get the district to where it needs to be.”


In other business, Principal Contreras presented a report to school board members. He shared results from recent retesting – for STAAR and state-mandated End-of-Course, or EOC exams – and he said that three students who needed to retest had passed their exams, and that all members of the senior class are now eligible to graduate.


He said the successful retests were a testament to the hard work of teachers and students, during the school day and in after-school tutoring.


“We know that everyone is making sacrifices,” Contreras said. “We're working hard, and we're working smart – and that hard work is beginning to bear fruit.”


Also at the Jan. 16 meeting, school board members and administrators discussed plans to renovate student restrooms. It's a project school officials have discussed for several years – but Cervantes said that finding someone to do the work, for a reasonable price, has been a challenge.


One contractor from El Paso quoted the district more than $180,000 to renovate the four restrooms, and to fix related plumbing problems. A second El Paso plumber visited the school – but never submitted a quote. Cervantes said that a local repairman – Richard Neely, who has done other work for the school – had submitted a more reasonable quote. The board took no action on the matter at the January meeting, and is expected to revisit the issue in February.


The board also voted to approve the “district improvement plan” for the school year. The plan – which is required by the state – specifies the strategies that administrators and teachers are using to insure student success. The plan for this year included changes to the school schedule – specifically, having instruction in core subjects areas take place in the mornings, so that student don't miss any essential instruction if they travel in the afternoons for sports or other activities. Intensified training and professional development for faculty is also part of the plan. The school is also now offering college-prep classes, in both English and Spanish.


Another change that was implemented this year as part of the plan was moving sixth grade from the secondary, to the elementary side of campus. Contreras and Cervantes said they are considering bringing seventh and eighth grades into the elementary building next year, reducing the course load on high-school subject-area teachers and allowing them to focus on their work with high-school students.

School board members tested a laser shot simulator at their Jan. 16 meeting.

At the end of the Jan. 16 meeting, school board members heard a presentation – and got some hands-on experience – with a technology called a Laser Shot Simulator.


Sam Lopez delivered the presentation. A retired law officer from the Houston area, Lopez has trained Hudspeth County sheriff's deputies, and, more recently, Dell City School staff serving in the school guardian program. In the guardian program, several school staffers are being trained and will carry concealed weapons on campus – as a safeguard in the event of a mass shooting.


School board members had a chance to try out the technology. The simulator allows for practicing marksmanship – and also generates “real-life”-type scenarios, helping trainees learn not only how to shoot, but “when to shoot, and when not to shoot,” Lopez said.


“With this, you learn accuracy – and judgment,” he said.


The simulator is expensive – about $20,000 – but Lopez said it's also “cost-effective,” in the savings it provides on ammunition. Cervantes said the district is seeking a grant that might cover the cost of the device.