For the second straight year, the Keller school district is among the state's best at achieving success in the classroom while holding down spending.
Keller is among 46 Texas school districts and charter schools -- and the only one in Tarrant County -- that earned a five-star rating in the 2011 Financial Allocation Study for Texas, the Texas comptroller's office reported Thursday.
"It is the result of combining some really great educators with very capable businesspeople. You do that, and you get five stars," said Mark Youngs, the district's deputy superintendent of finance and intergovernmental relations.
This summer, district residents voted down a proposed tax rate increase of 13 cents. Many opponents said the district was fiscally irresponsible.
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Even Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst came out against the increase, saying in a June 10 letter published in the Star-Telegram that "Keller ISD should have the money it needs to keep good teachers in the classroom without raising property taxes."
The study, mandated by legislators and launched in 2009 by the comptroller's office, is intended to show school districts' and charter schools' success in making academic gains while being cost-effective.
"The FAST methodology produces unbiased comparisons that are realistic and useful to educators, parents and taxpayers who want to see how their public schools stack up," Comptroller Susan Combs said in a news release.
Among the state's largest districts, Fort Worth and Dallas got two stars, outperforming only the San Antonio school district, which had a star and a half. Fort Worth also showed the second-lowest academic progress of the major districts, behind San Antonio, according to the report.
Fort Worth officials declined to comment on the report, but a letter to trustees said that while the rating improved, administrators question the statistical model used for analysis.
"There was no consideration of the purpose for which districts spent money," wrote Walter Dansby, interim superintendent.
He noted that during part of the time frame examined, the district invested heavily in technology, instructional resources, professional development and other infrastructure. Additionally, the district has 13 schools with fewer than 400 students, and that "will always mean we are judged to be inefficient when compared to other districts," the letter said.
The ratings include a three-year average of academic and financial data. Calculations include each district's per-pupil spending in areas such as instruction and measure progress on state reading and math tests. Districts of similar size, income level and student makeup are compared and assigned a "spending index" ranging from very low to high, with very low being the best.
Several greater Tarrant County school districts increased ratings by a half-star, including Aledo, Carroll, Crowley, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Everman, Fort Worth and White Settlement. Castleberry schools improved one star to 4.5.
Two area charter schools lost five-star ratings they got last year. The Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts dropped to four stars, Arlington Classics Academy to 4.5.
Statewide, the number of five-star school districts and charters increased from 43 to 46, with half of those earning the top rating for the second time.
Staff writer Eva-Marie Ayala contributed to this report.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326