Across the country, school districts are being forced to tighten their belts as budgets get smaller and expenditures continue to grow. However, recent audits of a number of districts reveal that some schools may be able to save some of their staff and programs by getting smarter in their money management strategies.
In fact, some audits are showing funding that is blatantly wasted by lack of discretionary spending or poor bookkeeping procedures. In the current economic crisis through which many families are struggling, few have much compassion for school districts carelessly flushing taxpayer dollars away.
According to the American Association of School Administrators, the economic slowdown is having a very real impact on public schools today. To compound the problem, stimulus funds will soon run out, leaving school districts in an even bigger financial bind. A recent study by AASA shows that "school districts' economic situation does not mimic the stability and recovery beginning to take hold nationwide." This means that budget cuts for the upcoming school year might be even deeper than those that have been made for the previous two academic calendars.
When times are tough, everyone is expected to sacrifice and count their pennies carefully. However, some school districts are not adhering to these guidelines, and auditors are finding out that money is being wasted, rather than used to save programs and teachers' jobs. Three school districts in particular have recently hit the news, thanks to poor money management practices that have teachers, parents and even state lawmakers up in arms.
Seattle's Overspending Issue
When students are heading back to school with fewer teachers in the classroom and fewer programs to choose from, parents do not want to hear about elaborate parties thrown with taxpayer dollars. However, that is precisely what an audit of Seattle Public Schools recently reported, according to a report at NWCN.com.
The recently released audit showed that the district superintendent spent $3,800 on a catered retirement party for teachers and staff at the beginning of the summer. While that amount may not sound like much in the midst of a billion-dollar budget, the fact that programs are getting cut while school administrators are celebrating is in poor taste at the very least. In fact, the audit called out the retirement party as an "inappropriate use of 'procurement' cards," since the district's own policy only allows up to $1,000 transactions on these cards.
Another article in the Seattle Times reports that Seattle Public Schools overpaid employees by as much as $335,000 during the 2008-2009 school year, and there are concerns that not all the overpayments have been identified at this time. Mistakes were also found in accounting practices that misclassified expenditures or recorded them in the wrong place. In addition, the school district was found to have misreported the number of Native American students in their system, which gave them more funding from the federal government than they should have received.
Senator Unhappy with Trenton School Audit
The problems do not stop in Washington. State Senator Tom Goodwin in New Jersey is calling for a further investigation into potentially fraudulent spending in Trenton schools, according to a report on Nj.com.
The latest audit released on spending by the school district shows that poor record keeping and fraudulentbilling by teachers who provide instruction tohomebound students is raising questions with state lawmakers. Because the schools are largely funded with state aid, the budget issues become problems of the state, which is why Goodwin wants more information on spending habits of the district.
Red Flags in Oklahoma
The Sooner State is used to seeing red flags at university football games, but this time, it is public school districts seeing red. Recent audits of Green County school district's budget revealed as much as half a million dollars were getting wasted through sloppy record-keeping and missing tax records, according to a report at Newson6.com. However, overspending may be the issue that is getting the most attention from angry parents and residents of the district.
Reports show that Green County paid up to a 100% mark-up on cleaning supplies, making them the biggest spender of such supplies in the state. The audit found that the superintendent of the school district had been working with the same supply company, E & E Sales, for 20 years, and he had not obtained recent bids from other companies despite the high prices he was paying. The superintendent countered the charge, by stating that he thought he was getting "excellent products" and "superior service," according to the news report.
While schools are tasked with teaching students math and reasoning, it appears that some districts could learn a few lessons of their own.