Why the 2014 State Audit of JCPS is a Fraud: Part 4 of 6 The Audit’s Mass of Findings — Potshots that Miss the Mark

This is Part 4 in a 6-part series on the state audit of JCPS conducted in 2013-14 and published in May of 2014.

Other findings in the 2014 state audit of JCPS consist of partial, outdated information, selected and maneuvered to paint a negative picture.

Teachers and Classroom Resources: In Finding #5, the auditor took a national fact about school resources, and made it sound like an issue only in Jefferson County Public Schools. The report manipulated information to promote a version of a story that JCPS is not supporting teachers, while it is doing better than the national average. He said a survey he conducted showed that “93.5 percent of teachers said they use personal funds…for classroom instruction primarily due to a lack of resources allocated to the classroom.”

School funding is a common challenge nationwide and points to the need for more public education support, not attacks. This fact does not set JCPS apart in a negative way in comparison with other districts in Kentucky or across the nation.

What is buried in the narrative, is that only 36.9 percent of that 93.5 percent said a lack of school funding is what causes them to buy supplies, less than in other Kentucky districts. Further, Kentucky teachers spend less than teachers nationwide according to a 2013 survey by the National School Supply and Equipment Association. In fact, 99.5 percent of teachers nationwide use their own resources for a variety of reasons according to the NSSEA.

The truth is that JCPS provides 40 percent more to schools than the Kentucky Department of Education requires. It sends to schools $140 per student for supplies, when the requirement is $100 per child. School Based Decision Making (SBDM) Councils decide how that money is to be allocated within the school.

The truth is also that funding public education is a major concern these days when society’s inequities must be addressed in schools. This is an area where JCPS shines. It is spending more on behavior training, mental health services, extra learning opportunities and shoring up family resource centers when the state cut back.

Textbooks: Findings 4, 7, and 17 deal with textbook funding. Basically, it calls JCPS out for having low textbook funding compared with the chosen peers without explaining up front that between 2010-2014 JCPS got ZERO textbook money from the state. The JCPS Board supported putting local dollars in to cover the need for those years.

Students’ Ability to Purchase Supplies: Finding #6 stated: The percentage of students able to provide all required and optional classroom supply list items has decreased in the last three years. Is that an audit finding attributable to something JCPS is doing? It is not. It is a troubling fact of our state and national economy that many children’s families do not have the resources to buy supplies.

JCPS is well aware of this problem and all students get the supplies they need whether they can provide items from the supply lists sent home or not. In fact, JCPS spends around $700,000 annually to cover fees for needy students.

Purchasing Cards: Finding #19 says: JCPS’ current purchasing cards were plagued by administrative issues and complete supporting documentation for card transactions could not be located without extensive review. And it recommended: JCPS financial executives formally investigate other alternatives to the purchasing card…..

The purchasing card program was discontinued by JCPS in the spring of 2012. Remember this audit was released in 2014. The information in the audit was at least two years old. Still, the audit goes on for five pages about the financial department’s difficulties with the vendor, making it sound like it was real-time information. The financial department made a responsible decision in 2012. There were five recommendations under this finding. No action was necessary on any of them because action had been taken years before.

Vendor Payments: Finding 15 alleged Poor documentation and lax oversight led to $5,561 in overpayments for capital construction change orders. This is not accurate.

First, these were not change orders, but adjustments to A/E (Architecture and Engineering) fees. Only the amount of $1,054.73 resulted in an overpayment of the vendor’s total contract. The other overpayment in the amount of $4,506 was deducted from the next vendor invoice, and because of checks in the system would have been caught before the contract was paid in full, according to JCPS.

JCPS summarized in a response to the auditor that the overpayments were a result of human error. “The auditors reviewed $62.4 million in payments and found two errors totaling $5,561 dollars — an error rate of .0089%. If staff had followed current procedure these errors would have been found.” No change order overpayments were found.

Salaries: The audit picked the subject that has made headlines before. Some salaries had been cut and jobs eliminated based on the reorganization recommended by the PDK audit – before the auditor chose this as a Finding but did not mention that. JCPS was absolutely right to wait until new job descriptions were in place before a salary survey was done. The review is underway.

I do want to say that of the list of highest salaries, most are school-based administrators. And, many of the central office administrators on the list are experts in their fields and have a long tenure at JCPS – some 20-30 years. The administrators that oversee 20+ schools are on the job 24-7. Many people who criticize the school system would never take a job in it.

Internal Audit: This is an area highlighted by the external auditor already. It is an important issue and the superintendent recommended a reorganization that is underway.

Technology: Many of the state audit’s technology recommendations required little if any action, were not within the purview of JCPS and district staff disagreed with others.

The key technology findings mirrored those in the annual JCPS external audits regarding IT organization structure and interaction with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), which controls much of schools’ technology infrastructure and activities.   Findings 28-45 dealt with technology. Eighty-six of the audit’s 200 recommendations were in this section. Many were redundant, and others required no action.

  • Organizational Structure: The state audit said in Finding #28 that JCPS did not implement an effective organizational structure related to technology. IT recommended merging two key departments.

This recommendation was made already by the PDK audit and external auditors, and was considered during the 2012 reorganization. But, JCPS explained to the state auditor that it would not implement the state audit’s recommendation and that its current structure “mirrors the IT configuration of several of the peer districts mentioned in the audit. Further, this configuration has been lauded by the KDE Associate Commissioner in charge of Educational Technology.

  • Server Security: Finding 29 said KDE and its contractor did not properly secure servers housing JCPS student information.

This is a finding about KDE. Why did it become a JCPS finding?

  • Confidential Data: In Finding #30, the state audit claimed JCPS did not adequately protect sensitive and confidential data.

JCPS disagreed explaining that “Jefferson County Public Schools is one of the 174 school districts in the state of Kentucky that operate under auspices of the network and domain owned and managed by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). The school district uses the state-mandated student information and ERP systems, which are secured, owned, and operated by the relevant vendors contracted by KDE…. Internal business systems developed or licensed by JCPS reside within the aforementioned network boundaries and are further secured by the domain security. Business systems developed or licensed by JCPS that are required to acquire data from outside the network boundaries use industry- standard encryption protocols to insure the safety and security of the information being transmitted. Internally, JCPS has implemented additional internal security measures to prevent unauthorized access to data systems, including but not limited to physical, logical, electronic, and procedural measures.”

  • No action was necessary on Finding #44 about MUNIS (state mandated financial software) upgrades, and Finding #45 (with four recommendations) required a one-line change to an on-line form.

(Links to the state audit report and the other benchmarking reports are in Part 1)

Tomorrow: The Budget Reality and Bogus Savings

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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