Why the 2014 State Audit of JCPS is a Fraud: Part 5 of 6 The Budget Reality and Bogus Savings

This is Part 5 in a 6-part series on the state audit of JCPS conducted in 2013-14 and published in May of 2014.

Auditor Edelen said he believes his 45 Findings and 200 recommendations will save taxpayers “tens of millions of dollars.” There is absolutely no new recommendation that will save that kind of money. Providing more resources, addressing huge technology needs, and buying supplies — which JCPS is doing — costs more money, not less.

School district budget realities must be faced. The tentative budget adopted by the Jefferson County Board of Education for the fiscal year 2015 (school year 2015-16) contains this statement:

“After $3.8 million decrease in central office since 2012, there should be no expectation of trimming central office by even greater amounts. Administration will certainly continue to look for greater opportunities for efficiency. However, sustained reductions in central office have seriously undermined our ability to adequately replace roofs, buses, and much more. The outsourcing of departments offers no commitment of saving money either in FY 2015-16 or in the long-term, and that was never the purpose.”

JCPS has financial challenges, and I hope community leaders will recognize this and listen to people who know. State funding is still not back to its 2008 levels, and federal funding levels are in question. The tentative budget also includes this commentary about relying on reserves:

“…every stakeholder understands that recurrent receipts must eventually be balanced to recurrent expenses. We cannot continue to use fund balance as revenue. Fund balance (reserves) is not a sustainable resource; once it is gone, then it is gone forever….”

JCPS expenses are going up just like everyone else’s. There are major increases due to higher retirement contributions and utility expenses, mandated salary increases, needs of the growing special education and English language learner populations, mental health services, behavior coaching, professional development, facility improvement, technology, new and redesigned schools…the list is long.

I also want to say a word about attacking “central office” expenditures. Spending and program priorities always reflect the philosophy and educational goals of the leadership. JCPS was once noted for a high-quality, central office-based professional development department. At one time there was more leadership training for principals. Those investments have been lauded by national organizations, even though they are “central office” expenses.

It is not productive to target central office spending as inherently bad. You just might be missing an opportunity to do good for many. Critical thinking and analysis should take place.

In fact, the PDK audit, which looked at the similar financial data used by the state auditor, stated, “The size of the central office administrative staff is not excessive when compared to a peer group drawn from the 100 largest school districts in the United States.”

The Board of Education has to look further into resource needs of the district than the state auditor’s office looked. And the people that need to be heard from are the ones on the front lines – the professional educators who are held accountable for progress.

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

Tomorrow: A More Responsible and Productive Finding

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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