The Richmond (VA) Register has a recent article about “Commentary: Bogus barns and administrative excess: How school district fraud and waste cuts into teacher pay.” It discusses recent research from the Heritage Foundation into the ways fraud and abuse eats into tax money meant to educate children. The article points to several examples of these problems including outright theft of money for private uses and other, somewhat more subtle issues like superintendents earning many times the salary of average teachers and how large numbers of six-digit salary staffers syphon off dollars before they impact classrooms (Jefferson County Schools is the example for the bloated staff salary issue, by the way).
For sure, Kentucky has seen more fraud and waste problems than those in Jefferson County. And, the problems start near the top. A former chief finance officer at the Kentucky Department of Education got into trouble for making off with over half a million dollars back near the end of the first decade of KERA.
Part of the problem with these incidents is that Kentucky’s existing financial safeguards didn’t work, or didn’t work very quickly.
Maybe that wouldn’t be as big of an issue if Kentucky’s official school financial reports were more accurate and detailed. But presently the latest school-level spending for the 2016-17 school term in the Kentucky School Report Cards just doesn’t look credible.
For example, the LEARNING_ENVIRONMENT_STUDENTS_TEACHERS Excel spreadsheet shows Dawson Springs Elementary School only spent $4,551 per pupil in that school year while the Alex R. Kennedy Elementary in Jefferson County supposedly spent a whopping $20,802 per student. How is that possible? Both schools are listed as standard (Class A1) schools in the report cards, so they shouldn’t have an unusual student makeup that might help explain this phenomenal difference in funding.
In any event, we are told that better financial reports for Kentucky’s schools are in the works, but this can’t come too soon. For example, in Shelby County nearly $600,000 was taken before anyone caught on. That would cover a nice salary adder of nearly $1,400 for every one of the 430 teachers in this district. I for one, would much rather our teachers get this money than a crook.