First, a little background – The ink is hardly dry on a scathing new audit of the Jefferson County Public School system, which includes sharp comments about a lack of budget understanding on the part of the district’s school board members. For example, the auditor’s findings include:
“Finding 9: Board members generally do not appear to have a depth of understanding to actively examine or question the budget effectively without significant reliance on JCPS staff.”
“Finding 10: The Board lacks a committee structure to provide a detailed level of oversight of financial and audit matters.”
So, the capability of the current Jefferson County Board of Education to manage the state’s largest school district budget is at least in question.
Imagine that – the auditor is worried about the budgeting capability and training of the very people who just loaded a huge, record spending increase on Kentucky’s largest school district.
Do you see a potential problem with that?
This is really eye-catching. The newly adopted budget for $1,342,383,041 in Jefferson County Schools represents a phenomenal 10.2 percent increase over the 2013 budget of $1,218,646,634! This one-year budget increase is more than twice the percentage increase posted for any previous year since 2007 and is the largest one-year increase ever posted in the past decade.
It remains to be seen how, or even if, this big increase will actually be funded. Do the board members really understand the implications of such a large, one-year jump in spending on the rest of Louisville’s economy? Do they have enough economics background to understand the issues?
Even some members of the board are raising questions. Two Jefferson County School Board members, David Jones and Chris Brady, voted against the new budget. Their reasons for doing so are disturbing.
“I just don’t feel like I have the information I need to do my job as a board member and vote on this budget.”
“I have concerns over my understanding of this budget. I’ve asked for a lot of details, and I have not gotten them.”
With $1.3 billion in tax dollars – a significant portion coming from the state – riding on that lack of knowledge, those board members deserved more information. All of us should be concerned that they didn’t get it and that other board members didn’t seem concerned by the board’s knowledge vacuum.
This even points to a larger issue: Where’s the accountability?
The situation in Louisville reveals a disturbing example of the “we’re not accountable to you or anyone attitude” too often found within Kentucky’s public education bureaucracies. This arrogant and monopolistic attitude is partly fueled by the lack of school choice in Kentucky. Kentucky school systems face little competition – and the related pressure – to improve. It’s a situation that seems to please adults in the education bureaucracy just fine, but it isn’t getting Kentucky’s students, citizens and taxpayers the educational program they all deserve at a cost they can afford.