Confirming problems many have long understood on a subjective basis, the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts just released a huge report on the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS).
The report was actually requested by the Jefferson County Board of Education, which now might better understand its limitations in trying to control the huge bureaucratic monster in Louisville.
To be sure, findings in the Auditor’s 301-page report are extensive, pointing to a school system that seems more run for adults than students.
Louisville has been “skipping class” and has a lot of makeup work to do.
The audit is loaded with serious findings. Just a very few examples include:
• “A comparison to five peer districts found JCPS ranks at or near the bottom in categories involving teacher staffing and expenditures for instruction.” The district has proportionately fewer teachers than the five comparison districts,
• Jefferson County ranks “highest in the categories of school administrators, support staff, and instructional aides.” The district has proportionately far more administration personnel than the other comparison districts. Salaries paid in Jefferson County are much higher than in the comparison districts,
• Jefferson County spent the least on instruction and the most on administrative costs in comparison to similar school districts across the nation,
• “In comparison to three peer districts, JCPS central department employees are paid a significantly higher average salary and have more employees earning over $100,000 annually.”
• “JCPS’ students have more restricted access to textbooks and other instructional resources than students from surveyed districts.”
• Jefferson County Board of Education members don’t have enough background to oversee the district’s complex budget, resulting in inadequate oversight,
• The Board may not have enough members to properly oversee the complex system,
• The JCPS Internal Audit function reports to the superintendent, not the Jefferson County Board of Education, which does not conform to the Institute of Internal Auditors’ recommendations for auditor independence. This can seriously compromise the functioning of internal auditing and interfere with the picture presented to the board,
• “JCPS uses a costly, outdated, and unnecessary centralized warehouse system.” This is a $3 million dollar a year item,
• “JCPS has not maintained contracts for banking services used to deposit and secure hundreds of millions of dollars in JCPS funds.” About $280,000,000 is held in those accounts.
• Contracts can be renewed indefinitely without board action or even notification. This could create interesting issues regarding oversight and avoidance of fair and open bidding.
• Inadequate and inconsistent controls over things like travel, credit cards, leave time, take-home cars and cell phones,
• Security vulnerabilities in the system’s digital systems could compromise sensitive employee and student data, and
• There are 369 administrators in Jefferson County who are paid more than $100,000 a year —more than the 281 in the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s entire executive branch! If Jefferson County had 281 employees paid at that level, it would save $8.8 million. But, does it really require so many people to run a school system for 100,000 students while the entire functioning of the state in all areas can be overseen by far fewer?
In a surprise, the audit found:
“…much of the administrative bloat exists at the school level, not in the central office.”
That means many of the cushy, high salary jobs are largely hidden from the board’s and the public’s view. This could also make it seem like much funding does reach the schools when it is actually just going to support administrative overload that would be carried on the district books, otherwise.
The audit didn’t focus on potential fraud, waste and abuse, and no criminal activities were uncovered. However, the many oversight problems discovered means there is no guarantee such problems have not existed in the past or could not occur in the future.
And, whether or not things are being done legally, kids in Louisville are seeing far fewer dollars at their classroom level than is typical in other similar school systems.
Overall, the report contains over 200 recommendations, and the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts and his staff deserve a “hat tip” for putting together such an extensive report, especially when the Auditor’s office, unlike the JCPS, enjoys fairly limited funding and staffing.
So, it sounds like the people of Jefferson County have not been doing their homework. They better get ready for an intense “Summer School.”
On a closing note, if Jefferson County were operating as a charter school system (some states do have charter school districts), we would either see definite action on this audit or a move to close them down. But, Jefferson County is a traditional school system, infused with a near monopoly mindset. So, it remains to be seen if the waste and overspending on staffers will ever be brought under control. After all, powerful political interests in Louisville have keep things this way for a long time. It’s a fat cat deal for adults in the system, but it doesn’t do much for the kids.