Mon April 22, 2013
Board Members Consider Asking for State Audit of Jefferson County Public Schools
Jefferson County school board members are considering asking Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen to perform a special audit of Jefferson County Public Schools.
"I think it’s something that’s going to be happening here fairly soon,” school board member Chris Brady told WFPL.
Brady couldn’t give specifics on what the state audit would look at. But Brady and board member David Jones Jr. have said it would be healthy for any organization to have an outsider look at the system for improvement.
The question of whether JCPS should have a state audit was discussed in a meeting with every Jefferson County board member present—and some members are definitely interested, said Chuck Haddaway, board member for District 4.
Four School Audits in Kentucky
In 2011, Edelen made a campaign promise to review school spending and has completed audits for school districts in Mason, Breathitt and Kenton counties, plus Dayton Independent Schools.
Past state audits of schools have looked at matters such as districts' finances, employee benefits and the superintendents' contracts.
Edelen has said audits will continue on a complaint-based system, meaning someone—other than the state auditor’s office—must make the request. But the Jefferson County school board doesn't have to vote to request the audit; Edelen may choose to audit JCPS if only a single member asks for it.
Haddaway said he’s unsure whether the request for an audit “has any traction as of yet."
“It’s too premature to think if anybody will latch on and go forward with it, and plus it needed to be explained a little bit further why someone felt the need for that,” Haddaway said.
Board member Linda Duncan, who represents District 5, said “we’re not all in agreement on this."
“Some people believe it’s better to be proactive rather than have an audit called for by the commissioner for whatever reason," Duncan said, referring to Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who has criticized JCPS in recent months.
Duncan said Jones, a new board member elected last year from District 2, has been a primary voices supporting the idea.
But Duncan said she isn’t convinced there is a strong enough complaint to make the request. Duncan and other board members said they remain uncertain what would be included in the request.
Jones told WFPL that he may support a special audit.
“It would always be good for the new board members to have the freshest possible audit come in and tell them everything is OK,” Jones said.
School board members are often given little time to review documents—affecting the board’s oversight abilities, Jones said.
Recently, school board members were given 749 pages of material to review—including 193 pages of purchase orders—not long before a board meeting, Jones said.
"It’s crazy,” Jones said. “Some of the things that are enacted in Kentucky are brilliant for the smaller districts but don’t fit very well in the big district.”
Duncan said no issues have been brought to the board that would warrant a complaint. Because JCPS is a large district, Duncan added, Edelen would likely find some discrepancies.
“He will find something," she said. "I just feel like there will be something that he will find that he can use to as a platform."
The auditor’s office did not return a phone call for comment.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has supported Edelen’s previous attempts to hold school districts accountable. Earlier this month, Holliday and Edelen held a press conference calling for more transparency of superintendent contracts, benefits and annual evaluations.
Edelen’s most recent audit found that the former superintendent of Dayton Independent Schools made $224,000 in benefits and payments that were not approved by the school board.
That audit was requested by current Dayton Independent Schools superintendent Jay Brewer.
JCPS isn't new to audits, either.
In 2012, outside agency Phi Delta Kappa International conducted a 500-plus page audit that was requested by the school board. That audit found biased hiring practices, unequal pay for equal work, and in some cases unjustified administrator salary increases without valid documentation.
Following the audit, Hargens restructured her central office and cut the number of central administrators down from 17 to five chiefs of staff.
Brady agreed that no one on the board is ready to move forward with a request just yet, but he says he’s interested in setting up a meeting with Edelen.
“We want to be able to set up a time for the two of us to talk and meet, but right now that hasn’t happened yet," Brady said.
CORRECTION: Board member Debbie Wesslund says she was not at the meeting where the audit was discussed by the board, but says she was aware of the possibility prior to the April 22nd board meeting.