Wed May 21, 2014
State Audit of Jefferson County Public Schools Resurfaces Many Old Questions
The long-awaited state audit of Jefferson County Public Schools didn't give many surprises to the district's leader—in part because many of the issues were known to staff and are longstanding.
In fact, some of the same questions were raised in a 2011 audit conducted by Phi Delta Kappa, such as the cost of central administrator salaries.
Why do the questions endure?
"You've got to prioritize," says JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens.
Shortly after being hired, Hargens made it a priority to reorganize her central office--per the audit suggestions--which did include reducing her core staff, saving JCPS around $4.4 million.
But it didn't change the salary structure that's included in Auditor Adam Edelen's report released Wednesday.
“Those salaries happened over time. Those salaries certainly didn’t happen overnight,” Hargens says.
JCPS has significantly more central office staff people making over $100,000 than other peer school districts.
If JCPS is to become serious about reducing the high-paid central office staff, it'll need to decide how it'll go about doing so. For example, the district could reduce the number of highly paid staff through attrition, reassignments, and by waiting for people to retire. Officials aren't sure which options, if any, they might consider.
Further, the audit says school board members "do not appear to have a depth of understanding to actively examine or question the budget effectively without significant reliance on JCPS staff." This is a problem considering they're in charge of a $1.2 billion budget, Edelen says. But this issue has been brought up before by board members such as David Jones Jr., who has publicly talked about how difficult it can be when board members must review many pages of documents with little time before a meeting.Hargens says JCPS is in the process of improving the school board’s policies and procedures. She also says the district will take the next couple of months to develop an action plan responding to the audit. Some problems are more national phenomenon.
With state and federal budget cuts, teachers around the country—including 93 percent of JCPS teachers—report having to pay more money out of their pockets for classroom resources (In Kentucky, 95 percent said so; nationally, it's 99 percent).
Some suggestions laid out in the report regard how the district could change its spending habits.
And JCPS has taken more steps than what appears in the report to drive cash into classrooms.
For example, JCPS officials say the report used data from the 2010-2011 school year, but since then they've spent around $24 million more for classrooms, mostly teacher raises and professional development.