Thursday, January 20, 2011

Catching Up: Audit and Finance

So much to talk about but I did want to put up some interesting highlights from last week's Audit and Finance Committee meeting on Jan. 13th.

There was some discussion of how to get Director Patu up to speed (as she is new to the Committee and, seemingly, finance).

Enrollment: district is up by 188 kindergarteners and over 900 9th graders. Wow.

There was some discussion about the various ways that BEX and BTA dollars were being spent as well as the bond sale late last year to get even more capital money for the reopened schools. I tell ya, the money just gets moved around and around.

So those who were waiting on the item about the Audit Response to AE3.1 conflict of interest issue. It was reported that:
  • this was about NWEA which the Superintendent did not disclose that she was on their Board. What was said at the meeting is that the district noted that this was a specific item and not just "you did not fully disclose all the boards you sit on".
  • the wording on audit response should be less vague
  • conflict of interest forms will be out at next week's Board meeting.
What I got from this is report was that in some ways the district should be more specific "no financial relationships" but in other ways more vague (not necessarily calling out every specific board). It was kind of confusing.

Some of the discussion was around having to disclose boards that directors/executive leadership are automatically on. (This came up at the Board meeting last night. Apparently both the MOUs with the Alliance for Education and the Council of Great City Schools require that a Board member and the Superintendent be on their boards.) Sherry was asking about a way to track these types of "automatic" membership versus boards where you actually have "an obvious activity". Which leads to an interesting question: does the School Board President and/or Superintendent ever really go to an Alliance Board meeting?

Michael also mentioned the idea of getting something back from being on a board (even if not direct financial compensation but rather prestige, access to other members, etc.).

There was a general discussion of the audit response with yet another abbreviated sheet from staff. Not even a half-page, it is an "Audit log" that states that as of Jan. 12th, they have "fully remedied 53 items (79%) and have 14 still "in progress." My response would have been to say, prove it, but I'm not on the Committee. Looking at that audit I find it hard to believe.

Michael asked what "fully remedied" meant and just got an example rather than a clear definition. Michael asked about a timeline for follow-up and was told "We have not been as formal as establishing that" and Don Kennedy said, "Does the audit call for that?" The answer would be yes, you need to follow-up because, based on the audit, the district does very poorly at following-thru and following up on recommendations and findings. Sherry said it is very important to do follow-thru based on her professional experience.

Then there was a walk-thru of the new Ethics policy by Noel Treat. I will see if I can get the pdf of the handout because it is interesting. There will be a protected hotline number (meaning it won't show your phone number if you call in). Betty asked if this was new and Noel said they had a policy since 2002 but not a program. Duggan Harmon explained that they did find the money for the hotline ($12K and yes, I know; where do they find this money?).

There was a discussion about the "end stage" for an investigation and I believe they meant - does it end at a personnel file or with the police (if a criminal activity). Noel said that it could be either or both. Michael asked about fining violators and Noel said the district could look at that.

All the Board members spoke out strongly for real consequences and Betty especially wanted managers to be held responsible as they are supposed to have explained the policy and be monitoring their own departments. Sherry talked about the training "cascading" down from one manager down to another and then through the departments.

Then my favorite fun time (and get out your pencils - there's math involved) - the Pay for K presentation. Now Michael said it was better than last time but I would say only marginally. I have NO idea why the woman in Accounting thinks this info she gives out passes for accounting but the Board let her off on it. So you do the math and tell me what you get/think:

Total Kindergarteners 4,058
totals from schools where fees waived 1,915
subtotal 2593

minus F/RL families 538
Total accounts with fees 2055

Okay, so the total number of kindergarten families who have to pay is 2,055. Multiply that times $207 per month for 10 months and I get $4,253,850. So that's how much the district needs to get back to cover the costs.

Here's where it gets tricky because of the way the information was presented.

accounts with payments 1725
current 1292
past due 280
year paid in full 153
revenue $1,708,927

So tell me, where are we with Pay for K? It's unbelievable. Here's how I sussed it out:

# of paying Pay for K kindergarteners 2,055
# paid in full for year 153
subtotal of people who pay each month 1,902

What is confusing to me is if there are:
accounts with fees 2,055
minus current 1,292
minus paid in full 153

So why does the district say there are 280 past dues when it looks like there are 610?

From there, I'm lost because:
  • does current include those who paid in full for the year?
  • past due - one month, two months,three months?
  • revenue - does that include all payments including full year paid?
If you are an accountant, run these figures and help me out. Sherry didn't seem happy with this report. The head of accounting said they hadn't created a summary report (to which I ask, why not? Again, it is real money.)

What was also interesting was that the district will give notice to parents (twice, I think) on past due and then refer the bill to a collection agency and if not paid, the child is exited from full day and has to go home at noon. Michael asked if there might be an educational detriment to doing this to a child? The accounting manager, Kathie, looked perplexed. Noel chimed in that there is a legal obligation to provide half-day kindergarten which would be what the district is doing.

Sherry asked what role the school office has in accounting. Kathie said they are not assigned any but if a parent comes in with a check, the office can take it and send it in. Duggan did say that principals are cc'd on past due notices on the idea that they can help send the message home or answer questions that come up.

I was a little taken aback at this point. Sherry asked if we can afford the busing to take kids home at noon. Sherry said it was an issue about what happens to a child if the past due is enforced. Don mumbled something about it being something for the transportation department. Sherry once again said this needs to be in place before they send any children home from school and that Pay for K is NOT revenue but cost recovery.

My other issue is that I don't know how I would feel if my principal knew I owed the district money. I guess they did in previous years when they handled Pay for K payments.

They went over some budget issues and Don Kennedy did say that not all 85 central administration cuts last year were in central office but over 4 areas including central administration. Finally. Don pointed out that some areas had little flexibility because of state reimbursement or contracts. Don said that if they make the cuts to central that the Board wants (mentioned at the last Work Session) there was a question of how things get done centrally?

My final note reflects Michael saying he would feel more confident in knowing how other district in WA state operate in functional areas that are not schools. He said SPS had more resources and levy money than most districts and that Bellevue operates without spending as much on non-school areas.


Charlie Mas said...

So AE3.1 was specifically about the NWEA contract and not about disclosures in general. Interesting. So the problem isn't that there are other conflicts that weren't disclosed; the problem is that the description in the audit response log is poorly written.


StepJ said...

Budget Shortfall (GAP) question.

Reuven Carlyle, in the most current post on his blog, "A first cold shower budget vote," says that State cuts to SPS total $5.4 million.

Does anyone know what makes up the difference from the $5.4 to the $36 million SPS estimates they will be short?

Is it an increase in spending, shortfall in revenue in other areas???

I am by no means a financial wizard - but the Gap from $5.4 million to $36 plus million seems odd. Especially considering the Supplemental Levy that will bring in about $14 million in the coming year? More than double the cuts from the State. Especially when the huge shortfall is being blamed on cuts in State funding.

Quick aside: I think Pay 4 K might be 9 months vs. 10 -- but my memory is not the greatest these days.

klh said...

On the problem with the number of past due accounts on Pay for K - It looks like the SPS person started with a figure she called "Accounts with payments" at 1725, and you started with "Total K accounts with fees" of 2055. There's no explanation for the difference (it appears to be exactly the difference between the district's final number and yours), but I would assume that means that there are accounts that they expected to receive payments on that haven't paid anything. Why they would leave that out of the calculation to determine the number of past due accounts is beyond me.

whittier07 said...

" ... $4,253,850. So that's how much the district needs to get back to cover the costs".

Where have we seen evidence that this is the amount the district needs to cover full day K? That's the amount they are trying to collect BUT they have never provided a statement showing how they came up with the $207 per month amount.

Our school has 78 k-kids and less then 10% FRL. If I round down to 70 families paying $2070 per year, that's $144,900 that SPS is collecting. We have 2 K-teachers (one experienced & the other is a newbie) that need to be funded from 1/2 day to full day ... there is NO WAY that this costs almost $145K.

The district is over collecting Pay for K funds but not to worry - the initial letter from SPS stated that they would refund parents at the end of the year. Another "promise" to be broken. ARGH!!!!

Chris S. said...

We are also a low FRL school and we are paying a lot more than we used to for the same services. I did a lot of math last spring and I think non-FRL families are subsidizing scholarships for FRL. Which is fine with me, I just wish they'd be clear about it. And if I'm wrong, where IS all that money going?

whittier07 said...

I honestly thought that FRL & Title 1 waivers for "Pay for K" were federally funded. Does anyone know???

Payment amount at our school:

2008 = $150
2009 = $200
2010 = $207

In 2009 the schools in the NW cluster were told that they all had to charge the same amount ... all in the name of equity amongst schools. At our school, the extra amount went into a fund that supported the K-classes. I think I remember reading on this blog that a different school (maybe TOPS) refunded their parents at the end of the year.

Unknown said...

I know of three K families that haven't paid yet (ours is one of them) and none of us are witholding payments due to inability to pay. It is because we were promised the ability to pay by credit card and they STILL haven't figured out how to let us do that.

A friend just heard back from the district on the topic and they said they're "testing the electronic process" and "will guess the payment option might finalize and become available sometime during February"


By chance, I recently looked at the Paypams information, and they have options for either paying for your students' food account or paying for K. Of course the pay for K link doesn't work.

We are waiting for this option so that we can get airline mileage. This blog is the first I've heard of anything going to a collector or kids being forced out of school at noon. They have not communicated anything like that to K parents.

MAPsucks said...

The AE3.1 discussion left a clear impression in my mind that DeBelle was not satisfied with a "it's all good, she disclosed" argument. Obviously the question is when. State law saws it must be in the official record BEFORE formulation of a contract. She 'fessed up in Nov 09, five months after the first, undocumented sole-source procurement that exceeded $300K. Two serious violations right there.

I don't see how she'll wiggle outa this one.

And the lengthy discussion on management oversight, HELLO Board, that's YOU overseeing your ethically-challenged employee.

Anonymous said...

they fight tooth and nail to preventa child from suffering humiliation for failing grades and retention- but humiliation for a parent not paying bills/ or inability to pay bills is okay?
as a former poor kid, i ask, how dare they even think to shame a child for something he/she cannot control? especially since they cannot even assert the amounts are 'recovery' of actual district expenditures.
my respect falls lower

Anonymous said...

One thing I REALLY appreciated (and I have to email her to thank her) was when Sherry Carr asked about academic implications of 1/2 day K for some kids AND how paying for the bus home when parents can't pay factors into the budget. A shared bus costs something like $28,000. Even a cab has got to cost more than $10 per day (which is what they are charging for K). Staff is in the habit of making decisions that save money in one line item, but cost twice as much somewhere else in the budget. It was great to see Sherry call them on it.

(can't post with my google login for some reason)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Hoping4Best, thanks for that info. I agree that wanting to pay with a credit card is a valid reason to wait (especially if it's the same company processing the money and they take credit cards for food services).

I'm not surprised that you hadn't heard about exiting a student for non-payment. I personally believe that was said so that Accounting could look organized but it seems clear that neither the academic side nor the transportation side probably have any idea this is being said.

Anonymous said...


See OSPI site here.


Sorry, but angling for frequent flyer mileage seems gauche. I don't think I can avoid paying for school lunches for the same reason...


joanna said...

I'm wrong about Garfield students not getting to opt in to any high schools. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

One of those 280 "past due" accounts is our kindergartner who is half-day student at a school that only offers full-day. We were asked to submit "Notice of Intent" forms back in August, but it seems they didn't use the forms for anything. Or maybe we just got miscoded. In any case, that just makes the accounting more confusing I'm sure.

Abigail said...

FYI, the Paypams site is now working for Pay for K. The service fees are absurd, $6.00 for each month, regardless if you're paying month by month or several months at once. But it's working.