Seattle Schools Knows How to Spend Money but Not Make Money

At least that's what you might think if read the recent State Auditor findings  on the district's handling of rentals for district facilities.  It is hard not to be frustrated over the district not tracking ALL the money AND probably losing money from the joint use agreement with city parks.  (In a couple of places it even smacks of some kind of insider help for some groups.)

From the audit:


The Building Rentals Office (rentals office) is responsible for collecting the required insurance and concussion management compliance documentation, issuing permits for facilities usage and invoicing outside organizations that are required to pay. The rentals office is also responsible for training school-level employees how to use the online system and inform them of the District’s requirements to submit all ―school related‖ events through the system, as well as refer outside organizations’ facilities usage requests to the rentals office.

In addition, the rentals office is responsible for monitoring the Joint Facilities Usage Agreement (JUA) with the local parks department. As part of the agreement, the District
and the city parks department agreed to use fees established in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for nonjoint usage fees by city parks programs that use Memorial Stadium and District Athletics Complexes.

The MOA requires the city parks department to collect lighting fees and youth and adult field usage fees for practices and games at District facilities.

  • rental office cannot show they are invoicing for facilities usage as required by district policy
  • they didn't bill for nearly 2500 events (9,000 hours of usage) over this school year.  Depending on who rented it plus extra fees for custodial, security and utilities, the district lost "substantial revenue."
  • for events they did bill, over $100k is past due.  The average period of past due is 115 days.  The office isn't even sending past due invoices.
  • We found three instances where school staff circumvented District policies and procedures by disguising events as internal activities when in fact the events were outside organizations using the facilities. These outside organizations were not billed according to District policy. We estimate the District lost $45,000 in applicable fees for these events. 
  • The rentals office is not collecting insurance and concussion management compliance documentation, as required. This potentially increases the District’s liability if a death, concussion or other injury occurs on District property. 
  • It appears that only 51 out of 97 schools have the training to use the online system of scheduling. 
  • It appears that the district doesn't monitor whether it is receiving "all the fees associated with the JUA and MOA."  The district seems to be relying on the city to document the times and amounts associated with this use. 
    The District never invoiced the parks department and the District did not receive supporting
    documentation demonstrating the completeness of that revenue until 2011.
    However, the District is unsure of the accuracy of that documentation. District staff believes the
    city did not submit all fee revenue to the District and it estimates the overall uncollected amount of fees from the city parks department is between $400,000 and $820,000 from 2005 to 2011. However, we cannot confirm these amounts due to the lack of supporting documentation and the inability of the District to provide any further analysis demonstrating how it calculated the estimates.
Another thing - that has always bothered me and turns out to be true - the district isn't really keeping track/done analysis to see if the joint use agreement is "fair and equitable."

 The district is saying it will do better but really, how can this all be happening?  This is general accounting practices and yet it's 2013 and the State Auditor has to reference for the district "Accounting Manual for School Districts." 


Charlie Mas said…
Yeah. When stuff like this comes up all you can do is shake your head.


This isn't the Board, the superintendent, the district central staff, or the building leadership. This is the culture. This is the culture saying what is and what is not important.
Shouldn't the Audit and Finance Committee provide oversight on this?
Anonymous said…
What kills me is they let a few hundred thousand slip here and there, yet insist we *have* to have a three tier bus system to save a few hundred thousand. So much upheaval for parents and students, yet not even a shoulder shrug for sloppy accounting practices on their own watch.

I really, really, really wish Banda would find the backbone to do some serious housecleaning, and install district staff that actually put, you know, students and families first. This is *my* money they are frittering away, and *my* kids services being cut, and *my* kids scheduled that they are messing with.

Frustrated. Again.
Charlie Mas said…
Well, the next time I suggest that the District do something and I'm asked "And just where do you think we'll get the money for that?" I'll have an answer.
mirmac1 said…
Unfortunately, retaining some of these same hapless, ineffective staff is key to Banda's evaluation.
I've missed the last couple of A&F meetings so I don't know if this got addressed yet.

Anonymous said…
Is it me, or is this not a scathing report?

The rentals office seems to have no clue as to what to do or how to do it. Perhaps this is not just a problem of culture, but also specific employee performance problems?

Shouldn't people be fired over this? Seriously, there must be bottom-line accountability for this. Mr. Banda should fire people over this. Plain and simple. And if he doesn't, then he is allowing this kind of gross incompetence to not just faster, but rule the day! This, for me, is the turning point as to whether Mr. Banda has any worthfor this district. His ability to tolerate incompetence will determine whether he will be a leader or a patsy.

I don't want to see the buck passed over to the City and the Parks department: our enforcement of our agreement with them lies squarely on our shoulders. If we are not implementing appropriate contract management with them we can't blame them.

And to be clear, it's not about the absolute dollar figure, it is about utter incompetence. These people either didn't know their job, or didn't do their job. They've been there for years. Either way, they should be there no longer. And, Mr. Banda is responsible for making sure that happens.

I also wonder about Mr. English's role in this, either as a participant or as providing oversight.

-fire someone
Fire, you've said it all.

It's real money, it's what any good, well-managed district should be doing and it's on Banda (and his bosses, the Board) to do something.

And yet, you never hear about anything except "we'll do better."

Let's see what Banda does.
Jon said…
I really am surprised and disappointed that Banda hasn't done a deep housecleaning. It really should be unacceptable to have accounting violations like these, immediate grounds for dismissal.

The Board and Banda don't even have the very basics down of budget and compliance. You'd think that would be their top priority, the very first thing they worked on in any meeting.
Maureen said…
Was there ever a resolution of the Pay for K issues that arose the first year it was implemented? My memory is that both much of the projected revenue was never collected AND families were being threatened with collection agencies and having their kids barred from school. I know it was reported at A&F at some point and that Sherri Carr was horrified, but I don't know if the system was ever improved.
#CleanHouse said…
I agree with calls for accountability. This is so basic, so basic and we are told we can't get new math books due to budget constaints. CLEAN HOUSE BANDA and send a strong unequivocal message to the rest of the central office about what will/won't be tolerated.
Anonymous said…
This loss would've more than covered kindergarten for every family wanting full-day. Everyone in the excellence center knows it. Was this more incompetence or another kick-down scheme?

Mr White
mirmac1 said…

pls realize that the powers-that-be ('dunno, Alliance, board, gnomes...?) have made "stability" and "consistency" a yardstick by which to measure Banda's worth. No matter if the MGJ/Enfield dregs aren't worth saving; he has been told to save them.

Case in point: after it was shown that the person responsible for ensuring charges to a federal grant were appropriate was found to be in the wrong, the Bd president and superintendent made excuses that any inappropriate charges were an innocent mistake.... 'nuf said.
Anonymous said…
I'd like to flip this around for a minute. Some schools have wonderful after-school enrichment activities - art, lego, robotics, mad science, sewing, various sports, etc - all offered by outside providers in school spaces.

Other schools have almost nothing.

Why? I recently found out that the providers of after school enrichment activities sponsored by PTAs have traditionally been required to pay rent to the district. These aren't private outside groups, day care, community meetings - these are PTA sponsored activities/clubs for students.

Imagine you want to provide a sewing class to kids. You need to charge something to cover your costs (fabric, machines, your time) AND extra for the rental. Guess which schools get these enrichment activities? The ones where sufficient numbers of parents can afford to pay enough to cover costs. The higher the costs to the providers, the higher the cost to participate. The schools where parents can't pay enough to cover the cost of the activity and the provider's rental fee just don't have as many on-site enrichments.

The district announced this week that it is going to waive rental fees for PTA enrichment activities. HECK YES PTA sponsored enrichment activities should NOT have to pay rent to the district. That's equity - it lets all kids have a better chance at after school enrichment by lowering the price.

While I 100% agree that facility rentals are probably not being tracked or recorded appropriately (and have you looked at what the district makes off the Oak Tree lease? That's ridiculously low) -- I don't want to see a "we must charge max for everything" mentality. Because SPS SHOULDN'T CHARGE for student enrichment activities, certainly not at any school receiving LEA/Title 1 funds, and I don't think at any other school either.
--from club parent
Anonymous said…
@club parent:

Yes, absolutely! In fact, I would take that even further: what about schools that don't have a PTA or a Site Counsel? They need to provide for children the same opportunities for enrichment, there should be a mechanism to support these communities so that they don't get dinged with an extra high price to let the kids be able to take sewing, for example. Absolutely: that is what the space in the schools is for, the kids! That is what Policy and Procedure is for (not that the District follows that stuff anyway).

However, that is not mutually exclusive with holding the District accountable for having rational systems for rentals and for implementing them consistently. Something the audit report shows has not happened. The District holds and controls these assets, our schools, for the public benefit, and must be responsible in the discharge of their duties. It requires competency, and, that only comes with transparency and accountability. They are in a position of trust; and yet, I don't trust...

So, who wrote the lease deal for Oak Tree? Are they still around? Who wrote the deal for the selling of Queen Anne High School? Are they still around? Who sold University Heights, Crown Hill? What were they thinking? True, the Board is responsible for oversight, there is enough blame to go around, but, it starts with Staff, so, who are the Staff that are suppose to be minding the rentals? And, when will there be firings? If this was my real estate portfolio (and, in a way, it is, it is all of ours), and the people I charged to look after it were negligent to this extent, they would be replaced.

-fire someone
Club Parent, I would largely agree. However, I'm pretty sure most of the rentals were not about enrichment. I think they were about sports and therein comes a slippery slope.

Are sports enrichment? What if they aren't sponsored by the PTA?

I think the PTA should pay the lowest most modest fee (to cover some costs) but not at schools with high F/RL.
mirmac1 said…
I'm still wondering why the SAO did not hold its usual exit conference. Last year, it held Exit Conference for Financial and Single Federal Audits, and the Accountability Audit Exit Conference. Could it be that they wanted to keep these findings low key? Maybe didn't want the A&F committee's oversight to look as bad as it does?
Rocky said…
What bothers me the most on this matter is that the School District does not take the matter seriously in issuing permits (paper work) in after-hours activities they may one day bite them back 10 fold. Just think at any given moment in time an emergency, (a disaster) happens and the district has no structure in place to handle it. Let me give you an example of this problem. If a District buildings throughout Seattle were to collapse right now (earthquake) in after hours, how many people would the District know are in their buildings at this time to relay to rescue services? Even during school hours would the District be prepared for this? You all heard and watched what happened in Oklahoma, but did you listen to the scattered reports of how many children were in the collapse schools at the time. That District has the same problem as Seattle does, they don’t know how many people are in their buildings at and given minute in time.

Various headlines:

Many children among 91 feared dead in tornado-hit Oklahoma

KFOR Reports 75 Children In Moore School When Tornado Hit

First responders struggle to reach the scene in Moore, local coverage out of KFOR indicates that 30 children may have been pulled from the rubble
Michael H said…
@mirmac1: they did hold it. It was held on 6/20 at the a&f meeting in the board room.
Anonymous said…
How about stupid wasteful practices such as sending out statements to families who have paid for full day kindergarten for the year. Time, postage, materials, confusion leading to support time, and all for the lack of simply having a way to not issue an unnecessary statement.

The financial team needs and overhaul at SPS.

mirmac1 said…
yes Michael H, I was aware of that. Typically the audits are discussed in A&F, then placed on the board agenda as an exit conference. At least that's how they've done it the last few years. i will inquire with the SAO.

I see that the SAO finding on Ballard's miscoding of costs to special education is still being corrected for FY13. OSPI also found fault with Ballard's charges to special education.
KG said…
No wonder why I a classified school employee cannot get a COLA for 5 years and counting.
I have some more financial news from the audit but that will be a separate thread but KG, I may have an answer for you (it's that other people got a raise).
Anonymous said…
Nice to know!!!
Money's importance is not limited to only Seattle Schools. There are plenty of Canadian schools too which are employing such plan for saving money.
It doesn't do any good to a gullible person if he all of a sudden becomes a billionaire. If he doesn't know how to spend his money he will waste it on useless things. It is better to have few bucks which you can spend mindfully than having billions which you will spend overnight.

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