Today I was reading Jay Bullock’s column Travel Junket hysteria, which recounts some of the recent furor about this report. He suggests that if you look at the budget as a whole, the amount spent on travel is just a tiny drop in the bucket. (Mmmkay, $6 million still sounds like a lot to me. Anyway, not the point I’m trying to make.)
Learning about this example of waste in one small area of the budget in oneschool district is ringing loud alarm bells in my head. If travel costs are so poorly monitored by school administration, what about the big ticket budget sections? This report and Board President Peter Blewett’s reaction to the numbers:
This is the first time I’ve seen the aggregate numbers”
suggests to me a need for concerned citizens (I would say concerned district staff, but I get the feeling they are not too worried about financial accountability) to read up on the Yankee Institute’s school reform tips. Yes, I know it’s a Connecticut think tank — the policies they suggest are useful and valuable in any state. In particular, Stopping School Corruption by Armand Fusco (scroll down) is an extraordinary manual for anyone to use if they are interested in tracking the flow of school funds.
The manual gives ten questions that need to be asked in order to ferret out corruption (it’s in pdf format, so I’m retyping here):
Question 1: Asset Management. Is there a comprehensive list of assets and an independent system in place to regularly document the existence of each asset? Failure to have a list of monitored assets is an indication that the school district does not believe it is important to manage school resources responsibly.
Question 2: Board Policies. Are there any board policies dealing with school corruption? What policies, if any, have been adopted to prevent corruption, and what policies have been adopted to monitor school resources most effectively?
Question 3: Credit Cards. Who has credit cards? How are charges independently verified to see if they are proper school expenses?
Question 4: Federal and State Grants. How are grants being managed in the school district? Who is responsible for monitoring the grants for proper implementation? How is the monitoring actually done?
Question 5: Student Activity Funds. How are student activity funds and other cash collections monitored? Who monitors such funds? Are income and disbursements verified for accuracy, and proper usage? Are bank statement reviewed on a monthly basis? Who conducts the review?
Question 6: Petty Cash Funds. Who has control of each petty cash fund, in what amounts, and how are the funds monitored?
Question 7: No-Bid Contracts. Which contracts (construction, insurance, consultants, etc.) have been awarded without competitive bids? What process was used to award such contracts? Who received such contracts? What school official was given the responsibility to oversee the proper completion or implementation of each contract? Was any form of nepotism or favoritism involved? Were board policies followed?
Question 8: Teachers’ Student Loads. What are the number of students each teacher has during each period of the day, and the total number of students each teacher has during the course of the day? How many aides are there to augment teacher loads and assignments?
Question 9: Non-Classroom Staff. How is the time and load of non-classroom certified staff (psychologists, social workers, counselors, speech therapists, etc.) monitored? How is the time of full-time staff with reduced loads (department chairmen, supervising teachers, etc.) monitored?
Question 10: Benefits. Do part-time employees pay a proportional share of their insurance benefits? If not, why not? Are retirees who are being paid their medical insurance by the school district entitled to the payments? Are there retirees listed who are deceased but still having their benefits paid? Is the list reviewed yearly to keep it updated?
Now is when open records come in handy! Many of these sensible questions can be answered by requesting documents from the district. These ought to be simple, non-redactable and quick FOIA’s — for a copy of board policies, contracts and contract procedures, asset lists, etc. Some might be a bit more complicated, teachers’ student loads or benefit information for example, but it should still be possible to answer all of these questions using Wisconsin’s Open Records law. Ah… I just love open records 🙂