Politics & Government

Auditors present last school district reviews

TOPEKA — Auditors on Thursday presented their last reviews of Kansas school districts to lawmakers, suggesting there may be ways to make public education more fiscally efficient.

Three more audits were outlined for members of the Legislative Post Audit Committee, bringing the total to seven districts reviewed. There were several areas that surfaced in each of the audits that legislators say may help save state and local education dollars.

Among them are changes in how districts manage purchases of supplies, arrange their academic schedules, and provide cell phones to teachers and staff.

What the audits didn't find was widespread misuse of funding or significant policy issues that merit taking action next year, said Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, chairman of the committee.

"I think one thing it might be able to do, on a student-funding-formula basis, is help the Legislature when it has to make a decision on what is a necessary expense and what the local district ought to pick up," Bruce said.

Such programs up for consideration might include all-day kindergarten or breakfast for students before school, he said.

"We're seeing some trends" in the audits, he said.

Bruce said it was coincidental that the audits were launched at the same time districts have seen their budgets cut by as much as 5 percent over the past two years as state revenues slumped.

"It's really for their benefit," he said. "It's not only going to help these school districts, but help others to see what they need to be looking for in savings."

The three audits were for the Concordia, Riley County and Clifton-Clyde districts. Their superintendents said the districts volunteered for the reviews to have outside eyes review their finances.

What the audits won't likely lead to, Bruce said, is legislation that requires districts to close school buildings or change their calendar from a traditional model where staff members teach six courses a semester to the now-popular block schedule that assigns fewer courses to teachers but requires more staff.

Concordia superintendent Bev Mortimer said her school board decided to return to a traditional schedule, acting on the audit's recommendation even before it was made public.

"Change isn't easy. It doesn't matter what business you are in," Mortimer said. "We know what we do is quality and every year we get a little better."

Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said his organization's members found the audits helpful as they look to cut costs, but added that none of the areas uncovered were new.

He said reducing the number of teachers and raising class sizes, whether through reorganizing curriculum or consolidation of districts, would produce the state savings that some legislators are seeking.