Clueless Citizens are Good For PWCS

I’ve been railing about PWCS for years now, and it seems like the more I look into our school division the more jaded and ticked off I get.  I don’t blame our teachers, not all of them at least.  I think most of them do an average to better than average job and honestly give a hoot about the kids they teach.  My youngest child was lucky enough to have woman I honestly think is one of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered as his teacher last year.  I was so impressed by her that I even sent a letter praising her to the Governor and state Superintendent.  Yea – she’s THAT  good………but I digress.

See, I don’t blame our teachers for what goes on in the school division because I know that by and large they actually care about my kids and all of the kids they teach.  I complain about our school division because they, our teachers and our children, deserve so much better from PWCS than they’re getting.

There are times when I actually think PWCS tries to keep us common citizens clueless.  Those times are happening more and more frequently, and the more I watch the school division, the more I think they’re deliberately hiding stuff from us.

The latest event to get my blood boiling is this whole 5-year budget thing-a-ma-job they’re putting us through. The BOCS requires that budgets be balanced this year and for the next 5 years, and apparently PWCS’ budgets don’t balance.  And they just now figured that out – after the nightmare they put us through in the budget debates last Spring.

I’d love to see what we’re spending our money on.  I’d love to see which expense increased so much from last year that my taxes need to be raised.  I know about the doubling of pension costs, increases in health insurance costs, and the increases in enrollment – but what else is going on that the money we give the school division is so horribly inadequate?

I’d love to be able to figure that out.   But I can’t.  I can’t because, other than the completely useless executive summary on the PWCS FY 2013 budget page, the school division hasn’t posted the FY 2013 budget.  I can look at the FY 2012 budget and come up with lots of questions, but I can’t look at the FY 2013 budget because it isn’t available.

I posted a rather less than kind comment about this on the PWC Ed Reform facebook page, and my comment spurred a school board member to ask when the FY 2013 budget would be posted to the PWCS web site.  She was told that it would be posted when the 5-year plan thing-a-ma-job is complete.

That may be fine and dandy for PWCS, but as a member of the public who is dependent on the school division releasing information so I can provide my elected officials with my opinions on budget issues facing the school division, it’s unacceptable.

How can we, the mere taxpayers of this county, understand what the school division is spending money on if we can’t see the budget?  I’ve watched PWCS for far too long and seen how often they selectively report information to trust their executive summary.  I want the details before I decide for myself whether there really is a problem with the 5 year plan, but I can’t see the details until the 5 year plan is fixed.

You may think that I’ve gotten myself upset over trivialities, and maybe I have.  But I’ve looked at the FY 2012 budget, and I have lots of questions.  Of course – they’re for FY 2012 and are irrelevant at this point since FY 2012 is over, but I thought I’d share those questions and concerns with you so you understand why I believe we can’t make any decisions about the 5-year plan without the details for most recent plan for this year.

Go to the PWCS web site, and look under Department, Finance and Support Services, Financial Services.  Click on the Budget tab on the left hand side of the page, then the Budget Updates tab, then FY 2012.  Open the FY 2012 budget – it’s a large pdf file.  Making things even more difficult, at least on my computer, you can’t print individual pages of the budget.  At least on my computer, clicking print means printing the whole 350+ page document.  That may just be my computer, but if it isn’t just my computer, what a pain in the backside that is.

Go to page 72 the Operating Fund Statement.  The Operating Fund is the place where the receipts and expenditures associated with operating the school division are accounted for.  Virtually everything the school division does – outside of paying the interest on our debt – is recorded here.  Transportation, local school operations, salaries, administration, textbooks – all of it is here.  So this is the big balooka and where we’d look to find any sort of cost reductions.

On page 72, go to the bottom of the page and find the section on Expenditures and Transfers out.  There aren’t a lot of numbers on this page, so it’s easy to find.  The total expenditures and transfers out are 811,314,119.  You’ll want to write this number down.

Now go to page 90 – the Operating Fund Budget by Program report.  If you look at the bottom of the page you see the total is listed at 811,314,119  so this page provides a bit more detail on what the total expenditures and transfers out are.  Look at the next to the last line, the line called Reserves.  It’s total is listed at 32,072,228.  That means that in FY 2012 the school division estimated they’d have 32 million for things they didn’t expect and budget for elsewhere.  This “Reserves” is up 12 million from what was budgeted in FY 2011.  Why did we increase what we budget for unexpected events by 12 million in FY 2012?

In an effort to answer that I looked in the pages that follow which are supposed to explain each of the items on page 90 in even more detail.  I started at page 97 – the second page of the Operating Fund Budget by Object Code report.  If you look at the total at the bottom of the report, which appears on page 97, you see that it lists total Expenditures of 811,314,119.  So this report clearly provides more information about what comprise PWCS’ operating fund expenditures.

Page 97 has a section entitled Reserves that starts near the middle of the page.  The Total Reserves are listed on this page at 28,581,408.  The Operating Fund Budget by Object Code report listed Reserves at 32,072,228.    Why are those two numbers different?  Are there reserves accounted for in some other object code, and if so, what are they and where are they?  The difference is 3,490,820, so it’s not a trivial amount.  If I want to know what we’re budgeting for reserves, and if it’s 32 or 28.6 million, where do I look?

It gets even more confusing.

Still on page 97 in the Reserves section.  Look at the line for General Reserves, which is account 8002.  They total 8,775,176.  Write that number down.

The pages that follow are supposed to show where those details are spent.  So where is that 8,775,176 in General Reserves spent?

The biggest is in Benefits and Reserves under the Office of Financial Services (page 112).  In 2012 PWCS budgeted 7,703,124 for general reserves in this area.  We’ve never budgeted that much for general reserves before.  Why?  If you look at that page you see that we have reserves for salaries and benefits and health insurance, but what is the general reserve?  It’s one of the largest line items in that budget and it’s unspecified.

Gifted Ed K – 3 (page 124) budgets 610,290 for general reserves.  In a budget that only totals 1,626,905 –  40% of it is general reserves.  And that’s a new line item. Why?

TIPA (page 164) budgets 314,655 for general reserves.  It’s a large part of that budget and a new line item.  Why?

All of the schools in total only budget 150,016 for general reserves (pages 168 – 259, and yes, I added them all up).

Now, if you add these four items up you get a total for General Reserves of 10,807,695.  The total on page 97 for General Reserves is reported to be 8,775,176.  That’s a difference of 2,032,519.  Why doesn’t the detail equal the totals on page 97?  Our difference between Reserves on the Operating Fund Budget by Program Code and by Object Code reports was  3,490,820 – so I don’t think it’s that difference.  So how much did we budget for General Reserves and what are they for, if not salaries or benefits or local schools?

Shouldn’t what we budget for Reserves be clear and easy to find?  And if determining what we budget for reserves is this difficult, how difficult would it be to figure out how much we budget for other items?

Since I’m complaining and I’ve gotten this far, go to page 168 where the detailed expenditures for the individual schools begins.  That detail runs though page 259.  While I like details, I don’t need almost 100 pages of school level details.  Give me one page with the total by expense line for the local schools.  Then put the pages for each school in an appendix.

In fact, if they really wanted to be helpful they’d give me four pages – one with the totals for the local schools, one with the totals for transportation, one with the totals for grant funded programs (including receipts), and one with the totals for everything else.  That way I can see how much we’re spending directly for schools and transportation, how much we’re spending on programs that are grant funded and are supposed to cost nothing, and how much we spend on administration.

Then I’d like to know how much we spend for things like student extra-curricular activities like clubs and sports at the HS & MS level, net of receipts and including transportation costs.  I’d like to know how much we spend for professional development – both in-service and at colleges and universities, including the cost of paying substitute teachers to cover classes.  I’d like to know how much we spend to transport kids back and forth across the county to participate in all of our specialty programs.  I’d like to know why we have 172 people budgeted as Maintenance People in Facilities Services when each school budgets for their custodial staff in their school based budget.  Do we have 172 people doing maintenance on the Kelly building?

I don’t need the bond amortization schedules.  What I’m really interested in regarding our bonds is the value of what we’ve issued, what projects they’ve been assigned to fund, and how much we have still available.  That, in combination with the CIP for the next few years, will tell me how much more debt we need to issue.

One last comment, and I say this as a CPA.   When I look at financial reports, I expect the numbers on each report to tie.  I expect the details to support the summary, and for there to be explanations when they don’t. I don’t care who prepares what pages or if they’re different people.  I don’t care about awards or strategic plan or even the process followed.  I just need the numbers and the numbers that are presented should tie.  When they don’t, or when it appears that no one has looked at the detail presented to determine if it’s appropriate and helps citizens and elected officials make decisions about how we spend our money and on what, I have to question the judgment of the people working in the Financial Services Department.


2 Responses to “Clueless Citizens are Good For PWCS”

  1. Dorrie Says:

    Just FYI The budget for this school year is 2012…fiscal year is July 2012-July 2013. The 2013 budget is for next year.

  2. Dorrie Says:

    FYI….now I am totally clueless! I’m wrong…never mind! 🙂

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