Thursday, August 02, 2012

With $11.22 million surplus, TPS doesn't need levy but must do performance audit

The Toledo Public School Board may reduce its planned levy request after 'discovering' a surplus of $8.58 million more than expected.

Note that the $8.58 million is just the amount that is more than expected. They had expected a surplus of $2.64 million - but now they find out that the actual amount of extra funds is $11.22 million.

If my review of their last audit report and their management letter (which details here and here even more troubling information than the audit) weren't enough to get you to demand a performance audit, this discovery of 425% more surplus than expected should!

So now they think they don't need a new, permanent 6.9 mill levy ... according to what Treasurer Matt Cleland told the Toledo Blade editorial board (not the public, mind you - or even the TPS board, but the newspaper!), the TPS Board members will be presented a range of tax hikes to consider.

Since the 6.9 mill levy is projected to generate $18.5 million per year and TPS now has $11.22 million in extra funds, why put a levy on the ballot at all? If we are to believe the reasons for the 'unexpected' surplus, they clearly have no clue when it comes to their finances.

The surplus was attributed to three main sources, Mr. Cleland said. Possibly the biggest factor was that fewer students left for charter schools or applied for private school vouchers than projected, leading to about $3.7 million more in state funds than TPS or the Ohio Department of Education calculated.

The other two sources came from reduced costs: the switch to K-8 buildings from elementary and middle schools saved about $1 million more in salary than expected, and a new health-care plan accepted in negotiations by the district's unions also significantly reduced costs.

So the treasurer had no idea that fewer students had left for charter school or applied for private school vouchers? Isn't that something that is determined in October? And shouldn't you know the fiscal impact of your attendance before the end of the year?!? How could the additional funds based upon the number of children enrolled NOT be known and anticipated since the system should clearly know the number of students it's had over the year?

The salary savings from switching to K-8 schools should also have been calculated and shouldn't be a surprise. You know the number of staff you had in the separate buildings and you know the way you're staffing the combined grades. Why was the treasurer surprised by this?

These two 'unexpected' numbers total $4.7 million. So that means the new health care plan in the union contracts resulted in savings of $3.88 million.

Let me repeat that: the new health care plan in the union contracts resulted in savings of $3.88 million. This is good news and kudos to the union and the school board for agreeing to the provisions that saved taxpayers that much money. But how did the district not know what the savings would be? I can understand not having a definite number, but shouldn't they have known it would have been between a certain range so they could plan for the savings?!? How did they even enter into negotiations for the new health plan without knowing the fiscal impact?!?

This just astounds me - the complete and utter lack of fiscal knowledge of how various actions impact the budget. No wonder they think they need 'more, more, more' all the time.

Here's the other key point: these 'unexpected' savings can't be for just this year only.

If the switch to K-8 schools cost them $1 million less than they planned, they can deduct $1 million off their budget for next year (and future years) as a result. The savings due to reduced salaries from combining schools should continue.

The same goes for the health plan savings of $3.88 million. If that was the surprise amount for this year, it makes sense that they can deduct that amount from next year's costs as well.

If I am correct that they take attendance for state funding in October, then they should also be able to predict their Dept. of Education funding before the end of this calendar year.

Total them up and these 'unexpected' savings mean that future budgets can be reduced by at least $4.88 million (health plans and K-8 combination schools) and maybe more if they keep this year's students.

The 6.9 mill levy is supposed to give them $18.5 million per year. They've got $11.22 million extra this year that they can apply to the 2012-13 school budget. They also have another $4.88 million in yearly savings they can apply. That would leave them $2.4 million short of what they've told us they need.

Are you really going to believe any TPS board member or official if they tell you they can't find $2.4 million in savings out of a more than $320 million budget? As they like to say about their levy demands, that's only .75%. Maybe if they did a performance audit they could find savings of a full 1%...

TPS doesn't need a levy this year, and their inability to have a clean audit and know what their budget actually is proves they don't deserve more money. They can withdraw the levy request completely.

As they go into this coming school year, they can do a performance audit to see where they might be able to find other savings. They should do a complete, comprehensive performance audit and exempt nothing from examination.

Then, after learning how much can be saved from revised operations and changes in policy/management, if they still need money, they can ask for it - and be in a better position of making their case to the public.

This is what the TPS board should do, but sadly, I doubt they will.

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