Wednesday, April 03, 2013

101 million reasons to like TPS performance audit report

When Linda Recio of Evergreen Solutions began her presentation of the Toledo Public Schools comprehensive performance audit, she said people would find things they loved and things they hated in the report.

There are over 100 million reasons for taxpayers to love the report: if all recommendations are implemented, the estimated yearly and one-time net cost savings will total $101,221,710 over the next five school years.

Average yearly savings are around $20 million per year.

You can read the full report here and the executive summary, which was presented at tonight's special board meeting here.

Each chapter focuses on a specific area examined and commendations are included along with recommendations.

Recio took special care to highlight, several times, how the full report contains specific data and research that supports each of the recommendations.

For instance, the audit recommends eliminating a minimum of 15 assistant principle positions at the elementary level and six positions at the high school level. While this may seem like a lot of positions, Recio pointed out that the current number of assistant principals exceeds not only AdvancED (the educational accreditation association for the majority of states) but also TPS's own union contract.

The same is true of clerical staff: "...clerical staffing far exceeds the district’s own staffing plan standards at
the elementary level," the report reads.

I was surprised at the cost of legal services. I knew TPS used various law firms for various purposes, but did not realize how costly it was.

Legal "expenditures between 2010-11 and 2011-12 doubled, and if 2012 expenditures are prorated through June 2013, the legal expenses for 2012-13 may be well over $2 million," the report states. Additionally, "the General Counsel has no contract with the district nor was an RFP issued at the time a resolution was approved by the Board."

The average cost per pupil for legal services in urban school districts of similar size in Ohio is $20.94. But the average cost per pupil for TPS was $56.50 - more than double.

The audit recommends hiring an in-house counsel and reducing expenditures by at least $20 per student.

Other recommendations highlighted by Recio were:

* eliminate supplemental pay for work that is included in an employee's job description;
* reduce the number of school psychologists;
* create an accountability system for textbooks (she said some textbooks were sitting in a warehouse in unopened boxes);
* conduct a comprehensive classification and compensation study;
* eliminate 44 buses from the bus inventory and eliminate excess spare buses, too.
* reduce overtime for School Resource Officers;
* require all TPS staff to wear IDs whenever on TPS property;
* institute a cap on the total number of copies per user (some schools had no copies while one had over 38,000 with no accountability on who made the copies);
* eliminate the 200 phone lines that are not being used, but are being paid for; and
* terminate computer access for departing employees immediately.

Perhaps the most controversial recommendation is to further consolidate two sets of K-8 schools. Noting that this was an example of one recommendation people may hate, board member Lisa Sobecki asked "how can we move kids again in our district?" But she also said she was "open to looking at different ways of operation."

All board members praised the professionalism of the report and noted that Evergreen promised a comprehensive performance audit in 90 days - and delivered, to the date.

There was also praise for staff and their cooperation with the audit; for community members who pushed for it; and for the Evergreen team.

Recio also had praise for the TPS.

Dr. Cecelia Adams, chairman of the finance committee and a driving force for the audit, along with her co-chairman Bob Vasquez, praised the transparency of the process and how Evergreen worked with TPS to ensure that everyone - board members, staff and public - all had access to the audit report at the same time. Recio told me later that at 5 p.m., the same time she delivered a hard copy to each board member, they loaded up the report on the TPS website so everyone would have the same access.

"This is the most transparent presentation I've ever seen," Recio said.

Board members and staff will review the details of the full report and report any errors or inaccuracies to the treasurer who, as the project manager for the audit, will go over them with Evergreen. Recio was very clear and adamant that only errors or inaccuracies would be corrected; that the recommendations will stand.

If any errors are found, they will be corrected and a final report issued.

Board members encouraged the public to read the entire report and said they would welcome any other recommendations for saving money.

The key, Vasquez and Adams told me after the meeting, is implementation. "Now the hard work begins," Vasquez said.

Recio advised the board that Evergreen does have implementation strategies they could recommend and they would provide them to the board. She said a quarterly report to the community detailing each recommendation, who was responsible for implementation and noting progress on it had been successful in other communities.

Side Note: Elected officials usually hear when they do something wrong or when people don't agree with them. I personally thanked each board member for going forward with the audit and told them I would support them in implementing the recommendations. If you feel so inclined, you can contact them here.

Now it is up to us to hold them accountable for implementation. It will be a lot of work, but isn't $100 million worth it?

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