A new Tampa Bay Times article has shocking revelations about the state of our public school facilities. The article summarizes the conditions and repercussions that failing AC units have had on students, classrooms, food, technology, instruments, and even band uniforms.
Could anyone have imagined the AC problems at Hillsborough Schools ran this deep? Is this an extension of what appears to be operational mismanagement of district transportation?
What happened to school district reserves, routine maintenance, busing service, and safe drinking water? It is mind-boggling. Did operations leaders see this coming? Is school district leadership incompetent? Why has facilities maintenance become backlogged so severely over the years (“nearly $1 billion” in deferred maintenance) when money was being spent reprehensibly?
Over $180 million of our district reserves was gone in 2015, triggering a potential downgrade with ratings agencies. Bond ratings are like a credit score for the district. When a downgrade occurs borrowing becomes more difficult and the cost to borrow can increase – meaning more interest expense. Most of that $180 million was reportedly spent on the failed Gates-backed Empowering Effective Teachers (EET) project. Former district superintendent Elia was fired by the Hillsborough County School Board, but the school board should have known how and where money was spent: month over month, year over year, and actuals to budget on a monthly basis. Now the school district wants to tax us after showing us their poor money management skills.
That is a lot of money reportedly wasted on the failed Gates Foundation project. That money would have better served children by repairing and maintaining facilities. Instead, the district pandered to the Gates Foundation’s latest education fad. What is next? Is Social Emotional Learning (SEL) a similar fad?
Questions about SEL spending have gone unanswered. CitizensLighthouse questioned SEL spending in these tweets: materials and training, district time, and funding. Many articles have been written criticizing SEL.
How much money is wasted on non-vital programs when this is the state of our facilities? As usual, there is no response to questions on twitter.
CitizensLighthouse also asked if certain accounting problems reported in Gibson Consulting Group’s 2016 Operational Efficiency Audit have been fixed – there was no response.
Gibson summarized three problems with account codes in that audit: 1) Insufficient Object Codes, 2) Improper Use of Project Codes, and 3) Lack of Hierarchy or Roll-up to HCPS Division Level Codes (48-49).
Excerpts from the Gibson Report are included below:
Since these important line items do not appear on a financial statement or on a budget, budgets –the primary control mechanism for expenditures –cannot be established for these types of expenditures.(48)
…of these project codes, 412 have the exact same name of “School Supply Budget.” No two account codes should have the same name. (48)
By embedding object codes into project codes, the integrity of the account code structure is compromised. This complicates the reporting process and expenditure control by having two types of codes that are used for the same purpose. (48)
The district’s chart of accounts should be structured whereby financial information can be easily reported at the department level and aggregated at the division level. Division leaders cannot be expected to monitor their overall budget without adequate reporting to do so. During the review team’s interviews with division leaders, several could not cite their overall budget responsibility.(49)
Maybe the district cannot answer questions because of accounting issues. How can citizens be sure maintenance is actually underfunded? Is increasing taxes on citizens a good idea when operational and money management problems persist?
Hillsborough Schools needs to get back to the basics and get that right first. If the leaders in place cannot right the ship, then we need better leadership.