JCPS fires back after audit claims wasted millions - News, Weather & Sports

JCPS fires back after audit claims wasted millions

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Source: Auditor of Public Accounts Source: Auditor of Public Accounts

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Jefferson County Public Schools spends too much on high priced administrators and not enough on students. At least that's what the Kentucky auditor thinks.

It's just one of the findings of a year long audit of JCPS released Wednesday. Now, many within the school system are defending the way JCPS does business and questioning the accuracy of some of the auditors findings.

[PREVIOUS STORY: State audit of JCPS uncovers millions of wasted taxpayer dollars, 'inefficient bureaucracy']

The 260 page report was the largest to ever come out of the auditors office. Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen said his investigators did not find abuse, but said they did uncover a lot of wasteful spending at the expense of education.

"We're talking about potentially tens of millions of dollars stripped out of the bureaucracy and sent to the classroom," Edelen said.

Edelen said that's what could happen if JCPS follows the recommendations in his review of its nearly $1.2 billion budget.

[Click here for the complete report from the office of the Auditor of Public Accounts for the Commonwealth of Kentucky]

His findings: JCPS spends among the least in the classroom and among the most in administration.

That's people working behind desks in central office and the schools themselves, like assistant principals, which some schools see as essential to daily operations.

Still the audit found 369 JCPS employees were making more than $100,000, three times more than one of the peer school systems auditors compared to JCPS.

Auditors found 150 salaries of $100,000 in central office alone. That's compared to just 33 in Cobb County, Georgia central office outside of Atlanta, and 39 in Austin, Texas, two of the five benchmark school districts compared JCPS too.

The others were Baltimore County, Maryland, Charlotte-Mecklenburg North Carolina and Pinellas County, Florida, which is part of the Tampa Bay area.

"I don't think when you compare us to our benchmarks you can defend this many people making that much money," Edelen said.

JCPS said many of those in the $100,000 club have worked in the school system for decades and their salaries have grown gradually over time. In fact, auditors found it's not just JCPS administrators who are paid well. At $60,000, average teacher salary ranks above comparison school districts too.

"But there's no question we have people that would rival any of those other districts," said JCPS Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens. "And we have people that I bet those other districts would love to have a recruit."

Hargens said the JCPS salary structure is overdue for a review. She said that will be part of the action plan the district takes to address the audit.

There was more with auditors finding JCPS board members don't have enough understanding of the budget to provide oversight. According to the audit, one board member told auditors they weren't sure what budget line items really mean and that they rely on staff members to explain the budget to them.

"I don't think our board is falling down on the job," said Board Chair Diane Porter. "I think it is a tremendous amount of time that is needed to spend on the budget."

Edelen said the board is spending no time policing the district. His team found an internal audit system is set up to report to the superintendent and not the board, adding to a lack of oversight.

"Folks I think it is safe to say the internal audit system here at JCPS has been a toothless tiger," Edelen said.

Edelen said the audit, which was requested by JCPS, can be a springboard for the district to turn itself into one of the most efficient systems in the country. Board member Carol Ann Haddad said the very public way Edelen went about all makes her think he's using it as his own springboard to run for governor.

"I really have a problem when people want to use education as a ground for political gain," Haddad said.

Haddad and others were also objected to the fact that the audit makes it look like students are failing because the central office is wasting money. But Edelen never compared test scores between the districts making it impossible to say definitively changing the way JCPS does business will improve student performance.

"If you're asking me based on the work that we've done that I can tie getting $15 million more from the bureaucracy into a classroom, the degree to which that is going to effect student performance, I cannot," he said.

JCPS said comparisons would have been difficult if Edelen did try to tie test scores to his audit. Three of the districts don't have a testing system that can be easily compared with JCPS. As for the other two, JCPS said their scores trail Charlotte and Austin is a mixed bag. JCPS is roughly equal in reading but behind that Texas city in math scores.

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