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 Union Elementary School District (August 2007)

 

 

SUMMARY

The Office of the Auditor General has conducted a performance audit of the Union Elementary School District pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes ß41-1279.03(A)(9). This performance audit examines six aspects of the Districtís operations: administration, student transportation, plant operation and maintenance, expenditures of sales taxes received under Proposition 301, the accuracy of district records used to calculate the percentage of dollars spent in the classroom, and the Districtís English Language Learner (ELL) program.

Administration (see pages 7 through 11)

In fiscal year 2006, the Districtís $671 per-pupil administration costs were 21 percent lower than the $847 per-pupil average of similarly sized districts largely because it employed fewer administrative positions. However, district officials did not control costs, overspending the Maintenance and Operation (M&O) Fund budget in fiscal years 2005 through 2007, including estimated overspending of approximately $1.2 million in fiscal year 2007. In May 2007, the District was unable to pay its employees, and subsequent emergency legislation required that the District be placed into receivership. While districts are typically given 2 years to recover overspending through reduced budget limits, the legislation putting the District into receivership also gives it 5 years to recover the amounts it overspent. In addition, the District did not always follow required procurement rules. For example, over the course of 2 fiscal years, the District used the services of four special needs transportation vendors without proper procurement and written contracts. During fiscal years 2006 and 2007, the District paid these vendors a combined total of more than $497,000.

Student transportation (see pages 13 through 19)

In fiscal year 2006, the District spent 41 percent more per pupil on student transportation, and its cost per mile was more than three times the average for similar-sized districts. As a result, the District subsidized its transportation program with $434,000 that potentially could otherwise have been spent in the classroom. While it previously contracted for transportation services, in fiscal year 2007, the District began operating the program in-house. This lowered its per-pupil costs by about 15 percent; however, the District continued to subsidize the program by more than $482,000. Outsourced special needs transportation was the largest component of the Districtís fiscal year 2007 transportation costs. The District paid two vendors more than $257,000 to transport its special needs students to programs outside of the District despite not having written contracts with either vendor. Without written contracts, the District could not ensure that vendor billings were appropriate, and it also could not ensure that the vendor met the Stateís minimum safety standards and that the District was properly protected from liability. The Districtís current high transportation costs, together with overspending its M&O budget, highlight the need for monitoring its transportation program, including developing and monitoring performance measures. The District also needs to implement required bus preventive maintenance and random drug and alcohol testing for its drivers.

Plant operation and maintenance (see pages 21 through 26)

In fiscal year 2006, the District spent 41 percent more per square foot on plant operation and maintenance costs than comparable districts. The Districtís plant operation costs accounted for 13.4 percent of its total current expenditures, which is slightly higher than the comparison districtsí average and over 2 percent higher than the state-wide average. Even though the District employed fewer plant-related positions than the comparable districts, it had high overtime costs, which inflated its salary and benefit costs. Further, the District had high water and energy costs and lacked conservation plans to help control these costs. Telephone costs were also high, largely because the District uses five T-1 lines to handle its phone and data needs, while comparable districts used only one or two lines. In fiscal year 2007, the Districtís per-square-foot plant costs increased by approximately 6 percent, largely due to hiring additional staff.

Proposition 301 monies (see pages 27 through 30)

In November 2000, voters passed Proposition 301, which increased the state-wide sales tax to provide additional resources for education purposes. The Districtís plan for spending its Proposition 301 monies was incomplete in that it did not describe how base pay and menu option monies were to be allocated. However, the District spent its fiscal year 2006 Proposition 301 monies for purposes authorized under statute. On average, each teacher and librarian received base pay increases of $939 and performance pay of $1,532. Menu option monies paid to eligible employees who participated in AIMS intervention activities averaged $1,194 each.

Classroom dollars (see pages 31 through 34)

Statute requires the Auditor General to determine the percentage of every dollar Arizona school districts spend in the classroom. Therefore, auditors reviewed the Districtís recording of classroom and other expenditures to determine their accuracy. After correction for classification errors, the Districtís fiscal year 2006 classroom dollar percentage increased from 50.1 percent to 50.3 percent, which is eight points below the state average of 58.3 percent for the same fiscal year.

In addition, the District spent $6,256 per pupil, which was $916 lower than the comparable districts averaged and almost $600 lower than the state average of $6,833. The District spent fewer operating dollars than the comparable districts because it received less federal and state program monies and transportation revenues per pupil. Also, the District spent comparatively more per pupil on food service because it had a high percentage (68 percent) of students who were eligible for free or reduced price lunches, and it served more meals than the comparable districts. However, the District spent less on student support services and instruction support services than the state averages.

English Language Learner programs,
costs, and funding (see pages 35 through 39)

English Language Learners are students whose native language is not English and who are not currently able to perform ordinary classroom work in English. During fiscal year 2006, the Districtís ELL program served 253 students and primarily consisted of language instructional software and bilingual instructional aides to assist students during language arts classes. In fiscal year 2007, the District served 401 ELL students at a cost of approximately $128,900, and it received $132,000 in funding to serve its ELL students, including additional state aid known as ELL B-weight monies, and federal Title III monies. Statute requires the ELL Task Force to adopt models for districts to provide 4 hours of English language acquisition for first-year ELL students. Currently, the Districtís fiscal year 2007 ELL program provided only 45 minutes of language acquisition tutoring for students at the lowest levels of English proficiency. Students who were more proficient were placed in mainstream classes and were assisted by bilingual instructional aides during language arts classes.


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