State Audit Committee Looks At School District's Misleading Budgets

By Jon A. Brake

What was the 2000-01 Budget for the Manhattan School District? Was it (A) $50.9 million or (B) $44.2 million or (C) Neither.

What was the 2001-02 Budget for the Manhattan School District? Was it (A) $54.6 million or (B) $49.2 million or (C) Neither.

Answer A on both questions is the published budgets for the district. By state law that is the correct figure. Answer B on both questions is what the Kansas Legislative Post Audit Committee said that was the correct budget for the Manhattan School District.

Both A and B are wrong. The correct answer is C, Neither. Kansasís school districts spend but do not report grant money. In 2001-02 school year the Manhattan School District will bring in and spend $6,023,517.76.

You can understand why the Kansas Legislative Post Audit Committee wanted to look into the budgets for state schools. The Committee said this about the grants: "Interpretation of another State law has resulted in school districts excluding significant amounts of money from the regular budget process-including federal entitlement grants that accounted for at least $115 million in expenditures in fiscal year 2001. "Although some information on these entitlement fund is collected separately, the information isnít part of the districtís regular budget information, and isnít reported to the National Center for Education Statistics."

To review what school districts were doing the Committee compared the budgets of Topeka, Wichita, Salina and Manhattan. They found that it was almost impossible to compare because of the way school districts collect and report the information.

Here is what the Committee said: "Budget documents that local boards of education currently approve can vary in format, amount of information, level of detail, categories, and the like. However, State law requires districts to submit the budgets approved by their local boards to the Department of Education in a uniform classification format that classifies budgeted and actual expenditures for up to 40 statutorily authorized funds, some of which have up to 100 separate line items."

The Committee had some good things to say about the Manhattan School District document: "The Manhattan districtís local budget provided excellent down-to-earth explanations of the budgetary process, and straightforward information about its current and historic mill levies. It also clearly explained the reasons why some budgeted figures were higher or lower than might be expected."

The 2001-02 Budget document did a good job but the 2000-01 Budget document did not give the final budget figure. If must be asked: "How could the district produce more than 100 pages and not tell what the total budget would be?"

By all accounts the 2001-02 Budget is higher than the 2000-01 Budget. The amount ranges from $1 to $4 million, depending on which documents you are looking at. Yet, the Manhattan School District administration is telling the public that they cut $1 million from the budget. The district did cut several teaching positions last year but they added money into other areas of the budget.

The published document for 2000-01 show the General fund at $24.9 million. The published document for 2001-02 show the General fund at $27.5. The total published figures are $50.9 million for 2000-01 and $54.6 million for 2001-02.

The Legislative Post Audit Committee did Comparative Information for the 4 Sample Districtsí Actual 2000-01 Operating Expenditures and Related Data. The committee compared the four districtsí spending on Total Operating Costs; Instruction; Student Support Services; Instructional Support Services; District-Level Administration; School-Level Administration; Other Support Services; Transportation; Food Service; Operations and Maintenance; Miscellaneous; and Operating Funds Cash Balance.

As in any report or comparison the comparison is only as good as the information given. Manhattansí % of operating budget spent on "School-Level Administration" is listed at 6.1%. (Wichita 6.8%; Topeka 5.7%; Salina 4.4%) But at least fifteen assistant principals and other administrators are paid out of the teachers fund. This would make Manhattan percentage much higher.

Because of this report by the Legislative Post Audit Committee a proposed budget format has been developed. The "Proposed Budget Format" would require the State Legislature to change current law but the idea is to get each school district providing the same information in a budget format that would allow comparisons between school districts.

A copy of the Performance Audit Report can be received by going to the Legislative Division of Post Audit wed site at http://www.kslegislature.org/postaudit/

A copy of the Proposed Budget Format: USD 383 Manhattan can be received by contacting Legislative Division of Post Audit 800 Southwest Jackson Street, Suite 1200 Topeka, Ks 66612-2212.