During the 2013 legislative session, House Bill 2349 was enacted to require one small, one medium and one large school district to undergo a performance efficiency audit each year by the Legislative Division of Post Audit. The law was created to determine if Kansas school districts can achieve significant cost savings by improving resource management. We are one of three districts selected for this year’s audit.
In the preliminary phase of the audit, district staff is compiling data and participating in interviews, tours and surveys to help LPA staff identify areas for potential savings or revenue enhancements. By July 1, we expect to have a report outlining the findings. If you have ever participated in an audit such as this, you know it can be time-consuming and stressful. Yet, audits such as this are not new to our district.
Over the past two decades, the Emporia school district has experienced budgetary ups and downs. We have struggled to withstand reductions in state aid while managing the reality of advances in technology; increased need for support to classrooms in the form of professional development, instructional coaches and strategists, materials and resources; and sustained compensation for teachers and staff. So we have had a long history of looking for ways to do more with less.
Efficient: the ability to do something or produce something without wasting materials, time, or energy
We have undergone a multitude of audits, studies and reviews to streamline operations during periods of shrinking resources and maintain or improve programs without sacrificing educational quality. Some have been required as a part of grant evaluations, state and federal program monitoring, and randomly selected accountability samples. But many have come as part of our voluntary efforts to find efficiencies and they are now simply how we do business.
In 2008 and 2009, the Flint Hills Special Education Cooperative and USD 253 each participated in two major studies with the assistance of the Center for Innovative School Leadership. The district also conducted an Energy Performance Audit by Con Edison Solutions. These studies concluded with a number of recommendations ranging from the development of staffing formulas to investments in energy-saving products and practices.
The 2009 CISL study and a 2011 Kansas Learning Network review spawned closer examination in a number of areas, most notably our K-8 grade configuration. Based on findings from an 18-month local study, the board closed two large older schools and placed fifth and sixth graders with their peers at the elementary and middle schools. The move required an investment of new space at Emporia Middle School, but the result was two fewer transitions for students and a small decrease in staffing. We continue to realize savings in utilities and other operational costs from these decisions.
With the aid of the Financial Review Committee, a group made up of school site council members in the district, we regularly evaluate expenditures and long-term capital outlay needs such as roofs, bus-rotation schedule and major school repairs. Two years ago, the committee commissioned a special wellness task force to study food service quality and nutrition, and last year, a clinical review of health insurance services and costs. In similar fashion, a 2010 independent study of our custodial and maintenance services influenced changes in staff assignments and schedules to increase productivity without increasing staff.
The most recent effort has been in the form of a boundary study prompted by long-term changes in enrollment patterns at our elementary schools. We are currently having informational meetings at the six neighborhood schools to share a proposal to adjust boundaries established in 2002 – changes we hope will balance school enrollments and facilitate more efficient transportation routes.
Sometimes audits come with mandates that must be addressed, but in the case of the Legislative Post Audit, we are not required to implement all recommendations. In fact, there may be some measures that our community deems a necessary cost for Emporia. Nonetheless, we hope the LPA findings will provide new and objective ways to look at our resource management and recognize some of the things we have already implemented.
Next fall, the district will conduct follow-up surveys of student, staff and parent groups to assess school climate and progress toward goals since the original survey two years ago. Together, these efforts help us to remain vigilant of our responsibilities, add greater value for our students and celebrate a few successes! Especially today, it truly is a necessary and prudent way of doing business for schools.