Duval School Board Receives Internal Review After Going $18 Million Over Budget

Oct 10, 2017

The Duval County School Board is considering changing several of its budgeting practices after overspending by about $18 million in the 2016-2017 school year.

Board members got a look at the results of an internal review of the budget Tuesday afternoon.

The board’s internal auditor Michelle Begley presented her review of last year’s budget, saying although the district overspent, the spending benefitted students. Begley pointed out the majority of the overspending went toward student services, supplies and personnel salaries, and all the money is accounted for. Still, the district had to dig into its emergency reserve.

Board members requested the review after learning they went over budget by about $21 million. Begley’s review shows it was less — around $18 million. The overspending includes $11 million board members had expected to roll over from the previous year.

Where Did The Money Go?

About $8 million went to personnel. The review shows $4 million of that was spent on content specialists, who create curriculum and help with professional development. The federal Title I grant funding expected to be used for it, didn’t come in at a high enough level. The specialists had to instead be funded out of general revenue.

Contracted services also accounted for $8 million in unbudgeted spending. More than half of that was on transportation. Begley said the district budgeted fewer dollars for transportation, although costs weren’t expected to be lower than the previous year.

In addition, $2.8 million went to pay for the printing materials for the district’s Eureka math curriculum, as well as licenses for the math and reading iReady computer program students use, along with speech contractor positions.  

The district also had to make up $1.3 million after the Florida Department of Education’s final adjustment of Duval’s per-student state funding, which is done throughout the year as students come and leave the district.  

Many board members including Becki Couch, had questions.

“How would the board not fully see that something was underfunded or not funded at all?,” she asked.

Couch said when board members approve budget items, they do get a financial impact statement but it’s sometimes lacking crucial information.

For instance, in one section of the review, some salaries were supposed to be funded from a source separate from general revenue, but later on, part of the salaries were funded out of general revenue. The board approved a budget amendment for that funding change.

“But it wouldn’t show in the financial impact or the budget amendment that it never had a designated funding source from general revenue,” Couch said.

Recommended Changes

Begley and the superintendent’s office presented the board with more than a dozen recommended budgeting practice changes to prevent overspending in the future.

A change interim Superintendent Patricia Willis had already implemented entails centralizing all budgeting into one system. Different departments had been working off their own spreadsheets and entering the information in the system much later. Because of the use of spreadsheets, there were several different versions of department budgets.

They are also recommending each department have a trained employee act as a budget liaison.

The auditor and superintendent's office are also suggesting the district not budget based on expectations of money it’s not certain it will get, like anticipated rollover from the previous year or possible grants. The district had been budgeting with anticipated funding.

And the recommendations say the board should budget adequate funding based on researched projections and historical data. For instance, the superintendent's office recommendations show the average teacher salary hasn’t been adjusted in a few years, which is a key component in the staffing allocation for schools.

What’s Next?

Board Chair Paula Wright said the district’s budgeting practices have been in place for severual years. She said although changes should be made, she doesn’t consider last year’s spending to be abnormal, as the board has had to transfer around funding in the past, but didn’t go into its reserve fund.

See Also

Full Breakdown of Unbudgeted Allocations

Unbudgeted Spending Summary

Full Superintendent's Office Recommendations

Board member Ashley Smith Juarez agreed with Wright, but said what she thinks was abnormal about this year was overspending on items that shouldn’t come as a surprise, like transportation.

Moving forward, Wright said she’ll share this review with Florida’s Legislative Auditing Committee Chair, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne.

Some state lawmakers - including former school board member Jason Fischer - have been writing Mayfield, asking the state to audit Duval’s budget.

Although Mayfield declined an audit, she said the possibility of one could be revisited after Duval does its own audit.

Several board members said they feel confident with the internal review, and hope to make improvements based on its recommendations.

Willis said since this school year’s budget is already underway, all the recommended changes won’t be in place.

Photo used under Creative Commons

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride