By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — An in-depth examination of districtwide spending at one rural Kansas school has revealed more than $200,000 in potential annual savings.
The tiny school of Ashland Unified School District 220, in the southwest region of the Sunflower State, is one of the latest to voluntarily put itself under the microscope as part of Kansas’ ongoing scrutiny of public education spending.
While advocates for increased spending in Kansas schools argue recent funding reductions have cut budgets to the bone, a recent report by state auditors suggests otherwise. Read the full report here.
Cost savings that auditors determined would have the least impact on students included the reduction and realignment of supplemental pay for faculty who coach athletic teams and sponsor student organizations.
Overall, auditors determined USD 220 paid more than $34,000 more for such duties compared to similar districts, such as Clifton-Clyde, Ellinwood and St. Francis schools. Some faculty appeared to be getting paid twice for their normal duties.
“For example, the district made a supplemental payment to the vocational education teacher for maintaining vocational education records, which would seem to be part of his regular duties,” the audit stated. “Further, officials could not explain why the music teacher received a $3,600 ‘vocal and instrumental’ payment or why a substitute teacher received a $4,200 ‘substitute supervisor’ payment in addition to their regular salary.”
Another recommended, and easily implemented, cost-cutting measure would have the district setting up and following a budget for food service expenses, in addition to reforming purchasing practices. Ashland does not use such budgetary measures for its food services and does not buy food in bulk, instead sometimes buying directly from local grocers at a higher cost. Such changes could bring between $25,000 and $76,000 in savings annually.
The measures were well-received by district officials, who countered with an idea of their own — leverage local ranchers to lower costs. By encouraging area cattle producers to donate an animal for butchering to the school, Superintendent Brian Pekarek told auditors USD 220 could reap an additional $20,000 in annual cost savings.
Among the district’s more interesting inefficiencies was the $75,000 auditors said school officials could save by consolidating low-enrollment courses. One district math teacher instructs five classes, each with six or fewer students. Course consolidation is a no-brainer, auditors said, and a reduction in the number of math teachers on staff could be accomplished through attrition, as one such faculty member is approaching retirement.
A further $28,000 in savings was recommended by reducing a high school band and music teacher to part time, though the district said it tried that — sharing the position with surrounding schools — but the teacher quit because of the travel requirements.
“Although district officials told us a part-time position was appropriate, it was not a reduction they anticipated they could make in the near future,” auditors stated.
Smaller savings, in the range of roughly $5,000 annually, could be found by eliminating two low-participation sports, which USD 220 partners with other schools to offer. The district spends $1,700 to accommodate four students playing high school volleyball in another district, and a further $3,700 for seven students to participate in junior high football in a similar agreement.
This particular aspect generated the most push back from district administrators, who were concerned about reducing athletic opportunities for students.
At the far end of the scale, auditors pointed to a potential reduction and consolidation of bus routes to gain between $13,000 and $37,000 in annual savings, depending on the total number of routes which would receive the ax. While officials predicted one of the district’s 11 routes could be eliminated relatively painlessly, a second could extend a bus ride to as long as 90 minutes for students at the tail-end of the route.
Overall, Pekarek told auditors the experience was a valuable chance for reassessment for USD 220.
“Although I am disappointed in the amount of school districts that had volunteered for this free service, I would encourage the Kansas Legislative Post Audit team to consider giving small incentives for Kansas School Districts in the future. This action might encourage others to sign up and be a part of this efficiency program,” the superintendent said in a letter to auditors.
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