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6 ways Kansas City schools could save millions

By   /   July 24, 2013  /   3 Comments

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE — After volunteering to put itself under the microscope last year, state auditors put a spotlight on the Kansas City, Kan. school district earlier this week. In all, the Legislative Division of Post Audit highlighted more than a few over-expenditures and inefficiencies that, if fixed, could save millions.

Ranging from simple to substantial, auditors estimated that the district could save between $4.5-8.1 million (view the highlights here). Targeting everything from information technology equipment to transportation costs and even the possibility of closing one of the district’s eight middle schools, auditors pulled no punches when compiling the data that was presented to a committee of Kansas lawmakers Tuesday.

“I firmly believe in Robert Kennedy‘s admonition to ‘hang a lantern on your problems,’” superintendent Cynthia Lane said in a response included with the audit. “If there are things that we can do in order to operate more efficiently, our students will benefit from us learning about it, and determining solutions to address the challenge.”

1. Staff size and salaries

HIGH MARKUP: State auditors say the Kansas City school district could save $2.4-4.5 million by re-evaluating staff and salaries for custodians, food service and administrative positions.

According to the report, USD 500 overpays for an overabundance of custodial staff compared to districts of similar size. A study commissioned by the district in 2011 showed custodial and maintenance salaries were 15-40 percent above average for the region; The district’s pay scale permits custodial salaries to rise as high as $59,000 annually. Auditors say the district could reasonably eliminate 49 such positions to align with peer districts.

“If the district finds it too difficult to reduce custodial and maintenance positions and salaries the district could consider outsourcing these services,” the audit said.

The Kansas City school district currently employs 160 custodians and 60 specialized maintenance positions to cover 3.7 million square feet of property.

Furthermore, auditors also recommended the district reexamine the salaries paid to certain administrative and food service positions whose pay is also above market averages.

Combined, this could save the district $2.4-4.5 million.

2. Server virtualization

AP Photo

TIME IS MONEY: State efficiency experts suggest USD 500 could save as much as 96 days of staff time by switching to virtual servers, which require less maintenance than older network devices.

Auditors also recommended the district speed up the replacement of older network servers with new equipment capable of running multiple processes at the same time. While more expensive, auditors say, they will be replaced less frequently. The district has made 13 such replacements in recent years, but auditors recommend replacing a further 48.

Doing so has the potential to save upwards of $35,000, and as much as 2,300 hours (that’s almost 96 days) of staff time.

3. Utilizing procurement cards

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CHARGE IT: Procurement cards were used in only 3 percent of district purchases last year, while auditors say that amount could be as high as 75 percent. Higher usage could result in as much as $120,000 annually in cash rebates.

According to the report, district staff only used procurement cards for three percent of all purchases made last year, instead managing such transactions through the purchase order process. Auditors estimate procurement cards could be used in 75 percent of all such transactions, and that doing so has the potential to generate up to $120,000 in cash-back rebates. Last year the district only earned $2,600 such rebates.

4. Transportation costs

BIG BUCKS FOR BUSES: On average, the Kansas City school district spends nearly $200 more per student for transportation costs than other, similar districts.

BIG BUCKS FOR BUSES: On average, the Kansas City school district spends nearly $200 more per student for transportation costs than other, similar districts.

To put it bluntly, the Kansas City school district simply spends too much on transporting students. Auditors reported the district spends on average $725 per student, while comparable districts manage a similar feat for $525 per student. The only district to outpace USD 500 in this regard was the Wichita school district. In general, pay for district bus drivers is 30 percent above average.

While state auditors recommended the district either outsource transportation duties or reduce transportation salaries and staff, district officials expressed concern that such a move could spur unionization among the bus drivers and upset the local community.

Also, while USD 500 has recently purchased a fleet of 47 natural gas-powered buses to reduce fuel costs, the district has yet to calculate estimated cost-savings from the move.

Whichever way the district moves on this issue, auditors estimate there are as much as $2.1 million in annual savings to be had.

5. Middle school closure

BOLD MOVE: While extreme, auditors suggested closing one of the districts eight middle schools would result in substantial savings without an unreasonable increase in the workload for district staff.

BOLD MOVE: While extreme, auditors suggested closing one of the districts eight middle schools would result in substantial savings without an unreasonable increase in the workload for district staff.

One of the more extreme options state auditors recommended was for the district to close one of its eight middle schools. While the move would undoubtedly provoke a strong reaction from the surrounding community, the audit reports that Kansas City simply has more space than it needs to accommodate its middle school student populations. In the last two decades, middle school enrollment has fallen from 5,000 to 4,200, a 17 percent decline.

Auditors estimate while the move would be dramatic, it would result in a negligible increase in workload for district staff. For example, cooks at other middle schools would serve an additional 12 students per day, and class sizes would increase on average from 21 to 22 students.

“We acknowledge the potential difficulties created for a community when a school is closed,” the audit stated. “However, the district’s declining middle school enrollment no longer warrants eight middle schools.”

The district has not closed a middle school in 40 years. The move would save $1.4 million annually in reduced staff, salaries and utilities.

6. Managing efficiency

KEEPING TRACK: State auditors were not satisfied with the process USD 500 uses to track progress and efficient use of district resources.

KEEPING TRACK: State auditors were not satisfied with the process USD 500 uses to track progress and efficient use of district resources.

One of the biggest shortfalls highlighted by auditors was the fact that the district has no measurable way of tracking efficiencies and proper use of resources. Auditors note the district doesn’t compare itself to peer districts, and its financials are reported in a way that is, while not uncommon for large schools, different from the system used by the Kansas Department of Education, further complicating comparisons.

“These issues significantly hinder the district’s ability to accurately compare itself to other districts, which is a critical part of the efficiency management process,” auditors said.

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

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Travis Perry

  • They still don’t get it

    HA! 21 students per class. Thats funny. My average per class is 29. These idiots are daft.

  • #dontmesswithKSeither

    Yet investment in education could pay BILLIONS in dividends. People buy houses in communities with perceived good schools. Hang a dollar sign on that, and get back to me. Difficult to quantify all of those indirect benefits. #ksleg not fighting courts’ requirement to fund schools could save hundreds of thousands. Just sayin’

  • Fedup

    Not all custodians have the ability to make a salary of $59,000 in the KCK school district; that is the salary of the head custodian at the largest high school in our district. The salaries of custodians and laborers have been frozen for over five years. While a lot of the custodial staff earns a little more than other school districts the fact of the matter is that you really get what you pay for. KCKPS hires all new custodians at the starting wage of $12.77 an hour, “Try feeding your family on that”. The company that did the audit on the KCK public schools have no clue to what our custodians do for our teachers and staff on a daily basis they are only aware of dollars spent on salaries. Rumor has it that the largest school district that was audited before KCK by this group was one with only one thousand students. How can you begin to compare a district as large as KCK with very old buildings to a modern smaller rural district?