We actually went back about eight years and found that there was over $25 million paid in stipends either unapproved, unauthorized or improper. I have to say, with all the money paid in stipends, the district would not be in the condition it’s in if it were under control.
This quote comes from the late Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich, in remarks about his report on the St. Joseph School District. In the same story, Schweich reported, “There were significant other problems with payroll, overtime hours, summer school credits, nepotism issues and other questionable spending.”
The St. Joseph District is not alone in wanting to spend more money. The Kansas City Public School District has been putting “trial balloons” in the air for some time seeking to increase the taxes that fund schools. Many education advocates want to spend more money on teachers and in the classroom. But in Kansas City, the amount spent per student, approximately $16,000 per pupil per year, is already very high. The likely problem, as highlighted by Schweich’s audit in St. Joe, is that the money is often not making it to the classroom; it is being eaten up by administrators through bad policy and perhaps even fraud.
The district could not account for $4 million in food costs and student incentives, repeatedly failed to competitively bid projects and monitor contracts, has excessive overtime and failed to properly oversee its closed buildings, the audit found.
The state audit said a principal at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy made $58,000 in unauthorized purchases and cash withdrawals. Jamia Dock is no longer at the school and has been charged in Jackson County Circuit Court with stealing more than $25,000 in district funds. She has pleaded not guilty and the case is still pending.
The Kansas City School Board was also faulted for repeatedly violating the Missouri Sunshine Law.
Schweich’s 2011 audit grade for KCPS was “Fair,” of a four-point scale including “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair,” and “Poor.” According to the auditor’s office, most of these findings assume that district spending numbers are correct, which means they don’t do the time-consuming work of digging into expenses. Even still, for Kansas City to score in the bottom half is an indictment.
Many parents and teachers want to see more money making it to the classroom. As Schweich’s comment at the top of this post suggested, efficient money management means that more money can be made available where it matters most. If the Kansas City School District wants to build trust with parents, teachers, and taxpayers, they should invite a thorough and recurring examination of their books and remain transparent in all their expenditures.