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Show Me The Money, PWCS

By Greg L | 29 November 2012 | Schools, Prince William County | 6 Comments

Recently we heard from School officials that there’s pretty much no way to cut spending in Prince William County Schools.  If we’re supposed to place any trust in that statement I have one simple request: show me the money.

If I want to find information on how Prince William County is spending our money, it’s not that difficult to find at least some information about budgets and spending.  Elected officials such as Pete Candland and Corey Stewart are making some pretty detailed budget proposals well in advance of the Board of County Supervisors formally adopting a budget, which is providing some long-desired transparency.  Even through the budgeting process isn’t what it should be at the county level, it is vastly superior to the opacity and secrecy that characterizes what happens with the School Board budget.

Instead of the school budget being formulated in a collaboration between the School Board and staff, this budget is developed in secret by school staff and dropped on the School Board often only days before they are required to adopt it.  The information provided to taxpayers and board members provides not nearly the level of detail required in order to properly evaluate it, there’s no time to analyze the information and hardly any opportunity to recommend alternatives, and the information on the budget after it is adopted is nearly nonexistent on the school’s website.  There is utterly no basis whatsoever to trust a process such as this, and when school officials claim there’s no waste, fraud or abuse in their spending, no substantiation for such statements is available anywhere.

To the extent there is an audit function in the schools, the only information available are the audit committee meeting agendas and minutes which provide cause for concern much more than inspire any sort of confidence.  Here’s an excerpt from the most recent audit committee minutes, and tell me if this gives you that “warm and fuzzy feeling” as a taxpayer:

Mrs. McGettigan briefly presented the Long-Term Internal Audit Staffing Plan, which had been requested by the committee members in the past, to initiate the Committee’s discussion of the appropriate level of staffing within our World-Class School Division. She mentioned that the report contained staffing information from comparable school divisions at a national level, as well as staffing information for all Virginia school divisions with independent Offices of Internal Audit. She observed that in the chart that was prepared last year, the average professional staff positions were 4.3 positions as compared to 4.9 positions in the current year’s report. This increase appears to be due to PWCS moving from 45th to 42nd largest school division in the United States. The larger school divisions have well established, mature internal audit functions having been large school divisions for many years. Mr. Trenum asked Mrs. McGettigan for an overview of the position titles used by the comparable school divisions which she provided. Mr. Cline indicated that the upcoming budget year would not provide for the resources, but that it is a requirement for Mrs. McGettigan to continue to bring staffing information to the committee.

Great.  Although the audit committee minutes reveal not a single recommendation after conducting audits of five schools and ten “procurement card accounts,” it can find yet another opportunity to develop a case for spending more taxpayer money.  Are taxpayers getting any value from this exercise at all?

There actually is a page on the PWCS website devoted to budgeting, hidden deep within the site’s menus and utterly inaccessible by a rudimentary search feature.  Most of the information on that page is in summary form, and there’s even video there to keep you entertained.  About the only actual financial information there is the most recently adopted budget, where staff does it’s very best to hide what it does amidst 393 pages of listing every line item expense they have broken down by school and department.  If you would like to find out how much the county spent on any particular activity - such as implementing some expensive curriculum from Pearson, that’s not in there.  If you want to get an idea how much full-day kindergarten actually costs, or the International Baccalaureate program that indoctrinates our children with the notion that patriotism is an evil thing, you won’t find that.  Other than programs that are funded by a grant, or individually mandated at the state or federal level, there’s no breakout in those expenditures at all.

What we do know is that administrative staff headcount has exploded, the $260,000 a year superintendent’s lunch is subsidized by taxpayers, we spend $5 million a year operating a warehouse we probably don’t need, and can somehow afford to install electronic billboards in front of every middle school not because they help students succeed, but because some other school got one and we don’t want to make any of the kids feel left out that they’re not getting clip-art propaganda, too.  Our eyes see very questionable expenditures, but all we hear from Milt Johns is that every penny is absolutely necessary.  Is it any wonder we’re not very inspired to trust statements like this?

Show me the money, open up the budgeting process, and maybe then we could establish an evidentiary basis to trust any of this.  Until then, I remain deeply skeptical.

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  1. Anonymous said on 29 Nov 2012 at 3:57 pm:
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    The electronic billboards in front of the middle schools are a huge waste of taxpayer money and the constant changing of messages is distracting to motorists.

  2. Lunch Room Mom said on 29 Nov 2012 at 4:24 pm:
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    Why is the answer to everything more money? How have we gotten to such a place?

  3. Cromagnum said on 29 Nov 2012 at 11:48 pm:
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    Its helpful to review that Half the PWCS County Budget goes to to schools. If you cannot fix the single biggest piece of budget…..


    This document, devoid of detail, but full of splashy color doesn’t address the pass through money from State and Federal sources.

  4. Monopoly G-Men said on 30 Nov 2012 at 12:00 am:
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    Just like the ails of the old Federal Post Office circa 1850, what the Schools need is a lil Lysander Spooner


    “Spooner’s summation of his study was succinct: high cost and no service.”

    I know, we have laws in the State that prevent something worthwhile, but its a bigger problem than just one school district …..

  5. Diuttyman8 said on 30 Nov 2012 at 9:14 pm:
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    When I was growing up in Preston, CT, the town had an annual report that reported every expense to the penny, including all the salaries of all the public employees. It was done using 1970s technology and anyone could get a report for free. Try to live up to that level of transparency.

  6. Anonymous said on 1 Dec 2012 at 8:19 am:
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    Why haven’t all your conservative friends on the BOCS helped? They’ve all been there a while. PWCS reports to them and is accountable to them.

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