If you read the title of this blog and scratched your head wondering who Ray Guy is, you are obviously a sight younger than me or don’t follow sports. Let me help clarify. Ray Guy is a punter who played for the Oakland Raiders back in the 70’s. He is the first punter ever inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame. His trademark was kicking punts that stayed in the air for so long that by the time the punt returner was able to field it, the Raiders’ coverage unit had the field covered so well that a return was not possible. Yesterday with the release of the Audit of the Metro Nashville Public Schools Financial Matters(20180820MNPSFinancialMattersFinalReport-ilovepdf-compressed), the Metro Nashville Department of Internal Audit did Ray Guy proud.
In case you haven’t been closely following this story closely let me get you caught up. Back in March the MNPS budget process had gotten so convoluted that board chair Anna Shepherd and Vice-Chair Jill Speering reached a conclusion that an audit by Metro Nashville Government was needed in order to fully understand district expenditures. The promise of an audit by Metro Nashville Government was welcomed by the public and it quickly became the most anticipated release of the summer. There was a lot of speculation on just what conclusions would be reached, ranging from damaging to dismissive.
Five months later and with the release of the audit, anticipation has been replaced by disbelief. There is nothing in this audit. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. There is merely a listing of expenditures with no in-depth analysis. Under the section titled “What we found”, there is one paragraph,
The current accounting and budget structure do not completely meet the needs of certain members of the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education to identify central office versus centralized services costs.
This observation stems from the discovery that MNPS has no means to separate central office employees from centralized services employees because a definition of central office does not exist. Furthermore, Metro Nashville Public Schools is unable to separate expenditures for consultants from contracted services expenditures.Which leads to their sole recommendation,
Determine if the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education could benefit from a cost accounting report that separates central office costs from other district costs.
BAM! That ball is hanging in the air. I wonder if it will ever come down. Since the conversation around the size of central office has been going on for a decade, I can only conclude that the lack of a definition is intentional. Same holds true in regard to consultants. These are not new conversations and as such the lack of definitive definitions in inexcusable.
Despite this large shortcoming, the audit does collect some interesting numbers for inclusion.
Apparently the average salary for a central office employee has risen approximately 4k to $90,139. Payroll itself has risen roughly 3.2 million dollars over the last 2 years. To be fair to Dr. Joseph, we don’t know if that is good or bad, because this audit shares no context. For some reason, under the year 2016 the amount of growth is considered N/A. 3.2 million sounds like a big number to me for payroll growth, but is it. I don’t know and the audit gives me no clue. Though there are some conclusions sprinkled through the report.
One of my favorite conclusions in the audit is in regard to when MNPS leadership should have been aware of the loss of funds due to a drop in enrollment. After running through a brief summation of the methodology involved with monitoring enrollment between the district and the state, auditors conclude that, “The timing of when management “should have known” and made adjustments accordingly is an internal decision by the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.” Well, thank you for that insight. How about a little history and context of when these adjustments were communicated in the past?
There is another section that compares budgeted areas with actual expenditures. Looking at it I get a sense of a mixed bag. Some items come in over budget, some under. While there are comparison charts with 2016 and 2017, there is little explanation of context, past performance, or best practices. For example, under fixed costs, in 2018 we were nearly 2 million under budget, in 2017 roughly half a million over budget, and then in 2016 we were half a million under budget. So what does that mean? Is that fluctuation normal?
My interpretation is that fixed costs are just that, fixed, and therefore should be a bit more predictable. But I’m not accountant, Are these kinds of swings common? What does best practices say? What happens to the money that is under spent in a category? A little help here would have been nice. Instead, everyone is left to their own interpretation and little gets definitively resolved.
To say this report is a disappointment would be an understatement. For whatever reason, a large portion of the Nashville Community believes that MNPS leadership is mismanaging resources. There was an expectation my many that the audit would illuminate MNPS’s financial practices in a manner that clarified if this was indeed true or not. Clarification that would lead to better informed decisions being made. Now whether that was a right or wrong expectation is another conversation, but to fail to acknowledge that expectation, at the very least points to a colossal failure by those charged with constructing the audit. A request for the auditing departments specialized knowledge was made, and for the most part that knowledge was not applied.
There very real, and emotional conversations taking place around the financing of MNPS. There are many that believe the cloud of suspicion surrounding the district spending contributed to our schools being further underfunded this year. While others hold fast to the belief that money is being mis-spent. There was a hope by many that upon release of the audit there would be some clarity. Instead 5 months later, things are as opaque as ever and ultimately school funding will suffer. As long as there is distrust in the system, increased funding will not be realized.
MNPS is a district plagued by distrust. An argument could be made that much of the distrust in the district stems from people feeling like their concerns are not being addressed. This audit could have served as a counter argument to that belief.
People came forward in large numbers to discuss their concerns and observations with the auditors. They did so at the expense of their time, and in some cases at risk to their professional future. To have an audit come back with so little meaningful information discourages people from participating in the future. The narrative will take root that nobody will address documented concerns anyway, so why bother. There is nothing contained in this audit that can be used as a counter argument to that narrative.
As long as long as this cloud continues, and a sense of transparency and accountability is not established, people will continue to divest. That divestment can result in nothing but the destabilizing of our public education system.
It is like that friend who continually asks to borrow money because his family can’t eat, yet we run into him at the local tavern. That might be the only time in a month he’s been there, he might really be trying to get a better job, there might be a host of other elements to the story, but sans evidence to the contrary, we are going to assume that he’s taking the money we lend him and blowing it on booze. Odds are we are not going to give him more money. MNPS is no different.
The recently completed audit had an opportunity to clear up important elements to the narrative on MNPS spending, one way or the other. Unfortunately that is an opportunity that is going to go unrealized. That’s a shame, because you don’t get to many opportunities at this.
There is a continuing investigation into human resources practices being conducted still. When that will be completed, is anyone’s guess.
At the 1976 Pro Bowl, Guy became the first punter to hit the Louisiana Superdome video screen. Officials raised the screen from 90 feet to 200 feet. I’d argue that the raising of the screen is what’s called for in regard to MNPS as well.