On August 12, the Board of Education heard a presentation from Gibson Consulting, the firm hired with funds allocated in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. Findings of the audit will be highlighted in this month’s column. For thoughts on the reopening of schools during this challenging time, please see my last several columns.
As a fiscal conservative, efficient use of taxpayer dollars has been a top focus since I was a candidate. My main goal with both this and the transportation audit is to better utilize taxpayer money and redirect, as much as possible, our limited resources to meet school needs at the school level.
Conducted over a seven-month period, the audit included an in-depth analysis of governance and the central office organizational structure of AACPS, as well as the financial management, human resources and information technology functions of the school system, and it can be found at www.aacps.org/2020performanceaudit.
Similar to the recent transportation audit, the performance audit illuminated several areas the board can improve upon.
Anyone who’s witnessed or who has testified at a board meeting over the last two years knows that your wait to testify at a pre-COVD-19 board meeting could be hours long. Gibson recommended rethinking how the board handles public comment in a number of ways. Suggestions include reordering public comment at the beginning of the meeting to avoid long, sometimes torturous wait times. Gibson also suggested limiting the number of speakers and limiting public comment to only items on the agenda.
The item that stood out the most regarding AACPS central office operations and was a recurring theme throughout the 150-page audit report is our overreliance on manual, paper-intensive processes. From purchasing to timesheets, our reliance on manual tasks was surprising, especially since there may be automated modules within existing software packages that could replace manual tasks. By streamlining these processes, staff can direct their attention elsewhere and perhaps eventually allow staff in some clerical positions to move into other areas within AACPS.
Presently, paper time sheets travel to several staff and then to the central office, a process that includes a minimum of 14 steps, multiple data entry points, and extra steps and paperwork when leave is requested or when errors occur in the process. Not only would we save paper by further automating the process, but staff could devote time to other tasks. Similar manual or paper-heavy functions exist in the purchasing, accounts payable and budget departments.
Currently, the budget process begins in the fall with a notice to staff about priorities for the upcoming budget cycle. In December of each year, Dr. George Arlotto presents his recommended budget to the Board of Education, and the process culminates in February with budget amendments and final approval. While members of the board can offer their budget priorities at any time to Dr. Arlotto via our monthly one-on-one meetings, the board currently plays no formal role in the development of the budget until after it is presented to us every December.
Gibson recommends a more collaborative approach to budget development at the very start and throughout the annual cycle. As such, the board is considering ways we can work with the superintendent to inform budget priorities in the fall and stay informed of his recommendations throughout the process, not just from December to February.
Several recommendations were made regarding our organizational structure. Top among these, for me, is separating financial management from operational management to create an additional check and balance, similar to what is common in the private sector. Additional recommendations include separating payroll from HR and fully segregating accounts payable from purchasing duties.
Finally, Gibson recommends establishing more key performance indicators in a variety of departments. These include cost per accounts payable full-time employee (FTE), invoices paid electronically vs. manually, computer help desk staffing cost per ticket, number of devices per IT staff, and many others. The development of quantifiable performance indicators in every department will help us meet our goals and further align with our strategic plan.
As always, your voice matters. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.