Kailua High audit raises questions about reform
The state finds gaps in finances, inventory procedures, hiring of coaches and more
The first-ever management audit of a Hawaii public high school raises questions about whether isle schools are adequately prepared and staffed to take on the additional responsibilities required in a major school reform law.
Kailua High's State Audit
» Past practices could impede improvements to the school's management culture.
» Administrative weaknesses raise questions about the school's readiness to assume enhanced school-based management responsibilities.
» Poor administrative and fiscal practices in the school's athletics program put student safety and fiscal integrity at risk.
» Establish performance levels based on best practices, and identify performance gaps and set improvement goals.
» Recruit members for the school's community council with the ability or knowledge to monitor the school's commitment to, and effectiveness in, meeting its goals.
» Ensure that appropriate expertise and oversight is available at the Department of Education complex level to support and, if necessary, guide school leadership in restructuring school management.
» Ensure that administrative staff receive the training necessary to do their jobs.
» Review inventory procedures.
Source: State auditor
The state Legislature passed Act 51, also known as the Reinventing Education Act, in 2004. Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed it, but the Legislature overrode her veto and the measure became law. * The law seeks to reduce the bureaucracy in the state Department of Education and increases decision-making, budgeting and spending flexibility at the school level.
The state audit of Kailua High School found lax financial controls at the school in managing its $10 million operations budget and, in particular, funds raised by the athletic department. The audit, released yesterday, also found that there is inadequate business administration support for schools.
And the auditor questioned whether the school can change its culture to successfully improve student achievement.
The auditor's report notes that the school's management team has developed school reform plans that have the potential to improve student performance.
However, "historical ambivalence toward school reform efforts, a lack of follow-through, administrative weaknesses, and institutional barriers may hinder Kailua High School's ability to improve and control its future."
The report continues, "A mindset consistent with complacency rather than a commitment to higher expectations is evident."
Among the findings:
» While school leadership focuses on education improvement, school management and administrative oversight are being shortchanged.
» Almost $1 million of the school's $2 million property inventory could not be accounted for and might not exist. The school staff does not have clear responsibility, assignments, support and oversight.
» About $500,000 worth of equipment, including about $200,000 worth of electronics from the schools discontinued media center, could not be located.
» One employee handles most cash functions, and not having enough staff limits the ability to have effective controls and oversight to properly safeguard and record cash.
» Funds raised for athletics are commingled with personal funds.
» Athletic department funds are not deposited into school accounts over which the principal has oversight.
» Coaches were hired, rehired and even finished their seasons before criminal background checks were completed.
» Salary funds for coaches were used for other purposes.
"There's a culture that says it's OK not to keep good track of the assets," state Auditor Marion Higa said. She added that in some cases the departments rules are "too onerous" and should be changed.
Higa said she plans to audit other schools, but she is not sure when those audits will be conducted.
In a written response included in the audit, state schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto agreed with many of the findings and said Kailua High School is taking corrective action.
Board of Education members said yesterday the problems identified in the report can be found at other public schools.
"I don't think Kailua is unique," said board member Darwin Ching. "It's pretty hard for the principal to do everything. We're not giving them all the resources they need."
Garrett Toguchi, chairman of the board's Budget Committee, said fiscal audits performed by the Department of Accounting and General Services show that other schools are not following proper fiscal procedures.
But, he said, given a choice, many principals would rather spend money on teachers and supplies rather than hiring a business manager.
In her written response, Hamamoto said, "Many of the findings (in the audit) are systemic and this report will assist us in focusing on the areas you have cited."
Kailua's principal, Francine Honda, did not return a call asking for comment.
Education Department spokesman Greg Knudsen said Hamamoto was out of town and could not be reached for further comment.
Knudsen said the department has only one internal auditor and cannot conduct regular financial audits of public schools.
He cautioned against drawing conclusions about whether similar problems exist at other schools based on the audit of one school.
"It would be likely that similar problems exist at other schools, but that doesn't mean that it is widespread," Knudsen said.
The audit also suggests changes in Act 51 to allow school community councils better abilities to select members who can provide oversight of schools.
It also identifies "systemic shortcomings" in implementing Act 51, noting that the DOE's guidance and training on administrative and planning issues is "insufficient" and that financial systems are "inadequate to provide principals with information needed to effectively manage their multi-million dollar budgets."
While noting that there might not have been enough time for the DOE to properly implement Act 51, the report is critical of the department for its "one-size-fits-all approach to strategic planning."
"Unless the department can provide competent guidance, it is unrealistic to expect schools to develop effective strategic plans and related performance-based improvement proc-esses," the report concluded.
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
» Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed Act 51, the Reinventing Education Act in 2004 and the Legislature overrode her veto. A Page A1 article Saturday erroneously said Lingle signed the bill into law.