Schools need budget scrutiny, DOE says
Public schools need to hire more workers, increase training and upgrade accounting services to comply with a new law that gives individual schools more control over their budgets, according to the state Department of Education.
The improvements are needed islandwide to prevent schools from mismanaging money under Act 51, also known as the Reinventing Education Act, the department said yesterday during a Board of Education meeting.
The law, approved by the Legislature in 2004, seeks to reduce bureaucracy and increase decision-making, budgeting and spending flexibility at the school level.
The recommendations from the DOE came in response to a state audit that faulted Kailua High School for having lax financial controls in managing its $10 million operations budget and, in particular, funds raised by the athletic department. The audit, released in September, also found that there is inadequate business administration support for schools.
James Brese, assistant superintendent of the Office of Fiscal Services for the DOE, said the department is waiting for a report from Kailua High to reveal what caused the problems. That document, which he said would be ready soon, will allow the department to devise systemwide changes to schools.
"It is going to be very critical for us as a system to look at the correction action plan that Kailua puts together because it will help us to know what needs to happen at the school level to be able to meet the requirements that we have," Brese, who was hired by the department in October, told the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Accountability. "We are a system, and we need to try to help them as much as we can."
The DOE gives school staff financial assistance by hosting three workshops a year here and on the neighbor islands, but it noted that the training needs to be reviewed "to ensure accounting processes and practices are being implemented and followed at the school level."
The department is also hoping to reduce a shortage of administrative services assistants by possibly launching a certification program with community colleges. There is also a need for more people in the Internal Audit Section, which, with only one internal auditor, cannot conduct regular financial audits of public schools.
Finally, the department is developing financial managing reports to make it easier for schools to review their spending, Brese said.