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Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Hawaii State Seal

State auditor says DOE
reporting needs overhaul

By Mary Adamski

The Department of Education uses a reporting method that leaves lawmakers and Board of Education members without complete and relevant information about expenditures, the state auditor says.

The department's format limits comparative analysis and that hampers making informed decisions, said auditor Marian Higa in a fiscal-accountability audit of the department.

The report released yesterday recommends that the Legislature expand reporting requirements. It also recommends that the Board of Education require details similar to those produced by a particular computer software program used by the auditor.

The auditor's office used In$ite -- the Financial Analysis Model for Education, a computer program used by 480 other school districts, and it shows:

Bullet The state spent $6,998 per pupil in fiscal year 1998-99, an increase of $638 per pupil over 1995-96.

Bullet Compared to that 10 percent increase, the per-pupil cost of special education rose 28 percent in the same period.

Bullet Of the total $1.3 billion spent in 1998-99, 49.5 percent went for actual face-to-face teaching and classroom materials. Spending for instructional support was 13 percent; for operations, 16.6 percent; other commitments, 14.9 percent; and leadership, 5.9 percent.

The auditor used Department of Education data from the past four years to generate comparisons in the computer program. The office also used education-related spending from other agencies, such as costs of student transportation, repair and maintenance, and legal services.

School Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said the department is willing to provide greater detail in its expenditure reports. The selected comparisons offered in the auditor's report are "interesting," but, he pointed out, "In each case, there are many possible factors that contribute to the answers to each question. We must not be seduced into simplistic answers to these very deep questions."

The superintendent said the auditor's recommendations focus on implementing a particular commercial product, In$ite, which was developed in 1995.

"One wonders whether it is still appropriate to recommend In$ite, or rather to evaluate and recommend the most appropriate product in the context of a changing product marketplace," he said in a written response published with the audit.

Higa said the program showed differences as schools comply with the Felix consent decree mandating special-education services. The special education per pupil cost was $1,500 lower than the state average at the Nanakuli complex of public schools, while the Konawaena complex spent $700 more per pupil than the average. But it's Nanakuli that is in compliance with the Felix mandate, and Konawaena hasn't met the requirements.

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