Public schools need
a financial officer
to keep its books


An independent review shows deficiencies in the Department of Education's financial management.

AN audit of the state Department of Education's finances makes a strong case for assigning a skilled manager to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent properly and that schools are getting the most for their money.

Though the review did not accuse the department of wasting money, it clearly showed an acute need to overhaul duplicative programs, get rid of those that fail to accomplish their purposes, streamline operations and improve communications.

The audit commissioned by the Board of Education took a top-to-bottom look at the department's 278 state-funded programs, including school bus service, payroll functions, data-collecting technology and hiring procedures. It showed that at least 89 programs aren't monitored adequately and that 57 lack necessary oversight.

As the Star-Bulletin's Dan Martin pointed out, Hawaii's schools account for the largest portion of the state's budget at more than $1.7 billion. However, the audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers noted that in spite of the huge sum, it is inadequate funding that hampers the department's ability to track finances and performance. During the review period, for example, the department's own auditor's office was staffed by just one person.

At the same time, the audit suggest that the abundance of programs also contributes to the problem, especially since many overlap while others have lost sight of their goals.

Spreading responsibilities also appears to insert difficulties, particularly in hiring and training practices. Seven separate programs managed by three different DOE divisions that do not communicate with each other portion out teaching positions to schools. Unwieldy hiring procedures deter many qualified applicants from taking jobs. Meanwhile, training and professional development is handled by at least four offices.

Some of this comes about because needs differ from school to school, but coordination is necessary to gain and retain top teachers and administrators.

The audit comes at a time when the department is shifting the way it distributes and uses funding to allow principals more control. But lines of authority should be clearly defined so there is no confusion. At present, program managers believe they lack power to govern how money is used at the school level.

Though the audit argues that insufficient funds impedes system improvements, the board and department must sort core programs from the inessential. Reducing barriers between divisions also would check turf wars.

Above all, the department should have an adept money manager who can work with the schools superintendent and integrate sound business practices.

Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes
the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek
and military newspapers


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