School Reporting Errors

By: John Lukach    Date: March 26,2014

At the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen Public Hearing On March 18th, 2014, the author of this article made several comments about the Operating Budget and distributed a related handout. This article contains the information from those comments and that handout, along with some updates, relating to

MISLEADING, INCOMPLETE, and INCORRECT SCHOOL REPORTING

A)    Student /Teacher Ratio Reporting Error – Source: Shrewsbury Teacher Data (2012- 13) – Excerpted from State Dept. of Education (DOE) website – http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/teacher.aspx?orgcode=02710000&orgtypecode=5&

Total number of Teachers ……… 286.4

Student/Teacher Ratio ……….. 21.0 to 1

School officials have only now confirmed that the 286.4 teachers reported to the state on this web page was incorrect. They should have reported 360 teachers. This lowers the Student/Teacher Ratio substantially, to 16.7 to 1.

But last November, when the Shrewsbury student/teacher ratio of 21 to 1 appeared in a Community Advocate article that included comments from the superintendent and other school personnel, I wrote a letter to its editor, which was published, saying that there was a problem with the reported ratio. But school officials never arranged to have the Community Advocate print a correction, despite the fact that Shrewsbury school officials reported the incorrect number to the state DOE in the first place.

[Update: After I completed my comments at the hearing, the superintendent said he wished I had contacted him about this problem. But he was later quoted as saying that ‘The error … was brought to the attention of school officials last fall.’ So why were no steps taken to have the Community Advocate print a correction? Why didn’t the school department issue a public correction immediately? Meanwhile, people used the incorrect student/teacher ratio for several months to promote an override, even during School Committee meetings, without being corrected by school officials. And why did I need to contact him about the problem in November if school officials knew about the error? The superintendent should get his story straight.]

B)     Problems with Misleading and Incomplete Expenditure Reports

1) The school department’s 2013 End-of-Year Report, which reports all spending by or for the school department, and which is submitted to the state DOE for various calculations, including per-pupil expenditures, was submitted to the state in December, but all final spending data needed for the report was not received and audited until mid-February. My review indicates that the report as submitted to the state in December under-reported about $400,000 in school spending. I had asked a school official to reconcile this difference, but have not received an answer.

2) SELCO does not allocate to the school department a share of SELCO’s operating costs to support its network infrastructure, but does allocate about $600,000 of these operating costs to the town. Thus school department expenses in this category also appear to have been understated by several hundred thousand dollars.

Together, just these two smaller examples of under-reporting could have caused per-pupil spending to be under-reported by $100 – 200.

3) I had also asked for documentation that supports several larger allocations of town expenses in support of the school department, but the documentation provided was insufficient to determine whether these allocations were correct.

For the last two years I have provided town officials with evidence that other expenses in support of the school dept. have been under-reported, but they have refused my requests to do a complete review of these expenses.

If officials are going to use lower-than-average per-pupil expenditures as a justification for an override, then they should first have to prove that the reported per-pupil expenditures are accurate and complete.