November 27, 2019 8:48:16 AM
Columbus Municipal School District wants the State Auditor's Office to conduct a performance audit of district spending. But it's likely the auditor's office will tell them to look elsewhere for that service.
The school district's board of trustees voted in a special-call meeting last week to request the performance audit and specifically look at whether CMSD is dedicating enough money to the classroom compared to spending on administration. The auditor's office issued a report earlier this year that was critical of public schools in Mississippi for not spending enough of their funds on students.
"There's an ongoing dialogue about how much money should be going into the classroom, and one thing we want them to look at is if there are classifications they consider to be outside of the classroom that we (the district's board) consider to be money that is going to students," board president Jason Spears told The Dispatch.
Spears said he feels CMSD is operating efficiently, but he hopes the performance audit might reveal areas where spending priorities can improve. It's also another step in an effort to be as transparent as possible with district business, he said.
"We're not fearing a bad outcome," he said. "We're just looking for a true analysis of where we are. ... We know we're doing a good job. But if you're going to do something well, do it as well as you can."
CMSD, just like all public bodies in Mississippi, contracts with a third party for an annual compliance audit -- which determines whether its financial practices are legal. Those audit reports are submitted to the State Auditor's Office.
A performance audit, on the other hand, can be a voluntary process that looks more at system efficiencies. District officials, including board members and Superintendent Cherie Labat, learned about the process at a Mississippi School Boards Association conference earlier this month.
If the State Auditor's Office conducts it, Spears said, he estimated it would cost the district $70 per hour worked. He did not speculate on what the total cost would be.
But the auditor's office is overloaded with performance audit requests, according to office spokesperson Logan Reeves, making it improbable it will grant CMSD's request.
The best option for CMSD, Reeves said, is contracting with a private vendor for a performance audit, though that option might cost more. Other school districts, such as Biloxi and DeSoto County, have taken that route.
"We just don't have the capacity to accommodate all the requests we receive," Reeves said. "We're looking at bolstering the (performance audit) division by requesting more funding from the Legislature."
Spears said he is hopeful the State Auditor's Office will grant CMSD's request mainly because an outside vendor may not use the same guidelines for determining what spending is in or out of the classroom.
"We want to make sure we're utilizing every dollar for the highest benefit of our students," Spears said.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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