UCPS refutes County characterization of unspent Budget funds.

 Budget, School System  Comments Off on UCPS refutes County characterization of unspent Budget funds.
Jul 062015
 

Considering the experience of the last few years, the lack of transparency of UCPS and the School Board, the treachery of their collective and individual behaviors during the Redistricting and the budget process, I would STRONGLY support a 3rd party auditor.

We have reached a point in this county, where many citizens have very little faith in most of our elected officials and the bureaucrats they employ.

UCPS Unspent funds

UCPS Unspent funds

UCPS offers different view on spending

Has Union County’s school system beenunderspending its budget? Union County Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Yates raised that issue at a recent board of commissioners meeting. During a slide presentation that explained why the county planned to give the school system $12.5 million less than it requested, Yates showed a chart that indicated the school system hasunderspent its budget in recent years – by millions of dollars per year.However, Union County Public School’s annual audited financial reports give a different perspective.And so does UCPS Chief Financial Officer Daniel Karpinski, who said the chart was a distortion because it doesn’t give a complete picture of the school system’s revenues and expenses.

“You have to take all these numbers in context,” Karpinski said.

He put the numbers in context on June 29, the morning before the commissioners approved their budget, which gave $91.9 million to the schools instead of the requested $104.4 million.

Karpinski said he wants taxpayers to understand that Union County Public Schools uses tax dollars wisely.

He pointed to the chart’s information for fiscal year 2013. The chart showed a budget of $88.2 million that year, with expenditures of $86.5 million – a difference of $1.7 million.

Karpinski said the chart didn’t show that $1.65 million of the budget that year was “returned back to the county” because the $1.65 million designated for teacher assistants ended up being funded by the state, instead of the county.

So, the $1.7 million difference would have been nearly erased, he said.

“It’s taking budget versus actual,” he said of the figures on the chart. “Why wouldn’t you do actual revenues versus actual expenditures?”

For fiscal year 2015, the chart estimated that the school system would have nearly $8 million of its budget left unspent by the end of the fiscal year. Karpinski said he’s been running numbers every day and that estimate is much too large. There could be $3 million left over, he said.

He disputed other figures on the chart too, including a box claiming UCPS underspent its 2014 budget by 8 percent.

Karpinski also said any money remaining at the end of the fiscal year goes into the budget for the next year. And sometimes unspent money is saved for multi-year projects such as the technology program called the 1:1 initiative, which provides laptops for students to use. That technology initiative reduced the school system’s general fund balance by $3.1 million during the 2014 fiscal year.

The chart Yates presented said the difference between budgeted and actual amounts for 2014 was $6.9 million. But the 2014 annual report said UCPS’s remaining fund balance after that technology expenditure was $741,838.

The annual reports provide perspective to the school system’s budget requests and needs. For example, in 2014 it had $353.4 million in expenses. Nearly $3.5 million of those expenses were categorized as “payments to other governments.”

Karpinski said this is the category UCPS uses that includes payments to cover Union County residents who attend charter schools – even when those charter schools are in other counties.

Other expenses included $255 million for instructional services, $69.4 million for supporting services and $17.6 million for school food services.

Comprehensive annual financial reports for UCPS are available online for the last seven years. The 2015 report won’t be posted until late fall or early winter because the final audit is not scheduled until October, Karpinski said.

Source: UCPS offers different view on spending | The Charlotte Observer

 Posted by at 4:49 pm
Jun 132015
 

In the midst of a new UCPS controversy alleging abuse of special needs children, which was brought to light by their  parents, a second controversy emerged at last weeks School Board meeting concerning the lack of text-books in Union County schools.

Monroe parent Heather Henage spoke to the school board in detail about the shortage of text-book materials at her children’s school.

Parent Heather Henage

Parent: Heather Henage

Ms. Henage’s reported that during her research into the lack of text books at her children’s elementary school, she received a number of curious responses from UCPS.

 “At the high school level some classes are provided text-book sets for use;  however funding has not been allocated by the state for  individual student copies.”

 “Elementary schools have not been  provided funds from the state  to support a district-wide adoption in the four core areas, thus there are no district wide text counts required.”

“Digital text specifically,  have not been purchased for the school system for high school middle school and elementary schools, many of the digital text are the same cost as traditional text books.”

Ms. Henage points out, “Based on these quotes, the bottom line is that our students don’t have texts, digital or print. It’s hard for me to comprehend how UCPS got into this situation.” She went on to mention that UCPS’s per pupil expenditure was $7202.00 in 2014, but (UCPS) only spent $6.04 of that on state approved text. “More shockingly, $0 on State-approved textbooks during the current school year. This level of spending on texts has been typical for UCPS since 2010. We hear repeatedly that the State of North Carolina is to blame because it cut textbook funding.” she continued.

Ms. Henage then asked a series of questions:

“We hear repeatedly that the state of North Carolina is to blame because it is cutting back text-book funding, why has UCPS spent on 20% of the budgeted amounts on state approved texts since 2010, while transferring 51% of the text-book budget to other accounts?”

Why is UCPS sitting on the other 29% of the budgeted amount?

Why does UCPS have $1.5 million of unspent text-book funds?

Between 2010 and 2013, why did UCPS spend $30.1 million on instructional computer equipment? Thirty-five times what it spent on texts during that same period.

It seems that UCPS found money to spend on laptops over those years, but why not on “texts”?

How can high school and middle school study at home when they are using shared classroom sets of text (books)?

Why is UCPS increasing the educational disparity in the county by relying on individual school fundraising to fill in the gaps in funding for texts and classroom materials?

Why does Sun Valley 1.8 textbooks per student, approximately one-third the number of textbooks at Porter Ridge?

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 4.56.15 PM

Accounting for the Funds

Years ago, the common complaint from school board and administration was that the State locked them into spending specified dollars on specific items. Not only did that cause an accounting system and budget analysis nightmare, it was a disservice to the students. Over the last four years the school system has been granted much more latitude, seemingly, in retrospect,  to the detriment of books in the classroom.

I contacted Rep. Craig Horn about the fund shifting by UCPS, as mentioned by Ms. Henage. Mr. Horn responded with the following.

“You may know that the House budget (now in the Senate) includes a requirement that each LEA (Local Education Authority) now specifically report about any money moved out of textbooks and Digital Supplies as well as a better accounting to the public of from and to where money is moved. This requirement does not inhibit the movement, it only requires that the LEA’s be accountable instead of just blaming the State”.

In recent years, North Carolina is making a big push into digital education. The theory often espoused is that through the use of technology, children can learn at there own pace. Admirable right?

Since the introduction of the Dell netbooks into the classroom back in 2010, which was followed by the current multi-year, multi-million dollar purchases of Chromebooks, I’ve been have wondered where the content is coming from. Apparently, that remains an issue. From my own experience of having a student with a Chromebook at home, I can testify that Chromebook was only used from internet content and doing homework in Google Docs. There was no digital content provided by UCPS, textbooks still contributed to a 40lb backpack.

Buying the horses without the oats

Content is everything, as we’ve seen. When will the Chromebooks actually replace a textbook?

Much has been made of the  bringing the digital world and the global economy into the classroom. Its is a worthy goal in my view, but it should not be done at the cost of a good education for the children in the schools system today. As the new budget unfolds in coming weeks, we need to place close attention to the UCPS plans and implementation of digital education, to protect those students still living in an analog classroom.

 

 Posted by at 5:04 pm
Jan 252014
 

WS0607_Cupcake-Wars-Angry-Birds-01_s4x3_lgAt the recent Union County Board of Education work session ((January 23, 2014)) concerning the proposed and extremely controversial student redistricting, a heckler ((a concerned parent)), as described by the news media, shouted “Suck it Cupcake!” while board member Kevin Stewart was speaking. A chorus of hoots, howls and laughter followed; most likely in response to the character of the questions Mr. Stewart was directing at Dr. Ellis and Dr. Webb, but the timing was perfect. Very few people know what was being referenced by the remark, so here is the back story.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine ((of the Sherman and Mr. Peabody cartoon)) to March of 2012. If you remember, the 2012-13 County Budget cycle was an occasion where members of the Board of Commissioners laced budget negotiations with open attacks on UCPS and the school board. The verbal criticism included colorful phrases like “spending like drunken sailors” from Jonathan Thomas or “stop spewing your bald face lies” by Todd Johnson, which only served to ramp up the animosity between boards. (View Jonathan Thomas Budget Comments of 2012 @19:40 minutes)

In an attempt to sway public opinion, Commissioner Todd Johnson (according to court testimony) joined with Kevin Stewart to create a webpage specifically designed to exploit the state cuts in funding for teachers and teacher assistant and use them as a straw man to attack the school administration. Mr. Stewart has been an outspoken critic of school spending, the school administration and was never shy about editorializing his viewpoint.

One of the more revealing segments of sworn testimony in the August lawsuit between the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education, was the details of the of how Mr. Stewart operated the website with the collaboration of Commissioner Johnson.

The phrase shouted out in Thursday’s meeting referenced the following post of April 24, 2012 in Citizens for Union County Teachers, where Mr. Stewart closed the post with the following “Quit hiding behind skirt tails Ed and Dan, face the music; Luan, suck it up cupcake, you get paid very well to answer questions”. ((The original version of the post just said “suck it cupcake”, the “up” was added later)) The attack on Luan Ingram, then the UCPS Communications Director, referred to a television interview where Ms. Ingram appeared irritated at the questions being asked by a reporter. Many people found Mr. Stewart’s comments very offensive and indicative of how coarse the politics have become. Few people knew of Mr. Johnson’s involvement though many of the comments mirrored those posted in the EJ of the time.

Suck_it_Up_Cupcake

[Click to enlarge]
For years Mr. Stewart and I have been adversaries on many of the issues facing the county and the school system, we’ve had spirited exchanges on the Village Scribe and opposing letters to the editor in the Enquirer Journal. Contrary to my expectations after Mr. Stewart was elected to the school board in November of 2012, he has recognized the financial issues the school system faces and is now a vocal proponent.
 
postscript4
 
 

I have had requests for more examples of the now defunct Citizens for Union County Teachers website. When I realized that was taken offline back in June of 2012, I knew from past experience the something was up. So I archived it just in case. The Cupcake remark gave cause to explain the reference and now readers are curious.

Citizens for Union County Teachers Page 1
 

Citizens for Union County Teachers Page 2


RETRACTION: The VSO received an phone call from Commissioner Thomas, “requesting” that his name be removed from any association to Kevin Stewart’s former website. I reported on what was purported to be court testimony conveyed to me by someone who was present in court. Commissioner Thomas vehemently denied any connection. I should have noted the secondhand nature of the information.

 Posted by at 7:01 pm
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