Seattle Public Schools implements financial system improvements

Published on: May 27, 2010

For many years, Seattle Public Schools has been working to improve the financial management of our district. As reported by the Alliance for Education, public confidence that the district’s resources are being spent wisely has increased steadily since 2006.

Despite year after year of state funding shortfalls, the district has committed to improving instruction in every classroom. Strategic budgets have been created to protect the instructional core while ensuring the health of the organization. For instance, the district has a prudent reserve and now supports an internal audit function.

Outside experts have recognized the overall impact of the district’s improved financial management. Moody’s Investor Services recently upgraded the district’s debt ratings to Aa1 for General Obligation Limited Bonds and Aaa for General Obligation Limited Tax Bonds. The Aaa bond rating is the highest that Moody’s gives.

While overall performance continues to improve, SPS has experienced specific challenges. An annual report from the Washington State Auditor’s Office covers both Seattle Public Schools’ financial statements and federal awards from September 2008-August 2009. While no material instances of non-compliance were found in the district’s financial statements, the report recommends improvements to the design and operations of internal controls.

SPS has already taken steps to correct specific problems, including changing requirements to ensure that all aspects of grant compliance monitoring reside in one department; generating internal reports to show where exceptions and possible errors could be occurring; and putting procedures in place to correct past mistakes in applying for federal funding.

Underscoring the urgency for immediate improvements in specific areas, Superintendent Dr. Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D., said, “Inaccuracies in our financial systems are not acceptable. The public deserves to expect that we have efficient systems and accurate reports.  We have a strong commitment to being excellent stewards of the resources we receive on behalf of our students.”

With respect to inaccuracies in the payroll system that resulted in overpayment to some employees, SPS has already recovered $71,281 (more than 21 percent) of the overpayments and employee payment plans are in place to recover $145,609, for a total of $216,000 (61 percent of the total overpayments). The district is also working to recover about $61,600 due from individuals who are no longer employees, and is in the process of investigating the remaining overpayments.

“Seattle Public Schools has a complex financial system that involves more than half a billion dollars in annual budget and more than 8,000 employees. While errors occur in any system, we are committed to having controls in place that catch errors and correct them quickly,” Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said.

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