The county School Board last week approved the creation of two auditing positions to help the school system tighten its belt.
The board’s unanimous vote comes as part of an overarching campaign for improved efficiency in a tough budget year, as the school system stares down a $132 million projected deficit in funds for next year. The School Board wants to fill the new positions as soon as February to help narrow that gap.
“It would be foolhardy to think there aren’t significant efficiencies to be gained,” said board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District). “And if we ever need efficiencies, by heavens, we need them now. “
A junior-level position will be added to provide support to the internal auditing office. The second new position will be a senior-level position reporting directly to the School Board, providing some level of independent financial counsel.
Exact position descriptions have not been nailed down. The board will likely meet in February to pin down the details of both positions, according to board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon District), the chairman of the audit committee, who hopes to see the hiring process completed by the end of February.
The School Board set aside funding for the two positions more than a year ago. After considering the results of an independent state audit earlier this year, the audit committee recommended the hiring of the positions as part of its midyear budget review.
School Board members were divided on the timeline for hiring. While some wanted to see the new auditors in place quickly, others expressed concern over the still-nebulous definition of the senior-level position in particular.
Yet Storck tried to impress on his colleagues the urgency of the school system’s situation. The senior level position is needed to oversee a planned financial risk assessment, according to Storck, and that work will help define and refine the position’s purview.
School Board member Patty Reed (Providence District) concurred with Storck.
“I know some of my colleagues are encouraging me to be patient, but my patience has worn thin,” Reed said. “I think that the time has come for us.”
County supervisors have long encouraged the School Board to bring in an independent auditor to advise on the school system’s $2.5 billion budget.
The county controls the school system’s purse strings. For next year’s budget, the Board of Supervisors has promised a 2 percent increase in funding for schools, which would lower the projected budget shortfall to $98 million. The School Board hopes to convince the county to provide more, but even then it would not receive enough to cover the entire shortfall.
The school system’s midyear budget review did show a revenue increase of $3.5 million for the current year, largely the result of an increase in sales tax revenue, which will be rolled into the beginning balance for next year. But the deficit remains large, reinforcing the importance of getting the new auditors in place, according to School Board member Janie Strauss (Dranesville District).
“We know that revenues are tight and our student enrollment continues to grow,” Strauss said. “Therefore, we have to make sure that we are the most efficient and the most effective in everything that we do.”