New York Times reports on Comptroller audits of school districts

Friday, February 27th, 2009 at 10:30 am by

Today’s New York Times reports on the State Comptroller’s audits of school districts.  The article quotes several superintendents and me.

I assisted the reporter in identifying superintendents to speak with, although she independently contacted all those cited in the article.

I also noted to her that, my sense has been that, more often than not, the district audits have been well-received by school officials.  I added that they have had a positive effect in that school leaders have reviewed the audits of other districts and revised their practices even before their turn to be audited came up.

Here’s the passage quoting me:

Robert N. Lowry Jr., deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said the audits have too narrow a focus because they look only at compliance rather than larger fiscal issues. For instance, he said, state law prohibits districts from putting more than 4 percent of their budget into a general reserve fund — a cap that school officials have said could hamper their ability to avert budget problems in the future.

“It would be helpful if state leaders like the comptroller would question some of these mandates and restrictions,” Mr. Lowry said. “If you do these audits and criticize districts for failing to comply with all these detailed requirements, it reinforces the presumption that they all make sense. In some cases, it would be missing the forest for the trees in terms of what would be most helpful to taxpayers.”

With the reporter, I did note that the district audits, by their nature, have a narrow focus and that the Comptroller’s Office must audit against what is the law, rather than what we might deem sensible.

My criticism is most pertinent to the programmatic audits, where the Comptroller exercises discretion in picking which programs or functions to examine and what benchmarks to apply.

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