School performance audit gets boost

August 27, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

A joint meeting of the county commissioners and school board members found common ground yesterday on an issue that has been contentious in the past -- a performance audit.

Such an audit could, depending on the final decisions by the two boards, examine questions such as whether the school system is operating efficiently and meeting its goals, and whether more county and school departments should merge.

The two boards agreed to have staff members develop a definition for a performance audit. Both bodies have agreed to such an audit in principle but have argued in the past over how it would be done and who would control it.

"I certainly didn't want this to be controversial," said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell at the meeting. "There's no need for it [to be that way]."

School board President Carolyn L. Scott said she was glad the meeting ended on a constructive note.

"We started off with a spirit of cooperation, and then it got kind of mixed up, but we worked at it and we smoothed it out," she said.

School Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said he would meet with Steven Powell, director of the county's office of budget and management, to define the performance audit.

In their request for a performance audit, commissioners have asked whether some school operations, such as purchasing, accounting and data processing, would be more efficient if they merged with the corresponding county offices.

School board member C. Scott Stone said he did not want the audit to presume that the county operations were more efficient.

Mr. Powell said any audit that considered such mergers would examine the county departments and those run by the Board of Education.

The Board of Education agreed last winter to the commissioners' request for a performance audit, but only if the board and the commissioners agreed on the definition of a performance audit, and if such an audit was put up for bids on the open market and the commissioners paid for it.

The commissioners agreed to those terms. Instead of a full audit, which could cost as much as $250,000 by some estimates, they suggested auditing some departments now and others later.

School officials have not objected.

Mr. Shilling recommended starting with any of several areas, including maintenance, transportation, food services and personnel.

But he said he did not want to focus on areas run by two new administrators -- Walter Brilhart, the director of administrative services, and Joyce Hinkle, the supervisor of purchasing.

Mr. Brilhart and Ms. Hinkle are new to their positions this fall, and Mr. Shilling said he wanted them to spend their time mastering their areas rather than focusing on the audit.

The commissioners and the school board agreed to meet again once Mr. Shilling and Mr. Powell define the audit.

The next step would be to write a request for proposals, inviting auditing firms to submit bids for the job.

Mr. Powell said that request should spell out specifically what the firm would audit.

"Definitions can be elusive," Mr. Powell said when the board and commissioners were debating what a performance audit meant to each panel.

The commissioners said they were interested in finding ways to save tax dollars, but school board members said they understood that a performance audit would look at whether the system was meeting its goals.

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