Auditing firm analyzes school system

September 28, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Auditors hired to find ways to make Carroll schools operate more efficiently have recommended that the system hire an additional person in each of three departments, transportation, food services and personnel.

"I was surprised, frankly," County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said of the recommendation to add to the administrative staff. "That will go out like a lead balloon out there with the public."

The auditing firm KPMG Peat Marwick Management Consultants of Washington estimated that the system could save $1.5 million a year on transportation if it put bus routes up for bid on the open market.

The transportation budget this year is $9.3 million to transport about 21,000 of Carroll's approximately 24,700 students.

Superintendent Brian Lockard said he has asked his staff to put together an action plan based on the audit to determine which recommendations to act on first, which to act on later and which, perhaps, not to act on at all.

"I think it was helpful," Dr. Lockard said. "Any time we have an outside group take a look at what the system is doing, and we get information we can use to be more efficient, we're interested in that."

The audit was a partial one, and county commissioners and the school board will consider auditing other areas later.

The commissioners picked up the $45,000 bill.

"I saw enough to encourage me to proceed further," Mr. Lippy said.

Putting the bus routes up for bid could affect local bus contractors, who might have trouble competing with larger corporations from outside the county, said Ann M. Ballard, vice president of the Carroll County Board of Education.

"The money you pay into Carroll County stays in Carroll County," Ms. Ballard said.

"We haven't even seen the audit yet," said Dianne Grote, president of the Carroll County Association of School Bus Contractors. "I am not in a position to make any comment."

She said a change to bidding would be "a definite concern."

For the past two years, bus contractors have asked for increases in reimbursement rates to keep up with rising costs. Each year, the schools added some money.

James Doolan, supervisor of transportation, said the change is worth studying and might not leave local bus contractors out in the cold.

Because of all the variables involved, he said, he was wary of estimates of how much the schools could save by going to open bids.

Since 1982, all school systems in the state have used a formula set up in each district for reimbursing companies that transport the majority of their students, said Mr. Doolan, a past president of the Maryland Association of Pupil Transportation.

Although each local system has the authority to change to bidding, most do so for only a few contracts, such as for some special education routes.

In Carroll, contractors sign up for routes according to the location of their garages. Those who sign up first have the first chance to win the contract. There is no bidding.

The formula is based on flat rates for vehicle allotment, driver salary, fuel and maintenance cost.

Ms. Ballard said she was glad to see the audit confirm what she already knew -- that Carroll's central administration was not overstaffed.

"I still feel like $45,000 is a lot of money," she said of the cost of the audit. "They could have had two more teachers who would have been in the classroom all year."

The audit starts with a summary that says, "Carroll County public schools are generally well-managed and effective," but it adds that some recommendations could improve oversight, planning and savings.

Included were recommendations to:

* Hire a person in transportation to speed up a plan to computerize routing with a software package the schools already have.

* Reduce the sick leave policy that gives staff members 50 percent of their unused sick leave when they retire. That item is part of employee contracts and would have to be addressed in collective bargaining.

* Hire one more staff person in personnel.

* Consider self-insurance for medical coverage.

* Add a staff person to food services with responsibility for marketing, public information and promotion of initiatives.

Eulalia Muschik, supervisor of food services, said she could use another staff person, but not necessarily for marketing, which she does.

She said an extra staff person could be valuable as a field manager to aid and train school cafeteria managers in running their kitchens.

The audit has a history of causing contention between the school board and the county commissioners.

The commissioners want the right to unilaterally order a performance audit of the schools, which spend more than half of the county budget.

An attorney general ruling the commissioners sought several years ago said they didn't have that right. They do, however, have final say over the school budget and over major fund transfers during the year.

The school board has not refused an audit, but it wanted to have equal say in setting the limits and hiring the firm.

By spring, the two boards had agreed to a partial audit this year in food service, transportation and personnel, with other areas possibly to be audited later.

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