School efficiency panel recommends annual school audits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A state panel has recommended that school districts submit to annual financial audits, but it stopped short of endorsing a proposal to limit required teacher negotiation rights.

The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission, which the Legislature created last year to identify ways that the state’s public school system could operate more efficiently, approved the final draft of its recommendations Tuesday.

After a heated discussion, commission members backed away from the more controversial proposals that had been considered, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Those included a bill that would have altered the professional negotiations act so that vacation time, overtime pay, grievance procedures and other items were no longer state-mandated aspects of teacher contract negotiations. It would have allowed districts and teachers unions to negotiate those items only if they mutually agreed, leaving salary and wages as the only items districts would be required to negotiate.

The commission decided to recommend a bill that would require districts to submit to annual financial audits, but it added language saying the Legislature must fund the audits after a debate over unfunded mandates.

Former Republican Sen. John Vratil noted that even though the commission’s report advises against unfunded state mandates, it was considering doing just that.

“It’s very hypocritical,” he said.

Vratil eventually supported the revised bill and voted in favor of the report, even though he said he is not happy with it.

“There are certain aspects of this report that infringe upon local control. There are some aspects of this report that are just less efficient,” he said. “And it’s really ironic that the so-called efficiency commission is recommending things that are inefficient.”

Dave Trabert, president of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, said if the state were going to pay for districts’ financial audits, it should require them to comply with those audits’ findings.

Many school districts are operating inefficiently by choice, he said, and the commission had missed a chance to push districts to improve their business practices.

“The whole purpose of this commission was to get more money into the classroom, find ways to reduce the cost of providing services . so that more money can be made available for the classroom,” Trabert said. “Unfortunately, many members of this commission fought that pretty much every step of the way.”



Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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