School efficiency review presented

Most of the cost-saving recommendations included in a recent efficiency audit of the school system have already been incorporated into next year’s budget, school officials said Friday.

The efficiency audit, conducted by MGT of America, Inc., includes recommendations that could save the school system a net $22.57 million during the next five years.

At a Friday morning work session, T. David Myers, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said the county began working with MGT about six months ago. The audit was conducted as part of the state’s school efficiency review program. That program’s goal is to ensure non-instructional functions are running efficiently so as much of the school division’s funding as possible goes directly into the classroom, and to identify savings that can be gained, according to the efficiency report.

John Ringer, the associate director of the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget, said the study identifies areas where the school division is doing well and areas where money can be saved. Specific dollar amounts of recommended savings are included, as well, he said.

The recommended annual savings amount to about .7 percent of the school system’s budget, Ringer said. Compared to other large school divisions, the amount of money found in the budget that could be redirected through efficiencies is “very low,” he said.

“The findings, I think, show the school division is well run,” Ringer said.

But, he said, there is a difference between efficiencies and cuts that have to be made to meet a budget. The audit does not measure the outcomes of the education the school system provides, as that is the job of the Standards of Learning tests, he said.

“This is probably the only division that had this many commendations in the report,” said Kathy Brooks, of MGT, as she presented the report. Commendations are difficult to get, she said, and are only awarded for going above and beyond requirements and standard practices.

According to the report, MGT identified 58 commendations and 78 recommendations for improving division operations. The school system received commendations for, among other things: sharing services with the county; its community relations department and public information system; its grant program; and providing instruction through online opportunities.

Among the 78 recommendations were: developing an agreement with other area school divisions for employing legal counsel for special education; reorganizing the central office; decreasing elementary school secretary/clerical positions; coordinating the job responsibilities of reading specialists and reading teachers; developing and implementing a process for securing Medicaid reimbursements for eligible services; and reviewing maintenance costs and targeting a reduction of 10 percent.

Matoaca District School Board Member Omarh Rajah asked where Brooks would rank Chesterfield “with potential cost savings” compared with other localities its size. Brooks said the auditors don’t rank divisions, but she noted the high number of commendations the school system received and the low dollar amount that could be saved, compared to its total budget.

“We do think you are a solid school system,” she said.

Myers said about $4.6 million could be saved annually by implementing the recommendations in the report. About $4.4 million of the recommendations have been incorporated into the school system’s spending plan for fiscal 2011, he said.

School Board Chairman David Wyman said the school system had to cut beyond that point. Myers said efficiency saving and budget balancing aren’t necessarily the same thing, and the actual budget cuts during the coming five years could be in excess of $300 million as a result of the economy.

After the meeting, Superintendent Marcus Newsome said the school division had implemented most of the cost-saving strategies, and was “pleased more so with the commendations.”

“We knew we were an efficiently run school division,” he said. “We feel this study validates our efforts.”

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