SPRINGDALE – Chris Librizzi, managing director of Parthenon-EY, and the rest of the performance audit team stayed true to their word and created an analysis that focused heavily on what the school system is doing right. On Monday night, the performance audit team met with the Prince George’s County Board of Education and the county […]
SPRINGDALE – Chris Librizzi, managing director of Parthenon-EY, and the rest of the performance audit team stayed true to their word and created an analysis that focused heavily on what the school system is doing right.
On Monday night, the performance audit team met with the Prince George’s County Board of Education and the county council in a joint session to go over some of the findings from the eight month-long audit of Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) business practices. It was the second time this year the two bodies met for a public meeting.
“For us this process started in 2011, just to get here,” said County Council Chair Derrick Davis. “This dialogue is a long time coming, and it’s here. It’s our commitment to continue this dialogue and this is a vehicle that allows us to have a common ground on how to have that dialogue.”
The board of education signed EY’s contract in March, listing the budget implications at $495,000. However, they signed a contract stating the contractor will be employed for an “initial term of one year” and the county and PGCPS will pay them “an amount not to exceed $990,000.”
The audit team, comprised of Ernst & Young, LLC and Parthenon, a branch of EY, spent roughly a year digging into 12 percent of the school system’s budget spending that related directly to its business process. The team had dubbed the audit as a “continuous business process improvement” study.
“The scope of the services performed did not constitute an audit or other attestation procedures as to the effectives of the PGCPS procedures and controls or the efficiency of PGCPS’ use of financial resources,” the group’s executive summary introduction reads.
The scope of the study did not include executive salaries, union negotiation, or salaries of any sort, Librizzi said, explaining that the other 88 percent of the budget was beyond the purview of the study.
He said the group found no “meaningful areas of waste or spending levels that are dramatically out of line with comparable organizations,” in the 12 percent of the budget they analyzed.
The study, however, dug deep into 15 different business processes throughout PGCPS, which included researching the system’s IT security and investment, research into the quality and utilization of specialty programs, studying how the system handles finance, treasury, payroll and accounts payable, how the system creates the budget, and looking into four key areas involving transportation and facilities.
Librizzi said the team talked to approximately 105 individual stakeholders, more than 100 attendees at an April town hall, visited 55 school and 15 non-school sites and assessed more than 3,500 pages of documentation. However, the school system has more than 130,000 students and approximately 19,000 employees. There were fewer than 10 citizens present at Monday’s hearing as well.
“In all, the result of that is we identified 89 opportunities for continuous improvement across the assessment areas within the study,” Librizzi said.
At the meeting Monday, Librizzi briefed the council and board on the study in brevity, explaining that a full report is expected later this year with more details.
EY broke the 89 opportunities for improvement into four main focus areas, which included program and resources, transportation and facilities, business management and IT, with 16 subcategories.
There were seven individual categories EY thought needed improvement, one that needed significant improvement, one that was reflective of leading practices and seven that were approaching leading practices.
“We saw a strong degree of compliance (with student cyber security). At the other end of the spectrum would be an area that needs significant improvement. You can see here that our area of transportation was separated into three areas and in the area of pedestrian and bus lot safety, that was an area that was flagged as needing significant improvement,” Librizzi said.
Other suggested areas of improvement included creating a five-year financial plan aligned to the strategic plan, which the school system has not done; building the capacity for rigorous budget analysis across departments; developing a more robust preventative maintenance program; revamping a number of school security functions, increasing incentives for bus drive positions, improving bus lot facilities; improving practices to discern validity of sick leave requests; and investing in improved and efficient technology.
The study also took a hard look at specialty programs in PGCPS. That includes programs like dual immersion, International Baccalaureate (IB), creative and performing arts, and talented and gifted.
EY specifically looked at “returns on investments” for the programs – essentially, how much bang the school system was getting for their buck in specific programs.
The study showed that about 17 percent of students utilize specialty programs and they are more often utilized by students in more affluent areas such as Laurel, Bowie, Accokeek, Glenn Dale and Upper Marlboro. Students in areas such as Bladensburg, Riverdale, Adelphi and Mount Rainier were far less likely to enroll.
County Councilwoman Deni Taveras said she was shocked and appalled by that statistic and said PGCPS’ programs are systematically not reaching Latino students.
“They’re not being reached and you can see in terms of the data, you can see it from the maps, you can see it from all directions and that’s concerning to me. I think it leaves a lot to be desired, looking at it countywide,” she said. “I think there’s been a disenfranchisement of this population.”
Librizzi said there are also several programs such as French immersion and creative/performing arts that are already at, or will likely reach, capacity while the career path programs and IB are well below capacity.
“There are a number of program types in the county that are operating effectively at full capacity and that have significant excess demand in terms of the number of applications they receive,” Librizzi said. “You can also see some programs where there is significant excess capacity. That is not to say that the families that are enrolled in these programs don’t significantly value them.”
Librizzi said the school system should consider that in analyzing the returns on investment in the programs and their overall cost.
On top of that, EY estimates it would cost nearly $19 million to expand the career academies, Spanish immersion and other programs PGCPS has sought to expand while at the same time not having any “systematic procedures in place for assessing the impact of specialty programs on student outcomes and comparing these outcomes to the additional cost required,” the study reads.
Librizzi said the school system is not alone in that challenge, but it is another area for possible improvement.
EY’s full report is expected by the end of the year.