An independent audit requested by the Columbus Municipal School District, released Thursday, has identified opportunities for potential savings of $1.6 million to $3.2 million, mostly in four categories.
The CMSD board requested the State Auditor’s Office conduct the performance audit in 2018 as the board developed its five-year plan. The auditor’s office partnered with educational firm Glimpse K12 to look at the district’s efficiency for the school years of 2018-19 and 2019-2020, according to a press release from the SA’s Office released last week.
“My overall impression is that I’m glad we asked for the audit in 2018,” CMSD Board President Yvonne Cox said. “The results arrive at a good time for us as we prepare for our budgeting (for school year 2021-2022). The findings should give us ideas about some things we can do.”
The audit’s range of potential savings reflects the disruption caused by COVID-19, which ended the 2019-2020 school year prematurely and continues to impact spending in some areas disproportionately.
“A lot of the findings, maybe all of them to some extent or another, were affected by our COVID response,” Cox said. “But I do believe there is some information in the finding that can help us spend our money more wisely and effectively.”
Glimpse K12 used data provided by the school district to measure CMSD expenditures against school districts from across the region and country. Highlights from the report included four potential areas for improvement: software programs, bus operations, maintenance and purchasing policies.
The press release said data showed certain education software programs have been underutilized by CMSD teachers and students, and that the district could save up to $100,000 annually if the district eliminated the software licenses. Alternatively, the audit suggested the district work to improve the usage rate of those programs.
Cox said that part of the report reflects the district’s transition from one type of software to another.
“We’re basically using the (assessment and instruction program) iReady software across the board, so some of the older software is being phased out, which is why some of the usage is lower,” she said.
The audit also found transportation costs are higher for CMSD than those for similar school districts in the Southeast. The district has recently moved to save money by bringing bus operations in-house after previously outsourcing its transportation services. CMSD’s annual cost per rider ($1,279) is on the high side of the national peer range ($752 to $1,529) and significantly above the median of regional peers ($756.47). By bringing transportation costs in line with the regional average, CMSD could save more than $700,000 per year, the press release said.
For maintenance, the audit said the district could save nearly $1 million by implementing things like an automated work order system and preventative maintenance schedules, as well as outsourcing certain tasks.
While the audit found the district follows state purchasing laws, it — like many other districts — does not employ a district-wide purchasing officer. By implementing a centralized purchasing department to manage competitive bids, the analytics firm suggested CMSD could save up to 20 percent on goods currently purchased by individual schools.
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said the Glimpse audit will allow district officials to better evaluate its decision-making as well as personnel and programming resources.
“While student achievement remains our primary goal, it is a moral imperative that we use funds to repair and maintain facilities,” she said. “The audit will be an asset to us as we work through a new budget cycle.”
Cox said the CMSD board will review the full 48-page audit at its quarterly retreat on May 8.
“I feel like it’s a very good report,” Cox said. “I think it really helps us understand where we are as we start our planning.”