Audit data shows schools owed additional funding

The detail of data school districts are required to collect on students to receive state subsidies can be overbearing, resulting in questionable state funding for districts or lack of it.

The Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General’s routine audit for Northern Cambria School District showed an underpayment of $25,104 owed to the district from the 2012-13 school year.

“Twenty-five thousand dollars – That’s high,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said. “That’s not common.”

Funds can be recouped by notifying the state Department of Education, he said. The district’s audit includes a response from district administrators that state they are committed to fixing the problem.

Although Northern Cambria’s underpayment was unusually high, DePasquale said schools statewide express the same concerns about the state’s system for collecting and reporting student-level data.

Spring Cove and Bellwood-Antis school districts recently have been underfunded by more than $4,000 and $10,000, respectively, as the result of incorrect student data reporting by the district, 2013 auditor general reports state.

State funding for school districts is based on daily attendance of students, some who live within the district and others who live outside of the district’s boundaries. Depending on where students live outside of the district, the state may fund the school a different amount than for those who are residents in the district.

Districts must track student attendance and label students as “resident” or “nonresident” to receive correct state funding. But if districts incorrectly code whether students live in or outside of the district, there can be thousands of state dollars inappropriately gained or lost.

Bellwood-Antis Superintendent Brian Toth said the Pennsylvania Information Management System [PIMS] is a fair way of distributing state funding but also a burden on districts that deal with tight budgets.

“It eats up hours and hours of manpower to get data, put it in the system, load it to the state and review it three or four times,” he said. “We keep a lot of documentation of what we put in the system. What we give to them [the state] does not always come out the way we put it in. It can be frustrating many times.”

To prevent student data reporting mistakes in the future, Toth said one district employee is going through PIMS certification, and the district also has this year implemented brand new information system software that makes collection of data more fluid, Toth said.

Transient staffing and updating school computer systems also present obstacles to maintaining accurate records.

Changes in responsibilities of staff were reasons cited in Spring Cove and Tyrone Area audits for lack of documentation regarding transportation funding. At Northern Cambria, turnover in the business office has resulted in gaps in communication with private schools regarding students who are transported by the district.

School districts receive a flat rate for transporting private school students, but the Pennsylvania Department of Education has yet to pay more than $9,000 found through the district’s previous audit to be owed the district for nonpublic transportation, the district’s 2013 audit states.

In the grand scheme of budgets spending millions of dollars, a few thousand dollars for nonpublic transportation may not be a windfall, but every little bit helps in the current financial state of schools, school officials said.