Amid Shrinking Budget, Gilbert Public Schools Appeals State Audit

Published: Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 1:09pm
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 1:29pm

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Gilbert Public Schools will appeal a state audit that found it miscalculated student enrollment and as a result owes the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) close to $1 million. 

The governing board approved the appeal at a Tuesday meeting.

Specifically the district is refuting two findings:

  1. That it miscalculated the enrollment of 512 high school students, which lead to a $952,739.67 over payment in state funding.
  2. That it inaccurately reported attendance for 1,385 online students, which lead to a $28,090,71 over payment in state funding.

The audit investigated data from fiscal years 2014 to 2016.

There will be an informal settlement meeting with the Department of Education, said ADE  spokesman Stefan Swiat.

If the findings are upheld, ADE will withhold funding from the district until it’s repaid.

RELATED: Arizona's New School Data System In Peril With Zero Dollars In State Budget

Gilbert Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment.

ADE has released 14 audits in 2017 so far, all but two show mistakes resulting in over or underpayment of the school district.  

Arizona Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat said larger school districts often show more significant discrepancies.

“If they make a mistake or if they report something inaccurately, it’s going to compound itself,” Swiat said.

Swiat pointed out that there have been a handful of instances since 2009 when schools have owed the state more than a million dollars. For example, Arizona School for Integrated Academics and Technologies, Inc, was audited for fiscal years 2010 to 2012 and owed close to $4.7 million.

The state gives Arizona public schools a base dollar amount for each student and additional money if students need services such as special education or english language classes.

“It is critical for staffing and for budget reasons because of the recruit and retain issues we’ve been having for over the past five years plus,” said Dianne Smith, executive director at the Greater Phoenix Educational Management Council.

Accurate enrollment counts help ensure schools can hire the right number of teachers to balance class sizes, Smith said.  

Gilbert schools have lost students for years. Fewer students means fewer dollars of base-level funding. A recent budget presentation shows the district could cut 22 teaching positions, outsource grounds operations and eliminate other staff positions. 

The district's maintenance and operation budget is expected to be about $203 million.

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