School Board Member Amy Frogge to Ask for MNPS Budget Audit

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Metro Nashville Public Schools are currently scrambling to save money. It was revealed that the district was facing a $7.5 million budget shortfall, and — down to paper and pencils — the district is on a spending freeze until July 1.

But at least one board member, Amy Frogge, isn't sure the district is being transparent about the reasons for its shortfall — or about spending in the two years since superintendent Shawn Joseph was hired. After exhausting all avenues and being "met with resistance," she says she wants the district's spending to be reviewed by an independent auditor.

"At this point, there is just too much confusion surrounding the budget," Frogge says in a statement. "None of us on this board have expertise in finance, and we need help from someone who does. The only way to build back trust with the community is to request an audit."

One example of the confusion: When Frogge learned about the budget shortfall, she asked the district about management and consulting costs at Central Office. They sent back a graph showing that costs from the 2016-17 fiscal year were $290 million. Rather than sending her the current year's costs, they included a note saying this year's data could be found "on the Centralized Services portion of the Funding Allocation tab in the school budgets.”

When she went to find it herself, she found a $16 million increase in costs at Central Office. But she's still not sure where those costs are for the upcoming 2018-19 budget.

"In the original budget tool distributed to schools in February, there was a reported $9 million increase in centralized services," Frogge says. "Then, last week, parents at a PAC meeting were told that Central Office costs would increase next year by $8 million. I’ve received reports that at some point after the PAC meeting, Central Office re-sent a new budget to schools, reflecting a decrease in centralized services of $14 million dollars (from $315 million to $301 million). However, schools were told there was a $7.5 million decrease in centralized services. This leaves an unexplained discrepancy of $6.5 million. To further confuse things, board members received an email after the PAC meeting stating that the PAC was given incorrect information based upon a clerical error. According to that email, Central Office costs will decrease this year by $12 million (from $315 million [to] $303 million). Which of these numbers is accurate? I’m not sure."

And then there's the issue of reallocating Title 1 funds. (Title 1 funds are federal dollars given to schools with high percentages of low-income students.) The district announced that in the next budget, it planned to shift the federal money that comes with Title 1 to schools with a higher percentage of low-income students than it had in the past. The previous bar was 50 percent low-income, and it's now 75 percent. Frogge says the district never engaged in a real conversation with board members about this huge change.

Says Frogge of the upcoming budget: "Numbers do not align. There have been clerical errors and miscalculations. There are reports that salaries have been overestimated. There are reports that the budget tool shows discrepancies in calculations of average salaries. There are reports of arbitrary pay increases for some employees that do not align with the appropriate pay scale. Schools remain confused about the process and changes, even when they have worked with Central Office staff."

She says that on a school level, the district has sent budget plans and then pulled them back, and at a Title 1 meeting with the board, a budget was given to board members and then retracted.

"I have spoken to a large number of people involved with the budget process across the entire district, and they all unanimously tell me the same thing," says Frogge. "This budget does not make sense. Something’s amiss."

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