What if I told you there were potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in government waste waiting to be put into teachers’ salaries and our public school classrooms? I’ve spent the last three years in office as your State Auditor looking at how we can better spend education money, and three recent reports from my office shed new light on that question.
The performance audit division in the Office of the State Auditor recently partnered with GlimpseK12, an advanced data analytics firm, to see how three Mississippi school districts can stretch their dollars further, and their report yielded some promising results.
The first report found that the Hinds County School District (HCSD) could save $3.7 million annually on outside-the-classroom spending. By eliminating unused software, lowering maintenance costs, and optimizing transportation services, HCSD can put that money back into the classroom.
Our second report found similar savings in the Columbus Municipal School District (CMSD). There, by implementing many of the same changes as HCSD, CMSD could save $3.2 million annually in outside-the-classroom spending. Additionally, CMSD does not currently employ a district-wide purchasing officer. By creating a centralized purchasing department, GlimpseK12 suggested that CMSD could save up to 20% on goods purchased by individual schools.
The final report found that the Starkville Oktibbeha School District (SOSD) could save $5.3 million annually by eliminating much of the same ineffective spending plaguing the other districts. But more than that, the report indicated that SOSD has an opportunity to save even more money by improving their bidding and purchasing functions by implementing more modern, data-driven standards.
The work done to help these three school districts identify areas of ineffective spending is a wonderful start, but one of the real highlights of these reports is the opportunity to expand this project to include more or even all of Mississippi’s school districts in the future. If we found similar savings in every school district that we identified in these three districts, the state could potentially eliminate more than $200 million in outside-the-classroom waste every year.
From a sheer numbers perspective, those savings could mean quite the teacher pay raise. For instance, last year the teacher pay raise passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor cost about $50 million.
I want to thank all of the districts that participated in these reports. They volunteered to have this study done. We could not have completed them without the help of their administrators and staff. We hope that these findings will turn into real savings for these districts and will help create a better learning environment for their students.
I’m personally invested in the success of our public schools here. I went to public schools for all of my K-12 education and then attended a Mississippi public university. My mother was a public school teacher of 35 years. My grandmother and grandfather were public school teachers. I used my public school education to go to Harvard Law School, and then I came back to Mississippi to raise my family and work to make this state the best place it can be.
Part of doing that is asking hard questions about how government spends your money. I’ve asked some tough questions about why administrative costs in Mississippi’s school districts keep going up as the number of students and the number of teachers decreases. These three analyses of school district waste are a start at answering those questions. As long as I am your State Auditor, I will continue to work to make sure taxpayers have a watchdog who will ensure they understand where their money is going and how it can be spent in a way that maximizes its impact.
Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor of Mississippi