State audit finds flaws in school district’s efficiency

The findings of a recent state performance audit have left Federal Way school officials displeased.

The Washington State Auditor’s office paid $1.4 million to have a private firm examine the 10 largest school districts in Washington state — including Edmonds, Evergreen, Federal Way, Kent, Lake Washington, Puyallup, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver. The audit looked at administrative efficiency and accountability.

In Federal Way, the audit found that the district had an excessive deferred maintenance backlog, the district needed better strategic planning processes and financial management, and the district should hire an internal auditor. The audit found that all 10 districts examined needed better financial management, and nine of the 10 needed better internal auditing procedures.

The audit stated that the Federal Way district could save money if it followed a series of recommendations, but chief financial officer Sally McLean pointed out that there was an expense associated with many of the recommendations.

“They didn’t find any ways for us to save money unless we spend money,” McLean said.

The audit pointed out that in Federal Way, only repairs or maintenance that were related to basic health, safety and welfare were being performed. At the time of the audit, more than a year ago, the district had a deferred maintenance backlog that totaled $47 million.

“We chose to put our money into classrooms and into teachers and kids, rather than $47 million in maintenance,” Superintendent Tom Murphy said. “We don’t have excess money to put into maintenance. We’re not going to take money out of the classroom for it.”

Since the audit, the district has spent approximately $7 million addressing maintenance items. The $7 million is part of $20 million in state funds that came as a result of bond measure that was passed last year.

The auditors who were responsible for the deferred maintenance recommendation did not visit any schools in the district, McLean pointed out.

“How can you state something if you’ve never been in the school,” school board president Ed Barney asked.

McLean noted that the audit didn’t have anything positive to say about the school district, and it should have.

“I think they should have commended us for a couple things that we are doing,” she said.

Murphy said he wondered if the school district was treated unfairly in the audit because the district is currently involved in two lawsuits against the state.

“It’s mystifying to me that some of the areas where school districts received commendations in the audit were the same things that we’ve been doing for a long time, and we’re actually leaders in those areas,” he said.

The audit should have focused on student achievement, Murphy said.

“I don’t know if there’s anything that’s come out of the audit that’s going to help me realize how to improve student achievement,” he said. “The school district exists for the purpose of student achievement, and if you’re not going to audit that, then what are you spending ($1.4 million) on?”

Contact Margo Hoffman: mhoffman@ or (253) 925-5565.

The board will hear public comment about the audit results at a meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 in Federal Way City Hall council chambers, 33325 Eighth Ave. S.

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