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Mayor encourages performance audits for schools

Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean
Tuesday September 24, 2002

Recently the City Council heard a request from members of the community to place a charter amendment on the November ballot requiring the school district to conduct performance audits. The city attorney responded by asking an attorney with experience in this area for an opinion as to whether the city has the power to do this. The reply was that the district is already required to provide a “yearly audit of its books and performance,” and that there was no evidence that the current audit structure needed to be fixed or that the request to require a performance audit was workable. As a consequence, the proposal was derailed and sent to the Joint City-School District “2x2” Committee and the superintendent of schools. The council also directed staff to seek a further opinion from the Attorney General.  

Throughout the discussion, opinions were expressed, pro and con. Frankly little light was shed and the main point, establishing accountability, seems to have been lost. Our schools are probably our community's most important asset. We all pretty much agree that if we don't have good schools, we lose as a community. We also seem to agree that our schools urgently need as much community support as possible. Performance audits will help us pinpoint the problems. It isn't a question of costs, legalities, or individual personalities. It is a question of how best to proceed to fix the problems. A financial audit will tell us what the dollars were spent on, but a performance audit will dig deeper into the details of how and why the dollars were spent and the results those dollars achieved. 

We know the district is in financial trouble and we have read in the papers some of the reasons for that. It is the responsibility of everyone in the community to rally around our schools and to offer them support. It is also our duty to ensure that productive change occurs. Such change is occurring under the new superintendent and the school board, but to restore public confidence, we must ensure that the process is clear, understandable, verifiable and independent.  

If the governor signs AB 2859 (Aroner), the Fiscal Crisis Management Team that comes may be able to do this through their comprehensive assessment process in which they closely examine such areas as governance, community relations, personnel, facilities, and academics. This comprehensive assessment process may produce the same information as a performance audit. However, the public must still be assured that this will adequately meet their concerns, and that recommendations from this process will result in permanent and constructive change. This process must be a true partnership of board, superintendent, staff, parents and students and community, all pulling together with the common goal of supporting and improving our schools. Secondly, safeguards need to be in place so that the recommendations of the assessment team will be implemented and continue after the team leaves. This process must be open and above reproach if we are to achieve excellence in our schools. 

I am pleased that our city auditor has instituted a number of performance audits of city programs, and I encourage her to significantly expand this effort. In a time of a declining economy city and schools must spend our resources wisely to achieve the best possible result. The reason why I am disturbed enough to write this article urging the school district take similar action, is my distress over learning what had happened with the district's much-vaunted food policy and program. I am astonished to learn that in just one year the district ran approximately $1 million into debt for this one program and ended up serving more unhealthy meals today to fewer students than it did when the program started. 

It is just such issues that performance audits will examine so that real solutions can be found. That is what I am hoping to achieve. 

Recommending a performance audit should not be seen as a criticism of the school board or the superintendent, who are working hard on our behalf. In fact, I invite them all to join me in making sure performance audits are done, and then in making sure that solutions are developed and implemented. The time has come for performance audits to be done. It's a beginning step that I believe should be taken.