Leadership asked State Board of Education Chairman Jim Porter for an immediate and independent forensic audit of KSDE’s finances, in light of the transportation audit of Legislative Division of Post Audit. In order to determine if the department has unlawfully allocated taxpayer dollars, an audit ought to be conducted to ensure that KSDE is in compliance with state law and the process is done with utmost transparency.
Legislative leadership said in its letter:
“To ensure complete transparency, we further request that you place Mr. Dennis on administrative leave, with pay, during the pendency of this audit and any investigation into this matter by the Office of the Kansas Attorney General. We further ask that you extend this leave to any other KSDE staff who knowingly participated in this misallocation.”
This has been interpreted as a personal attack on Dale Dennis. Some have chosen to believe this is an attack on Mr. Dennis’ character, rather than focus on the facts. It was disappointing to see the State Board of Education take the emotional route instead of assessing the facts and making a rational decision to investigate whether current law is being obeyed. In both the private and public sector, it is common practice to place an individual on administrative leave with pay while an investigation or an audit is underway. This is a protective measure for all parties involved, including the employee being investigated.
The LPA audit, conducted and presented in 2017, determined that the department, apparently relying on through Mr. Dennis guidance, improperly spent over $405 million in taxpayer dollars over several years. The K-12 Education: Evaluating Transportation Services Funding can be found here: http://www.kslpa.org/assets/files/reports/h-17-020.pdf
The audit finds:
“KSDE has correctly executed the numerous calculations in the transportation funding formula for the past five years. However, KSDE has continued to implement a funding minimum to the formula which is not authorized in statute” (p. 11).
In 1973 the statute that governs this specific transportation weighting as a part of the formula was amended, and a minimum threshold was removed. The audit found that from 2014-2018, KSDE has continued to implement this minimum threshold, providing an additional $45 million more in transportation funds than permitted under state law. KSDE does not have the authority to arbitrarily create a new threshold, and they certainly do not wield the power to bypass the legislative process and appropriate taxpayer dollars as they see fit, all of which took place with Mr. Dennis’ direction.
This raises a lot of questions such as: If the rule of law is not important to the Kansas State Board of Education and superintendents, then how can schools sue for what they consider to be unconstitutional? What if every agency was given the ability to interpret law instead of following the law? If clarification is needed, shouldn’t that be done by the legislature?
I am disappointed to hear this has occurred in the agency that is responsible for over 50% of the state budget. Mr. Dennis has been the number one expert for school districts and legislators for over 40 years, and I do understand the strong emotions that surround this issue. However, an interpretation of the law, rather than the law itself, was followed, and that presents a serious problem. This ultimately resulted in the misappropriation of millions of taxpayer dollars over the past few decades.
While much is still unclear at this time, we do know that the law has not been followed for many years. Still, we should withhold judgment until a thorough and impartial investigation takes place.
It is important that all factual information be obtained to determine the accuracy of the allocation of transportation funds within legal parameters. Such a determination should remove personalities from the process, and should result in the correct resolution to the questions posed by leadership.