SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative audit made public Tuesday says high turnover and heavy workloads of employees of the Utah State Board of Education contribute to challenges with oversight of educational programs and initiatives.
The audit calls on the board of education to do a better job overseeing education programs and initiatives such as the state's strategic plan, K-3 reading improvement programs and digital teaching and learning initiatives, among others. But it also noted the impact of employees' heavy workloads and a staff turnover rate that is twice the state average.
"(The board of education) has experienced significant turnover in recent years, averaging 19 percent. From July 2013 to July 2017, the agency had an average yearly turnover of 58 of about 304 individuals (full- and part-time) that staff the organization. By contrast, the turnover rate for the state for fiscal year 2017 was 8.3 percent," auditors wrote.
When compared to surrounding states, "Utah has the lowest number of state-level education staff per the number of students in public education when compared to neighboring states."
Utah's ratio of state-level education staff to students is 1:2,488 compared to Colorado, which has a 1:1,764 ratio, or Arizona, with a 1:2,118 ratio, the audit states.
In some instances, employee turnover has disrupted institution of educational programs as well as access to historical financial data.
"For one program, Critical Languages, we could not obtain funding information prior to fiscal year 2012," the audit states. However, the audit notes that the agency "changed its financial operating system as of July 2017 to improve the accounting system."
The audit also took issue with the board's handling of Student Leadership Skills Grant Program, which was created under legislation passed during the 2013 legislative session.
"Changes to the program were made in each subsequent year it was funded," including postponing a program evaluation and converting the pilot program into an ongoing program.
"However, program data showed that schools did not have a strong interest in the program. (The board) should have been more accountable to the Legislature and reported intermediate results. Based on that information, the Legislature may have made different program policy decisions," auditors wrote.
The audit also raised concerns about the oversight of the critical-languages and dual-language immersion pilot programs.
In 2009, the Legislature changed how the programs received money through the Minimum School Program.
"Following this change, and absent appropriate oversight at the (board of education), funding intended for both programs was used to expand Dual Immersion while allowing Critical Languages to exist only in statute after it depleted initial distributions in 2014," the audit states.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, called the audit every bit as instructive to lawmakers as to the Utah State Board of Education with respect to programs created through the legislative process.
There was clearly a need to clean up the code to purge programs that have outlived their usefulness or original intent, he said after the audit was presented to the Utah Legislature's Audit Subcommittee of the Legislative Management Committee.
"I accept and agree with you that we’ve given you too many programs to administer — and this is kind of what you get, is they go by the wayside just because how can you administer hundreds of different ideas," Niederhauser said.
"I would encourage us to work together, the Legislature and the state board on how we can eliminate some of this from the past and focus on the things that are really going to get some outcomes."
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson, in a written response to the audit, noted that "public education operates in a dynamic and complex environment that requires accountability and transparency at all levels. The (board of education) is working with stakeholders at all levels to obtain input, report results, analyze programs and funds, and affect changes to regulations that will benefit the students of the state of Utah."
Specifically, the State School Board agreed that the state's strategic plan can be enhanced. Dickson's response explains that the school board has a monthly discussions on the plan "working toward actionable and measurable strategies that will lead to improved student outcomes." She notes "recent and subsequent changes to policies, practices, programs, initiatives and processes."
The office has recently hired a fiscal policy analyst and a grants compliance officer and is seeking funding to hire three program evaluators, which will "facilitate better administrative oversight and accountability, Dickson wrote.