He's Fighting for Details on How Hawaii Spent $2 Billion on Its Schools
EdWeek July 23, 2019 (excerpt)
PDF: Complaint filed July 11, 2019
… it's highly unusual for a former state department official to push fiscal transparency issues into the courts.
Hawaii, a unitary, statewide school system that includes several charter schools, has for years been enmeshed in school funding battles. Politicians and teachers have complained about desperate conditions caused by years of budget cuts, including a rolling teacher shortage, dilapidated schools, and lagging academic outcomes. An effort by the state's teachers union last year to implement the state's first-ever property tax failed after the state's court called the language confusing.
Hawaii also is among several states with antiquated data systems that can't track the thousands of transactions school districts make throughout the school year. Department officials are blaming those data systems for high-profile glitches that have occurred this year as state legislatures seek to boost teacher pay and states look to comply with a new federal requirement to break out school spending amounts.
"To have any sense of empowerment, you have to have an idea of fiscal health of the department," said L'Heureux, who formerly served as the department's assistant superintendent for school facilities and support services. He unsuccessfully ran for governor last year.…
Earlier this month, the department's chief financial officer, Amy Kunz resigned to take a job with the University of Hawaii system. She was the second department assistant superintendent to resign this summer.
In an editorial published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser earlier this year, Kunz, who previously served on the PTA at her son's school, said she came to work for the department to "fix the system."
Kunz pointed out the state's clean audits, and listed the many ways the state provides for public accountability over its school spending including school community councils, a "committee on weights" that oversees the state's funding formula, and the state's board of education, which approves the department's budget.
"So what's the problem?" she asked. "The problem is the data we provide is based on an accounting system that is more than two decades out of use, with program categories that can't be easily updated or cycled out of the system because of downstream impacts to schools' cash flow and budgeting that can last years. No amount of transparency about our numbers can fix the flaws in the underlying system. A $2 billion enterprise, with loads of complexities, requires an industry-standard Financial Management System." …
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