Gilbert Public Schools owes state nearly $1 million, audit finds

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Auditors determined the district overcharged the state by $962,767 over a three-year period that ended in fiscal year 2016. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Auditors determined the district overcharged the state by $962,767 over a three-year period that ended in fiscal year 2016. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Critics say the audit is a black eye for Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Critics say the audit is a black eye for Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

The Arizona Department of Education is demanding that Gilbert Public Schools repay nearly $1 million after an audit found the district miscalculated its student enrollment and attendance figures for years.

Auditors determined the district overcharged the state by $962,767 over a three-year period that ended in fiscal year 2016. The GPS school board will decide whether or not to appeal the audit’s findings at its meeting Tuesday.

According to the report, GPS overstated the number of full-time high students by 512 and misreported attendance information for 1,385 online students. Factors like enrollment and attendance determine how much aid districts receive from the state.

A spokesperson for the district did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Critics say the audit is a black eye for Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto. The report, dated May 31 but released online Monday, comes just weeks after the Hawaii Board of Education selected her to lead that state's Department of Education as superintendent.

Board members had been aware since last year that an audit was underway and the district would owe a significant amount, said former board member Julie Smith. Smith said the audit began after the district sought guidance from the state on enrollment calculation procedures.

Smith said the bill from the state, which barring an appeal could be due in the fiscal year that begins next month, only adds to budget pressure on the district. GPS has had declining student enrollment over the last few years, she said.

“It absolutely will have a compounding, hurtful blow that I do believe will be reflected in the classroom,” she said by phone Monday night. “And this district will be, I believe in the next year, forced because of budget cuts due to student loss and then this million dollars to close schools to consolidate.”

Smith said the miscalculations should have been avoided, but described the errors as an honest mistake that district officials self-reported.

“This was a very complicated issue,” Smith said. “Yes, it’s the fault of Gilbert Public Schools. Yes, the administration should have known better, but this has happened to many districts.”

Chuck Essigs of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials said disputes between districts and the state over the number of students that should be funded are not uncommon and said repayment amounts can change on appeal.

However, "the Gilbert situation is a number [that is] a lot higher than is typical,” he said.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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