Gilbert Public Schools approves plan to appeal $1 million bill from state

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The school district in Gilbert plans to appeal a state audit that says it has to pay back nearly $1 million. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The school district in Gilbert plans to appeal a state audit that says it has to pay back nearly $1 million. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
According to the report, GPS overstated the number of full-time high students by 512 and misreported attendance information for 1,385 online students. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) According to the report, GPS overstated the number of full-time high students by 512 and misreported attendance information for 1,385 online students. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
State auditors say the school district has to pay back $962,767. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) State auditors say the school district has to pay back $962,767. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Gilbert Public Schools will challenge an audit that concluded the district made a million-dollar mistake when calculating student enrollment.

The district’s governing board voted unanimously Tuesday to appeal the audit by the Arizona Department of Education. The audit concluded that GPS overstated its high school enrollment by 512 and misreported attendance figures for 1,385 online students from fiscal years 2014 until 2016.

The discrepancies resulted in $962,767 in overpayments to the district that it must now repay, the audit found. Factors like student enrollment and attendance determine how much aid districts receive from the state.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Gilbert Public Schools owes state nearly $1 million, audit finds]

Current and former governing board members questioned the timing of the audit, which the Arizona Department of Education launched after the district requested clarification on how to properly calculate enrollment.

“It’s somewhat frustrating that the district tried to proactively address the issue and instead of getting helped, we got an audit,” said board member Reed Carr.

Former board member Julie Smith, who served during the years audited, also expressed frustration with the state agency.

“What ADE did is going to make fewer districts come forward out of fear they might be out of compliance with something they're not aware of,” she said.

On Wednesday, ADE spokesman Stefan Swiat said Gilbert Public Schools was one of 32 districts audited as part of the agency's annual review process. He said the district was randomly selected, not targeted.

“It’s not like Gilbert is a special case,” he said.

GPS had the largest amount owed of any district in this year's auditing group, but Swiat said a handful of districts have owed more in previous years.

GPS is the state's fourth-largest district. This year, auditors found that Tucson Unified, the state's second-largest district, owed the state $46,269 during the same period. An audit of Peoria Unified, the state's fifth-largest district, determined the state owed the district $7,766.

At Tuesday night’s board meeting, Carr pointed out that a newly signed state law will soon change how students are counted for funding purposes.

“If they applied the new language of this bill, we would not have this issue at all,” he said in an interview.

Carr said any findings that GPS owed the state money would be “minor.” He posted a detailed explanation of the calculation errors on Facebook.

However, SB 1156 does not take effect until August. The bill includes a provision that grants leniency to any “new or not yet completed audits,” but ADE completed the audit May 31.

The audit’s results were made public one month after Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto was picked for the top education job in Hawaii: superintendent of the state Board of Education.

3TV/CBS 5 asked the Hawaii State Department of Education if its selection committee was aware of the audit before hiring Dr. Kishimoto.

“Every candidate, including Ms. Kishimoto, was thoroughly vetted during the selection process,” spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz responded by email. “Any questions regarding the Gilbert Public Schools system should be directed to the district.”

The Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board voted to appeal the audit just after it approved the first draft of next year’s budget, which projects a roughly $6 million drop in revenue due to declining enrollment.

“This additional million dollars, if the district does owe it and they do have to pay it in this fiscal year, it will be very painful. It absolutely will,” said Smith.

This report was updated with comments from ADE spokesman Stefan Swiat.

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