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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