Interim Education Committee – May 2012

Superintendent Larry Shumway was not having a good day, as lawmakers on the Interim Education Committee questioned him, pointedly, over the Education Department’s $25 Million budgeting “miscalculation,” which may force a special session of the legislature later this year to make up the difference.

One of the few legislators to take Shumway’s side was Representative Steve Eliason (R- Sandy) who told Shumway that he understood the error because “it’s very easy to make an error like [this].” He also went on to say he that it was a “travesty” that people were fired over the $25M error, as he views it as “a lot of intellectual capital walking out the door.” He added that as a CPA himself, “If every mistake I made came to light I probably would’ve gotten fired a long time ago.” According to Representative Eliason, the fault should lie not with Superintendent Shumway or the Department of Education, but rather with the State Auditor.

As Superintendent Shumway was describing the incident, it brought to light an interesting detail when he mentioned that it was really difficult managing a multi-billion dollar accounting process using only Excel spreadsheets. Apparently, the Governor and the Legislature haven’t seen fit to equip the Utah State Office of Education with actual accounting software. Is this really such a difficult thing? Certainly they could find $500 to give this department real tools, rather than forcing them to work through, what we can only imagine is hundreds or even thousands of pages worth of spreadsheets that it would take to manage the accounting of such a large budget.

Poor accounting is certainly part of the problem but coupled with inadequate tools, it is surprising the margin of error is not greater and more frequent.

 

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