California school officials will start the new year with less red
tape, thanks to Gov. Gray Davis, who recently agreed to end state
audits of school attendance records.
School administrators applauded the change, which the Democratic governor announced last month. They long complained that the audits, which often forced them to comb through dusty files of excuse notes, wasted time and resources.
By agreeing to the change, Mr. Davis also did away with the audits' $3 million annual price tag. The potential for trimming administrative costs is good news to local schools as they wait to see if the legislature is going to back Mr. Davis' proposal to cut $843 million from the state's K-12 education budget this fiscal year.
The state controller's office has conducted the audits for the past three years. They were begun after state officials tracked a spike in attendance rates and suspected that some schools were padding attendance records to qualify for more state aid.
Last July, the controller's office issued a $120 million bill to the 723,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District as a result of its audit of the district. Auditors alleged that the state had overpaid the district because of inaccurate attendance data.
State officials are studying how to proceed with Los Angeles and other outstanding business tied to the audits, said Sandy Harrison, a spokesman for California's department of finance. He added that school and state officials are talking about new ways to monitor attendance.
For now, administrators are just happy to see the audits go, said Kevin R. Gordon, the executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials. Auditors often penalized schools for simple glitches like a parent's failure to date an excuse note, he said.
"What did they want us to do, offer excuse-note writing lessons?" Mr. Gordon said. "For many districts, the digging-out of excuse notes and this game of 'gotcha' was wearing thin."
—Jessica L. Sandham
Vol. 21, Issue 16, Page 16