A first-ever comprehensive look at how Alternative Learning Experience programs work in Washington

a_students_in_map.pngToday we are publishing the culmination of four years of audit work on Alternative Learning Experience programs, available here. There are more than 250 ALE programs across Washington, taking shapes as different as alternative high schools, online courses, or specific classes or programs in public schools.

We have seen significant improvement in compliance with the requirements ALE programs must meet. We have also documented the special role these programs have in our education system. Most students seek out ALE as an educational choice, but for students who find traditional school settings overwhelming, who have significant medical issues, and many others, these alternative approaches to education are invaluable.

In 2013, the Legislature asked us to review ALE programs by auditing their finances and measuring student outcomes. Since then, we’ve audited the compliance of every ALE program in the state with more than 10 full-time students. We’ve visited ALE programs in person, interviewed educators and surveyed students and parents. The reports released today meet the intent of the Legislature’s request.

The financial audits show more school districts are following ALE compliance requirements, resulting in lower levels of questioned costs. The performance audit work on student outcomes used qualitative analysis of information from educators, parents and students to document the value ALE instruction has within the state’s educational system. But because of ongoing data quality issues, we were not able to independently verify the effectiveness of these programs.

Improving academic data will enable Washingtonians to make better choices in our education system overall. Better data will require continued effort from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the more than 300 school districts and education programs, the Education Research and Data Center, and others. We have offered recommendations for data improvement in our report, as well as recommendations to resolve common noncompliance issues we’ve found in audits of individual programs.

Please visit our website for an interactive map of ALE programs statewide, our reports and other materials. We want to empower every Washingtonian with information about their public services.Pat McCarthy

Thank you,

patsig

 

 

 

Useful lives of capital assets: An important estimate

construction_212793112.jpgWith the condition of infrastructure serving as a point of national discussion, useful life estimates for capital assets make for a timely accounting topic. Governments must maintain support for the useful life estimates they use for assets, and have a process to reassess the estimates periodically. As auditors, there are times we find governments have not kept the documentation to support the estimates they used for reporting or have not performed a recent reassessment, making it difficult to determine whether the reporting is accurate. To further complicate the matter, long-lived assets such as infrastructure and buildings can prove challenging when estimating useful lives. If the useful life of an asset, or class of assets, appears questionable and a government cannot support the useful life estimate it used or has not reassessed that estimate in many years, then this can quickly become an area of audit concern. Continue reading

Kenmore showcases love of community

At the Office of the Washington State Auditor, one of our primary functions is to evaluate the finances of governments across the state. But did you know that what we do goes beyond the bottom line, and into the very heart of what makes a government function well and connect to its residents? This emotional connection is what is at the heart of our newest video, “For the Love of Kenmore.” It’s about helping local governments in Washington find, as Kenmore City Manager Rob Karlinsey puts it, “value beyond the purely financial.”

In 2015, the City of Kenmore invited Peter Kageyama, a community development consultant and author of “For the Love of Cities,” to speak. The goal was to develop what Peter calls the “emotional capital” for both the people of Kenmore and the public servants who work to make Kenmore a great place to call home. The City invited engaged residents to hear Peter speak, and a new private-public collaboration was born, with amazing results.

Fast-forward to 2016, when the Government Performance Consortium (GPC) (a collaboration between the State Auditor’s Office, University of Washington-Tacoma and the Municipal Research and Services Center) invited Kageyama to come to speak at several cities across the state. You can watch that video summary here. After that event, many governments reached out to GPC asking how they, too, could learn more about creating this type of emotional investment in their government — to engage residents and increase trust in their government, and thereby to work better together.

This video shows one response to that demand — that along with good financial management practices, sound budgeting guidance and performance improvements, local governments can find a path toward creating meaningful (and, dare we say, loving ) relationships with the people they serve. For more information about this, and other assistance for local governments, please visit our Performance Center page.

Additional Accountability Audits Funded by Legislature

flashlightLarge state agencies will get more in-depth reviews and smaller agencies will get more frequent accountability audits thanks to a boost in funding included in the supplemental state budget approved Thursday.The Office of the Washington State Auditor requested an additional $700,000 to support accountability audit work, and the Legislature agreed. Accountability audits are a specific type of audit that evaluate whether there is reasonable assurance the state agency adhered to applicable federal or state laws, regulations and its own policies and procedures, in addition to accounting for public resources.
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SAO’s Performance Center: Leaner name, but excellent service is the same

The Local Government Performance Center has been renamed The Performance Center. Local governments can expect the same excellent training, technical assistance and resources that SAO has long provided to help improve performance and effectiveness. The Performance Center hosts Lean Academies, creates financial tools and shares online resources to help governments improve the value of their services to residents. For questions or inquiries into how The Performance Center can help, call (360) 725-5621 or email performance@sao.wa.gov.

 

Name brand procurements versus sole source contracts

ProcurementMgmt_123770867.jpgLocal governments have the ability to specify a name brand during their procurement process. In these situations, the government should thoroughly document why only this specific manufacturer’s equipment is necessary to meet their operational needs, as well as why another manufacturer’s equipment could not substitute. This documentation should be maintained and periodically evaluated to ensure that the specific brand is still required.

For the procurement process, the local government should draft specifications of what they intend to purchase, and what specific brand is required. Based on the estimated cost of the purchase, the government would then follow applicable procurement processes.

It is important to note here that specifying a name brand during the procurement process is not the same as declaring a purchase sole source. Continue reading