THV11's Kevin Trager spent several weeks looking over the Little Rock School budget.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV)- The Little Rock School District budget shows expenses of $332 million and revenues at $328 million annually. But it wasn't that projected budget shortfall that got our attention, but rather some specific items and how much money is being set aside for those expenses.
THV11 spent several weeks looking over the Little Rock School budget. It's more than 800 pages long and contains a section of administrative office budgets.
Our first round of questions centers on the office of the supervisor of guidance services with an annual budget of $221,000. Each of the past two years,that office has spent less than six dollars on postage stamps but has continually budgeted $3,000 in that category. We also looked at the auto collision repair program at metropolitan vo-tech school with an annual budget of $1.3 million. That program of 34 students spent under $20 on postage stamps last year, but raised its postage budget from $500 in 2013 to $25,000 this year. "…$25,000 when they only used $18 the year before? Something doesn't sound right," said LRSD teacher Jennifer White. "I feel like there's a lot of waste here and some of this money could be going to our neediest students."
We also looked at a number of administrative travel budgets. The assistant superintendent,gifted/talented coordinator, and business services offices all budgeted more than double what they spent last year on travel. The administrative technology services travel budget of $46,000 is nearly twice as much as last year's $28,000 in expenses. And we also looked at Superintendent Suggs' office, as he increased his staff's travel budget from $1,000 to $14,000 over the past year. "These numbers are really hard to understand without all the detail behind it and without someone explaining why they were built the way they are," added former LRSD board member and state senator John Riggs. "It has to be the overhead first that comes down and a lot of the examples that you're giving here are overhead."
We also took the budget and our questions to former Pulaski County teacher and current state senator Joyce Elliott. "Part of what we want to do is be transparent,"she said. "I'm looking forward to the district, Dr. Suggs or whoever, who can explain why the numbers are what they are."
But when we tried meeting with Dr. Suggs to talk budget, he wasn't available. We tried for several weeks to set up an interview. The district finally responded declining our request for an on-camera interview but offering to answer questions via email. Those emails also lead to nothing, no response from the superintendent's office.
THV also looked at how other districts around the country build their budgets. Columbia, South Carolina, Birmingham, Huntsville, and Springfield Missouri all have nearly identical numbers of students and schools compared to Little Rock, but only Springfield has a similar organizational structure. When we compared some of Springfield's administrative office budgets to Little Rock, they were anything but similar.
Little Rock's current budgets for the assistant superintendent, business services, and internal auditor's offices more than doubled their counterparts in Springfield. Little Rock Superintendent Dexter Suggs' annual office budget of$574,000 is nearly 30 percent more than the Springfield superintendent's office. "I just wish that when we say we put students first we meant it," White said. "It has to start at the top as far as putting this back into the schools."