East Baton Rouge School Board to consider hiring outside auditor to look at school system’s finances, performance _lowres

Barbara Freiberg

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will debate on Thursday whether to seek an outside firm to conduct an audit of both the school system’s finances and performance.

“I think it’s the right time to take a look at how we are using our personnel and our finances and are we doing it in an efficient and effective way,” board Vice President Barbara Freiberg said.

The agenda for Thursday’s 5 p.m. meeting was released Tuesday afternoon. If the board is agreeable, the proposed audit will come up again for final approval when the board reconvenes March 16. If approved, the school system will send out a request for proposals from firms to do the job.

The idea for an independent audit came up during School Board elections in the fall.

A group financed by Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby called Better Schools for Better Futures developed a five-point agenda for the school system that included conducting an independent audit. The organization gave thousands of dollars to candidates who endorsed that agenda, and Freiberg is one of the recipients as are board President David Tatman, Jill Dyason and Evelyn Ware-Jackson, all incumbents, and the lone newcomer on the board, Mark Bellue.

Freiberg said the idea, though, goes back much further.

“It’s connected to what many of us have wanted to do for a long time,” Freiberg said.

It’s no accident that the push for an independent audit coincides with the ongoing search for a new superintendent to replace Bernard Taylor, whose contract expires June 30. The board is accepting applications and is on track to pick someone by April 2.

Freiberg said Taylor has resisted an outside audit, saying it is unnecessary and something that could be better handled in-house. But Freiberg said she believes it’s important to do for many reasons.

Freiberg said she’s not so concerned with the substance of the common criticism that the school system is top-heavy, noting statements by school system auditors that its staffing is in line with its peers. Nevertheless, she said an independent audit could “perhaps put to rest that we are top-heavy and misspending money here and there.”

However, Freiberg said she believes the school system has too many speech pathologists. She said an audit would arm the next superintendent to come in and make changes right away.

Freiberg said the scope of the audit and the timeline to get it done will be up to the board.

“My wish is it could be done before the end of May so that if there’s anything that could be tweaked, we could do it before we finalize our budget,” she said.

For the past few years, the school system has had to cut tens of millions of dollars in spending annually to stay out of debt and this year could well be more of the same.

“We do need to make sure that our dollars are being spent the way we need to be spending them because we will likely be facing another budget shortfall,” she said.