Routine examination finds accountability deficiencies in the $19.7 million enterprise
RALEIGH — The state auditor’s office recently completed an audit at the Department of Public Instruction, North Carolina Virtual Public School and the results disclosed concerning deficiencies in internal controls.
Particularly cited was inadequate oversight of student enrollment numbers that could potentially lead to a teacher being able to inflate his or her pay.
Also found lacking were how the Virtual Public School teacher evaluation procedures were followed and then there were errors discovered in the Virtual Public School’s annual report.
The audit covered the period of July 1, 2012-Jan. 31, 2013. There were no special circumstances that prompted the audit, rather it was a routine examination.
The Virtual Public School (VPS) was established in 2005 as means to provide students with opportunities to take classes not offered at their local schools.
The VPS began offering online courses to high school students in 2007. Then, middle school students were added. Enrollment grew from 6,984 during the 2006-07 school year to 49,189 in the 2011-12 year.
Currently, the VPS offers more than 100 classes and serves all 111 school districts and 36 charter schools.
During the 2012 fiscal year, total VPS expenses were about 19.7 million with teacher salaries and related payroll taxes accounting for $15.7 million. The VPS is entirely funded by the state and are made up by reducing each local or charter school’s allotment proportionately by the number of its students enrolled in virtual classes.
Enrollment not monitored adequately
The first major finding of the audit showed that the lack of control over who is allowed to enroll students data increases the risk of error in teacher pay as it is directly tied to student enrollment.
Although counselors are usually the ones at schools to have access to the enrollment system, there was no monitoring of the system.
Additionally, there was no requirement in place that registrars have unique user names. Wood’s staff found that 16 of the 822 users had school related names or only their first names as their user names.
Also troubling was that the number of students completing each course was commingled with the number of students that requested to join a course but were never enrolled as well as students that enrolled but later dropped the course. Auditors never found evidence that the mixing of the numbers caused overpayments to teachers, but the potential was there.
Finally, the VPS did not review teacher pay calculations to ensure that teacher pay rates had been updated correctly and the system calculations were accurate when computing pay.
Annual reporting errors
The second area for comment concerned the annual report.
Auditors found errors on the 2012 NCVPS Annual Report involving the enrollment, as described below:
•The LEA (Local Educational Authorities) Enrollment Total was reported as 49,189. However, that number was actually the total of all enrollments including LEAs, charter schools, and special schools (e.g. North Carolina School of Science and Math, North Carolina School of Arts, etc.). According to supporting documentation, the LEA Enrollment Total should have been 47,463 or 1,726 less than the amount reported.
•Charter school omissions: The report omitted 22 charter schools that had students enrolled in the NCVPS. The enrollment of these 22 omitted charter schools totaled 873.
•Total NCVPS enrollment: Total NCVPS enrollment was reported as 50,042. However, according to NCVPS records, total enrollment should have been reported as 49,189.
Breakdown in evaluation
The final area of recommended changes concerned the fact that VPS evaluation procedures were not consistently followed by the instructional leaders.
The auditing team reviewed 60 teachers that taught during the summer and fall 2012 semesters and noted the following:
•One instructional leader, which is also a teacher, performed her own evaluation.
•The instructional leaders for three teachers completed the fall 2012 evaluations after the February 22, 2013 request from the auditors. Two were completed on March 1, 2013 and one on March 4, 2013.
•The instructional leaders did not complete evaluations for two teachers.
One teacher had unsatisfactory or the lowest performance rating on the evaluation and did not provide any comment or feedback in the required teacher comment section of the teacher portfolio on how to improve.
The instructional leader for six SAT Prep teachers during the fall 2012 semester did not use the standard departmental evaluating form when evaluating teachers.
The document used did not contain the performance categories, the name of the evaluator, evaluator comments, or teacher feedback as documented in the standard evaluating form.
In a Nov. 12 letter to Wood, June Atkinson outlined the specific steps DPI had taken to address the concerns.
“The Department of Public Instruction and North Carolina Virtual Public School feel that appropriate action has been taken to address the findings … Procedures have been implemented to properly mitigate all risks noted,” Atkinson wrote.