Head count errors did not result in state aid loss, district says
By ERIN ROLL
The Montclair Public Schools did not provide accurate counts of students on two of its applications for state and federal aid for the 2017-2018 school year, according to the district’s auditors. But officials contend the mistake did not affect state aid.
In January, Nisivoccia LLP, the district’s auditors, released its annual audit of the district’s finances, along with a list of recommendations for the district to work on over the coming year.
The auditor’s report found discrepancies between the numbers of students that were reported on the district’s application for state aid, and the numbers of students that were on the district’s workpapers.
The audit’s report found that the district’s on-roll count of 6,678 students was off by 18 students, six of whom were classified as low-income students.
The school district underreported mostly preschool students, and also special needs students who were receiving transportation to out-of-district schools.
Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker confirmed that the audit statement was correct. However, he said, there was no financial impact to the district, since the state is not following the school funding formula.
In its corrective action plan submitted to the Department of Education, the district only included a promise that it would take “greater care to ensure the accuracy of on-roll numbers, and the accuracy of ridership numbers on transportation for special needs students.”
In 2017-2018, Montclair received $6,891,951 in state aid, including $1,175,389 in transportation aid.
That year, Montclair spent $16,055 per pupil, according to the Taxpayer’s Guide for Education Spending from that year.
The following year, for the 2018-2019 school year, however, Montclair received a $536,575 increase in state aid at $7,428,526.
However, under the state funding formula, Montclair is entitled to receive approximately $9 million in state aid.
In addition to enrollment number being off, the auditors found errors with the District-Reported Transported Resident Student numbers — students with special needs needing transportation to out-of-district private schools. The auditor’s report found between 60 and 70 students were not included.
The error in reporting resident students receiving transport was attributed to a personnel change in the district’s transportation department, according to the auditors’ report.
Mike Yaple, a spokesperson for the DOE, said errors in enrollment on districts’ reports can affect their state aid allotment, though factors such as the number of low-income students, special needs students can also affect the exact state aid amount. In a situation such as that, the district would typically prepare a corrective action report and any difference in funding is typically made up, usually in the following year.
“We don’t keep track of the frequency of such instances and we wouldn’t want to guess, but it’s safe to say that pretty much every year it does occur in some school districts in New Jersey,” Yaple said.
Calculating state aid, including how much aid a district receives per pupil, is very difficult, Yaple said.
None of the district’s audit reports from 2013-2014 onward reported any similar problems in school years prior to 2017-2018. In those years, the audit reports said the application for state aid and the DRTRS were in order.
The audit reports for the 2018-2019 school year are expected to be released this winter.