May 9, 2016
Dear Falls Church City Council Members,
We are part of a growing group of citizens that are concerned about our school system’s budget. We are concerned that the more that people begin to question the budget’s transparency, the more deflection and pushback takes place.
We are seeking your help because we want to protect our schools and we must point out that the Superintendent, Dr. Toni Jones and School Board have not followed their own governing policies. In fact, last year when this failure to follow the written budget policy was brought to their attention, they responded by watering down this policy still further by deleting all but one PowerPoint presentation, effectively eliminating public involvement and potential oversight. We believe that these changes and the form of budget documents that have been put forth to the community are unethical and against the laws that govern budgetary transparency. These practices have had the effect of preventing any type of the accountability that is required by law.
We are writing to you to inform you that the City of Falls Church Public Schools (FCCPS) appears to have been in violation of Chapter 25 of the Code of Virginia, titled “Budgets, Audits and Reports,” which is part of Title 15.2, titled “Counties, Cities and Towns.” Section 15.2-2504 requires the publication of actual expenditures in budgets, however FCCPS has not provided actual expenditures for either the adopted FY 2016 budget or the FY 2017 budget. Furthermore, FCCPS does not appear to have been in compliance with Virginia law (Section 15.2-2504) since 2012.
Given the lack of expenditure information and transparency in FCCPS budgets, we ask that you follow Section 15.2-2511 by requesting that the Auditor of Public Accounts perform an independent audit of FCCPS. The severe breakdown in the transparency of public budgetary expenditures, and the lack of public trust in the FCCPS Superintendent and the current School Board leadership make it imperative for the City Council to address this issue on behalf of the community and its taxpayers. This is the law and we would like to know why FCCPS is not following it.
FCCPS also has its own policies that are in line with state law (see FCCPS Section 4, Article II), which also do not appear to have been followed since 2012. FCCPS has not been in compliance with its own policy 4.8 as referenced to Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended, 15.2-2500 through 2508, 22.1-90 through 94, 22.1-97 (see the City of Falls Church Charter, Chapter 6, Budgets).
Other school systems do not appear to operate this way: for example, our neighboring Fairfax County Public School System leaves FCCPS in the dust with its transparent budget reporting by providing its citizens with audit reports. It even provides a transparency portal to allow searches of actual vendor payments as seen at the following link:
As a result of eroded trust, members of our community have had to pursue expensive FOIA requests to ensure the transparency to which we are legally entitled. These requests are often met with delay tactics, such as requests for more time, claims that requests would be difficult and expensive to fulfill and assertions that there are no responsive records.
Given the annual contentious budgetary process currently taking place in our little city, we urge you to request the Auditor of Public Accounts to provide an independent audit of FCCPS. Please step in to save our schools and ensure that FCCPS complies with its legal obligations.
27 Parent Signatures (ed: removed for privacy)
- State Codes and FCCPS Regulations Cited in this letter
B. FOIA response to Budget Line Item Expense Invoices
A: Virginia Codes: https://vacode.org/15.2/25/
§ 15.2-2504 What budget to show.
Opposite each item of the contemplated expenditures the budget shall show in separate parallel columns the aggregate amount appropriated during the preceding fiscal year, the amount expended during that year, the aggregate amount appropriated and expected to be appropriated during the current fiscal year, and the increases or decreases in the contemplated expenditures for the ensuing year as compared with the aggregate amount appropriated or expected to be appropriated for the current year. This budget shall be accompanied by:
1. A statement of the contemplated revenue and disbursements, liabilities, reserves and surplus or deficit of the locality as of the date of the preparation of the budget; and
2. An itemized and complete financial balance sheet for the locality at the close of the last preceding fiscal year
Section 15.2-2511 Pertains to the Audit of local government records, etic. Auditor of Public Accounts; audit of shortages.
A. Localities shall have all their accounts and records, including all accounts and records of their constitutional officers, audited annually as of June 30 by an independent certified public accountant in accordance with the specifications furnished by the Auditor of Public Accounts. The certified public accountant shall present a detailed written report to the local governing body at a public session by the following December 31. Every locality shall contract for the performance of the annual audit not later than April 1 of each fiscal year and such contract shall incorporate the provisions of this section relating to audit specifications and report date. The report shall be preserved by the clerk of the local governing body, and shall be open to public inspection at all times by any qualified voter.
The accounts and records of any county or city officer listed in Article VII, Section 4 of the Constitution of Virginia, hereinafter referred to as “constitutional officers,” shall be subject to the provisions of this section.
In the event a locality fails to obtain the annual audit prescribed by this subsection, the Auditor of Public Accounts may undertake the audit or may employ the services of certified public accountants and charge the full cost of such services to the locality. However, no part of the cost and expense of such audit shall be paid by any locality whose governing body has its accounts audited for the fiscal years in question as prescribed above and furnishes the Auditor of Public Accounts with a copy of such audit.
B. The Auditor of Public Accounts shall audit the accounts of local governments and constitutional officers only when (i) special circumstances require an audit, or (ii) there is suspected fraud or inappropriate handling of funds which may affect the financial interests of the Commonwealth. In all instances, such audits shall be carried out with the approval of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.
Any shortage existing in the accounts of the locality or constitutional officer, as ascertained by the audit, shall be made public within thirty days after the shortage is discovered, and a brief statement thereof shall be sent by the Auditor of Public Accounts to the members and clerk of the local governing body and to the circuit court for the locality, and shall be filed in the clerk’s office of such court.
C. The provisions of this section shall apply to all counties and cities, to all towns having a population of 3,500 or over, and to all towns constituting a separate school division regardless of their population.
Section 15.2-2511.2 Duties of local government auditors.
A. As used in this section:
“Abuse” means the excessive or improper use of something, or the employment of something in a manner contrary to the natural or legal rules for its use; the intentional destruction, diversion, manipulation, misapplication, maltreatment, or misuse of resources owned or operated by the locality; or extravagant or excessive use so as to abuse one’s position or authority.
“Fraud” means the intentional deception perpetrated by an individual or individuals, or an organization or organizations, either internal or external to local government, that could result in a tangible or intangible benefit to themselves, others, or the locality or could cause detriment to others or the locality. Fraud includes a false representation of a matter of fact, whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading statements, or by concealment of that which should have been disclosed, which deceives and is intended to deceive.
“Waste” means the intentional or unintentional, thoughtless or careless expenditure, consumption, mismanagement, use, or squandering of resources owned or operated by the locality to the detriment or potential detriment of the locality. Waste also includes incurring unnecessary costs because of inefficient or ineffective practices, systems, or controls.
B. Any fraud, waste, and abuse auditor appointed by the local governing body of any county, city, or town having a population of at least 10,000, or any town constituting a separate school division regardless of its population, who by charter, ordinance, or statute has responsibility for conducting an investigation of any officer, department or program of such body, shall be responsible for administering a telephone hotline, and a website, if cost-effective, through which employees and residents of the locality may report anonymously any incidence of fraud, waste, or abuse committed by any such officer, or within any such department or program, of that body. Such auditor may inform employees of the locality of the hotline and website, if any, and the conditions of anonymity, through the conspicuous posting of announcements in the locality’s personnel newsletters, articles in local newspapers issued daily or regularly at average intervals, hotline posters on local employee bulletin boards, periodic messages on local employee payroll check stubs, or other reasonable efforts.
Such auditor shall determine the authenticity of every allegation received on the hotline or website and ensure that investigation and resolution activities are undertaken in response to any such authentic allegation in the most cost-effective and confidential manner available; provided, however, that the officer shall assign responsibility for investigation and resolution to other investigative and law-enforcement personnel where such responsibility is prescribed by general law and where appropriate to avoid duplicating or replacing existing investigation and resolution functions.
FCCPS POLICY – 4.8 ANNUAL BUDGET
The annual school budget is the financial outline of the division’s educational program, translating the program goals for the school division into explicit expenditure plans to sustain and improve the educational function of the school division within the financial capabilities of the city. After adoption, it provides the primary means of managing expenditures.
The fiscal year is defined as beginning on the first day of July and ending on the thirtieth day of the following June.
The budget consists of three separate funds — Operating Fund, Community Service Fund, and Food Service Fund — and a School Capital Budget maintained within the Capital Improvement Fund of the City of Falls Church.
A. The Operating Fund includes funding for instructional programs and support services for Falls Church City students in grades Kindergarten through 12. In addition, the Operating Fund provides for adult education and early childhood education.
B. The Community Service Fund includes funding for Community Education which is a partnership between schools and community. The goal of Community Education is to encourage programs and activities designed to enhance educational opportunities for all citizens of Falls Church. Specifically, Community Education is concerned with (1) providing enriched education, vocational, and cultural opportunities for children, youth, and adults in the community; (2) maximizing full and effective utilization of school facilities; and (3) stimulating citizens’ and businesses’ involvement in school and community development.
C. The Food Service Fund comprises the estimated receipts of cash and commodities balanced with the estimated disbursements required to operate the school Food Services Program in a manner which fulfills state and federal requirements.
D. The School Capital Budget is a five year projection of major capital improvement projects including estimated funds required. Within this document priorities are set for both long-term and short-term needs. Its formulation is an integral part of the education planning process. The School Capital Budget includes a recommendation as to the means of financing the improvements proposed for the ensuing fiscal year, for which funding is identified in the Capital Improvement Fund of the City of Falls Church.
Budget Adoption Process for All Funds
1. The Superintendent’s Proposed Budget
The Superintendent or his/her designee shall prepare a budget calendar identifying all deadlines for the annual budgetary process. The calendar shall include at least one worksession for reviewing the budget and at least one public hearing on the budget. Notice of the time and place for the public hearing must be published at least ten days in advance, in a newspaper having general circulation within the school division.
The Superintendent shall present to the Board a Proposed Budget including budget plans for the Operating Fund, Community Service Fund, and Food Services Fund. The Superintendent’s Proposed Budget may include several options for the operation of the public schools for the ensuing fiscal year, including the three funds. At the same time, the Superintendent shall communicate to the City Manager a tentative estimate, based on the range of options presented to the Board, subject to final action by the Board, of the amount of money which will be needed from city funds during the next fiscal year for the support of public schools. In order to promote and enhance strategic decision-making over multiple future years, the revenue, levels of staffing, and other costs/expenses recommended in the Superintendent’s Proposed Budget should consider and reflect not only recent actual data (e.g. changes in student enrollments, rates charged/assessed, commodity pricing, and benefit/insurance premiums) but also, to the extent possible and practicable, trends anticipated beyond the next fiscal year.
The budget shall be organized in accordance with state law and guidelines set forth by the State Board of Education. Opportunity shall be provided for the public and employee groups to be heard regarding their education priorities both before and after the formulation of the Superintendent’s Proposed budget.
2. Board Approval
On or before March 1, the Board shall act to approve its proposed budget and shall forward it to the City Manager, together with a request for City Council adoption of the budget and the required city appropriation. Included with the budget shall be a budget message from the School Board containing a description of the important features of the budget plan, an explanation of all salient changes in estimated receipts and recommended expenditures as compared with those of the current and last preceding fiscal years and a summary of the proposed budget showing these comparisons.
3. Final Board Action
Following action by the City Council on the city budget, the School Board shall give final approval to the annual budget within the framework of the funds approved and publish the approved budget in line item form, including the estimated required local match, on its website. The document is also made available in hard copy as needed to citizens for inspection.
Budget Adoption Process for the Capital Budget
The Capital Budget shall follow the format established by the Planning Commission and the City Council. Dates for its approval shall be set in accordance with a timetable established by the City Manager.
Legal References: Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended, 15.2-2500 through 2508, 22.1-90 through 94, 22.1-97. City of Falls Church Charter, Chapter 6 Budgets
B. FOIA Request Response:
From: FCCPS FOIA <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, May 9, 2016 at 10:12 AM
Subject: Virginia Freedom of Information Act Request – Our Record #16-0509
Mrs. XXXX, (ed: removed for privacy)
This office is in receipt of your request for records (attached) made in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.) the “Act”, in which you asked for;
- I would like copies of all Dominion Electric invoices/bills submitted to FCCPS for any and all accounts from 2009 – present. Please include all buildings and all accounts for which FCCPS is responsible.
- I would also like the same for all natural gas bills — I believe that would be Washington Gas from 2009 to present. If I could have them in a PDF that would be great.
Before processing this request please allow me to share information provided to me, by staff.
1. FCCPS staff reports that Dominion Power only retains approximately one year of “bills” online. Staff reports that FCCPS has 15 or more Dominion accounts, and each month would need to be pulled separately, resulting in about 180 file downloads. The cost estimate for staff time to produce one-year worth of bills would be $36-$72.
2. Staff reports that Dominion Power could produce a three-year usage spreadsheet for all of our accounts, but that would be “usage” and not “bills” as initially requested. If Dominion Power creates the spreadsheet it would be provided to you at no cost.
3. For “bills” older than one year staff would pull hard copies of invoices and create a copy (electronic) for you.
4. The Library of Virginia produces records retention and disposition schedules for administrative and fiscal records of local governments. Schedule GS-02 calls for the confidential destruction of purchasing records after 5 years so it is unlikely the school division has records prior to 2011.
5. The cost estimate to pull hard copies from the archived files dating back to 2011, will exceed $200. Based on information provided to you in other FOIA requests you know that there are more than 3,000 “ledger entries” for payments to Dominion or Washington Gas since 2009. Each of those payments should have an invoice/payment information package in the archive files. Staff estimates that pulling those 3,000 packages and creating an electronic copy will take between 30-40 hours of staff time.
As allowed by the Act, and in accordance with FCCPS policy, when an advanced determination of cost exceeds $200 the division will require a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the advanced determination. Before we can proceed to process this request we will require a deposit of $500-$750, and your agreement to pay any additional cost in excess of the deposit. I will determine the exact amount of the deposit based on staff member(s) assigned to fulfill the request should you agree to the estimated costs and wish to continue with this request.
Based on the above information please let me know how you would like to proceed, or how we can continue to refine the request so we get you what you need.
Falls Church City Public Schools
Date: Sat, May 7, 2016 at 9:04 AM
Subject: FOIA Request for Utility Bills
To: Tom Horn <email@example.com>
Pursuant to the Freedom of Information, I would like copies of all Dominion Electric invoices/bills submitted to FCCPS for any and all accounts from 2009 – present. Please include all buildings and all accounts for which FCCPS is responsible.
I would also like the same for all natural gas bills — I believe that would be Washington Gas from 2009 to present. If I could have them in a PDF that would be great.
Thanks in advance for your assistance,
XXXXX (ed: removed for privacy)