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Report Number: 2017-104

Montebello Unified School District
County Superintendent Intervention Is Necessary to Address Its Weak Financial Management and Governance

Figure 1

A chart showing Montebello moving closer to its full LCFF funding entitlement while the funding entitlement is decreasing. From fiscal year 2013-14 through fiscal year 2016-17, Montebello's total LCFF target entitlement was as follows: $310 million, $307 million, $300 million, and $289 million. The actual funding received by Montebello during these years are $209 million, $236 million, $266 million, and $276 million.

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Figure 2

A pie chart demonstrating that in fiscal year 2014-15, Montebello spent 84 percent of its funds on employee salaries and benefits. Employee salaries and benefits costed $249.11 million in total, which includes $48.5 million of classified salaries, $135.7 million of certificated salaries, and $64.9 million of employee benefits. Montebello spent the other 16% percent of its funds on three categories: $33.5 million for services and operating expenditures, $10.5 million for books and supplies, and $3.4 million for other expenditures.

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Figure 3

A flowchart describing Montebello's hiring process where the board and superintendent ultimately make the decision to hire certificated employees. When the department requests to fill a position, it is either to fill a vacancy or to create a new position. In the case of a new position, the superintendent has to ensure the job descriptions are accurate and decides whether to approve the requests for new positions. If the process is moving forward, the superintendent or the designee disseminates job announcements, and the certificated human resources department checks the candidates' minimum qualifications. The executive cabinet, which generally includes all district executives at or above the assistant superintendent level, sets criteria to determine which candidates receive first-round interviews. If selected, the candidates will be interviewed either by an interview panel if they are seeking non-teaching positions, or the school principal if they are seeking a teaching position. The superintendent determines the second-round interview candidates for executive, director, and principal positions, while the department requiring to hire determines which candidates to move forward for all other staff. If a candidate is successful to this point, either the assistant superintendent of human resources or the department will check his or her references, and the certificated human resources department verifies the required credentials. Finally, the superintendent or designee presents to the board one candidate who meets all qualifications. The board approves only candidates recommended by the superintendent or designee.

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Figure 4

A flowchart describing Montebello's hiring process for classified personnel where the board, the personnel commission, and the director of human resources all play a role. When the department or the superintendent requests to fill a new position, the personnel commission (commission) determines the classification including minimum qualifications and salary ranges. If no eligibility list exists, the commission announces exams for the old or new position, and a human resources specialist checks applicants' minimum qualifications. The commission administers exams and its director can create an interview panel. After these steps, the director of the commission, who is Montebello's director of classified human resources, establishes the eligibility list with candidates listed in final rank order according to their total examination scores, and the commission decides whether to approve the eligibility list. If an approved eligibility list exists from the beginning, the steps above to establish an eligibility list will be skipped. When there is an eligibility list approved by the commission, the appointing authority, which is generally Montebello's board and its designated managers, will interview candidates from the eligibility list and makes a final selection. The director of the commission then certifies if the final selection is in accordance with the classified rules and regulations. Finally, the superintendent of designee presents to the board one candidate who meets all qualifications. The board approves only candidates recommended by the superintendent or designee.

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Figure 5

A figure showing that under the adult education black grant program, Los Angeles Regional Adult Education Consortium (LARAEC) allocates maintenance-of-effort and need-based funding to Montebello Unified School District and three other school districts or community college. The adult education block grant program allows the superintendent of public instruction and chancellor of the California Community Colleges to coordinate to allocate funding and provide guidance to the Los Angeles consortium. In fiscal year 2015-16, the Los Angeles consortium received $92.3 million in maintenance-of-effort funding and $28.3 million in need-based fund. The consortium, which consists of representatives from each school district and community college, decides to allocate $15.5 million for Montebello Unified School District, while allocating $94.6 million for Los Angeles Unified School District, $7 million for Los Angeles Community College, $2 million for Burbank Unified School District, and $1.5 million for Culver City Unified School District.

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Figure 6

Figure 6 consists of two graphics showing information from fiscal years 2010-11 through 2015-16: the first graphic demonstrates that Montebello's average daily attendance has been declining: from 30,433 in fiscal year 2010-11, to 28,393, and eventually to 26,807 in fiscal year 2015-16. Despite this decrease, Montebello's expenses continued to rise: from $271 million in fiscal year 2010-11 to $335 million in fiscal year 2015-16, exceeding revenues in four of the six years listed.

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Figure 7

A figure showing that Montebello projects that its general fund reserves will significantly decline in future years. Montebello is required to maintain its reserve at or above three percent of its expenditures. Montebello has been able to maintain the percentage of actual reserve to expenditures above three percent through 2015-16, though this percentage has been declining until 2014-15. However, the fiscal year 2015-16 figures may not be accurate. Montebello's audited financial statements for fiscal year 2015-16 did not receive a clean opinion from the auditors since they were unable to reduce the risk of material misstatement because of potential fraud. For fiscal years 2016-17 through 2019-20, Montebello projects that its general fund reserves will stay above the required reserve for the first two years, while for fiscal year 2018-19 there will be negative reserves and therefore the percentage of reserve to expenditures will drop below the required reserves. General fund reserves for fiscal year 2019-20 will drop to negative 12 percent according to Montebello's projections.

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Figure 8

A timeline showing LACOE's warnings to Montebello about declining enrollment and deficit spending since at least 2010. LACOE has warned Montebello 14 times from 2010 to 2017 about declining enrollment, and 12 times about deficit spending. Within the same time period, LACOE also requested new fiscal stabilization plans or revisions to the existing fiscal stabilization plan 11 times, requested deficit spending reduction plan twice. LACOE also recommended that the district set aside any projected increase in funding on three occasions. Six times Montebello received qualified certification which means that based on current projections, Montebello may not meet its financial obligations for the current fiscal year or two subsequent fiscal years. Finally, LACOE rejected Montebello's approved budget twice in this time period, once in 2010 and once in 2017.

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Figure 9

Figure 9 is a color-coded organization chart that shows many high-level executives hired from fiscal years 2013-14 through 2015-16 did not go through an appropriate hiring process. Red boxes indicate that the district did not conduct an appropriate hiring process of these individuals including advertising job postings, ensuring that candidates met minimum qualifications, and performing interviews. The following positions are coded as red: Superintendent, Chief Financial and Operating Officer, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Chief business Officer: Business Services, Director of Procurement & Logistics. Green boxes indicate that the district generally conducted an appropriate hiring process. The following positions are coded as green: Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services, Director of Maintenance, Operations, and Facilities Development. Blue boxes indicate that we did not review the hiring processes for these positions and entities, but we include them to provide context of the overall structure of Montebello. The following positions and entities are coded as blue: five-member Board of Education, Deputy Superintendent, Director of Classified Human Resources, and Personnel Commission.

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Figure 10

Figure 10 shows high-level positions and their salaries in 2015 in Montebello and four comparable districts: Chino Valley, Downey, Temecula Valley, and Glendale. Montebello's salaries are sufficiently comparable to other school districts for the following positions: superintendent, assistant superintendent human resources, assistant superintendent instructional/educational services, chief business officer/assistant superintendent business services. However, none of the comparable districts had the position Chief Financial and Operations Officer in 2015, which Montebello contracted at $256,504 annually. Only one out of four comparable district had the position deputy superintendent, for which position Montebello paid $199,279 annually.

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Figure 11

A timeline detailing the appointments of three employees who were at one point co-superintendents. In June 2010, the superintendent at the time resigned, which led to the board contracting both employee 1 and employee 2 as interim co-superintendents, compensated each at $189,000 annually. In August 2010, Montebello backfilled the previous position of one of the co-superintendents at $158,047 annually. In October, Montebello provided its board with an initial list of recruiting firms to recruit a superintendent, and in May 2011 the board approved a contract with a recruiting firm. In August 2011, the board extended the employment contracts of the co-superintendents by one year and removed "interim" from their title. In June 2012, Montebello extended their employment contracts again by one year and five months, respectively. In July 2012, the board hired employee 3 as an associate superintendent of accountability and compliance at $167,967 annually. In December 2012, employee 2, one of the co-superintendents, retired; therefore in January 2013 the board contracted employee 3 to be one of the co-superintendents, and extended both co-superintendents' contracts through June 2016 at the pay rate of $191,363 annually. The salary for one of the co-superintendent increased again in February 2014 to $203,014 annually. In July 2015, the board appointed employee 3 as superintendent of schools through June 2019 with a salary of $265,000 per year, and appointed employee 1 as CFOO through June 2017, with an annual salary of $256,504. As of November 2016, both the superintendent and the CFOO positions are vacant.

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Figure 12

The chart shows that Montebello's overtime payments more than doubled within our audit period. In fiscal year 2013-14, Montebello paid $995,988 for overtime to 431 individuals. The highest overtime pay for an individual was $23,000 and 7 individuals received more than $10,000. In 2014-15 the overtime payments rose to $1,456,014. In fiscal year, 2015-16 Montebello paid 548 individuals for overtime with a total of $2,367,985. The highest individual overtime pay was $84,000, and 56 individuals received more than $10,000.

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Figure 13

Figure 13 listed the cash receipt process at Ford Park Adult School and the auditor's concerns with this process, as the inadequate cash collection safeguard at this location create many opportunities for cash diversion. To enroll in Ford Park Adult School, the student fills out registration card and the office assistant determines the amount the student needs to pay. We are concerned that the office assistant collects cash with no oversight. Then student then gives the cash to the office assistant. Formal policies include exceptions, such as being over the age of 60, in which case students do not have to pay. Moreover, there is an informal policy whereby students only have to pay for one class per semester. During this step, the office assistant could choose not to inform students of these policies and keep the extra cash. Also, management did not know about the informal policy. After receiving the money, the office assistant fills out a receipt for cash received and places the money in an envelope in her drawer. She does not use a cash register for each transaction. Absent a cash register tape, the office assistant could choose not to provide the student with a receipt and can take the cash unnoticed. Moreover, the office assistant stated that she sometimes makes change out of her purse because she does not maintain money to make change. This allows her to easily divert cash and claim she was making change. The student usually receives a copy of the registration card and student tuition and fee receipt, but the office assistant does not always provide students with receipts, which make it difficult to assess the completeness of cash on hand. When the office assistant completes a deposit form, she places the money from her desk drawer into the cash register in a storage room to generate a cash register tape. Management was not aware that she does not use a cash register when she receives cash and thus would have no way to detect deficiencies. After the deposit form is completed, the office assistant gives the money to the secretary. The secretary reconciles the cash to the deposit forms and generates collection reports. However, the secretary's reconciliation would not detect missing cash because the office assistant presents the secretary with documents that she already reconciled without oversight. Lastly, the office secretary makes deposits up to one month after the previous deposit. The infrequent bank deposits allow cash to accumulate.

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Figure 14

A chart showing that Montebello currently has a qualified certification, and without significant changes, it could face state intervention. When a school district has positive certification, it means that the district will meet its financial obligations in the near future, which is the current fiscal year and the two subsequent fiscal years. In this situation, LACOE's role is to perform standard monitoring procedures of the district such as reviewing audit results. Montebello currently has a qualified certification, which means the district may not be able to meet its financial obligations in the near future, which is the current fiscal year or the two subsequent fiscal years. In this case, the county superintendent exerts additional oversight of the district, such as assigning a fiscal expert to advise the district on its financial problems. When a district reaches negative certification, the district will be unable to meet its financial obligations in the remainder of the current fiscal year or the subsequent fiscal year. At that time, the county superintendent, in consultation with the state superintendent, takes actions such as imposing budget revisions or overruling any action that is inconsistent with the district's ability to meet its obligations in the current or subsequent year. If Montebello is unable to meet it its financial obligations and seeks an emergency loan from the State, it will face state intervention. If the emergency loan is less than or equal to 200 percent of the district's recommended reserve, then the state superintendent appoints a trustee who monitors and reviews the operations of the district and can overrule any action that he or she determines may affect the district's financial condition. If the emergency loan is more than 200 percent of the district's recommended reserve, then the state superintendent assumes all legal rights, duties, and powers of the board and then appoints an administrator to act on the state superintendent's behalf. The board subsequently services only in an advisory capacity.

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