UPPER MARLBORO – The process of reviewing the school system is underway after the board of education approved the contract for the internal audit back in January.
Now, with the first update presented last week, the board wants to make sure the contractor not only finds where the school system can improve, but also where they are excelling.
At the Prince George’s County Board of Education meeting on March 10, representatives from Ernst & Young, LLC updated the board on the first steps the firm has taken in the auditing process, although the firm prefers to call it a “continuous business improvement study.”
The board approved Ernst & Young, also known as EY, as the contractors for the internal audit on Jan. 21 after the county government issued a Request for Proposal and leaders from the county, board staff and school administration reviewed the responses to the request.
The school system listed the budget implications at $495,000, but signed a contract stating the contractor will be employed for an “initial term of one year” and the county and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) will pay them “an amount not to exceed $990,000.”
EY and Parthenon, a branch of EY, are a strategy-based consultant firm that has focused on the education sector for more than a decade and has been tasked with comprehensively assessing the performance of the operations of five divisions at PGCPS: “human resources division, curriculum and instruction division, supporting services division, business and management services division, and information technology division.”
The firm, with the assistance of a steering committee and the compliance of PGCPS and the county, will deliver their findings and recommendations to both the school system and the county government.
“I’m aware there is a bit of a catch phrase for the title of this project that people sometimes refer to it as the ‘performance audit,’” said Chris Librizzi, director of EY-Parthenon’s Boston office. “And you know, there’s a kernel of truth in that in that we want to make sure you all have our objective assessment of issues of performance across the range of business processes that are part of the scope of work.”
But Librizzi said a large part of the firm’s work will focus on findings and recommendations that will facilitate continuous improvement of PGCPS. By doing this, he said, there will be a fostered confidence in the effectiveness of the school system.
The team will look into everything from equity and access to business management, such as payroll and hiring. Librizzi said EY will also consider context in their analysis, meaning they will look a the history of PGCPS and “the resources that informed the actions of the school system in the current situation.” The audit will also provide PGCPS with a scope of “best practices” and where they stand in relation to those practices.
“If one were to conduct an assessment that doesn’t take into account all of those circumstances, you certainly would not be getting a complete picture,” Librizzi said.
All of this information, Librizzi said, is to help the school system analyze how they can move forward efficiently both through implementation and budgeting.
While the process is called an performance audit, many of the board members said they are nervous about the implications of an all-negative report and how it would reflect on the school system.
Boardmember Verjeana Jacobs, who represents District 5, said she expects an “open and honest” perspective on the school system, but wondered if EY would also make recommendations on how to direct communications around the audit.
“Does your firm also, in light of the incredible importance of this kind of work, would you also be making recommendations about how to communicate these outcomes in a way to our public that puts it in a ‘this is about continuous improvement of our school district,’” she asked. “Because these kinds of things can have implications to the public that are press worthy.”
Beverly Anderson, an at-large member of the board, said she thinks the results of the audit will be important to the schools, but expressed the same concerns as Jacbos.
“It is about, hopefully about, continuous improvement of our system without negative reaction from the public on where we are, but where we want to be,” Anderson said.
Segun Eubanks, chair of the board, reiterated the point and said he also wants to know about any good findings – the positive work and progress the school system is doing.
“From my limited experience with audits, finding something is bad and not finding something is good,” he said. “I don’t want it to be a typical audit, the findings mean bad, and if we don’t say anything, that’s good.”
Librizzi said he completely understood the board’s concerns and said the firm is extremely focused on the “continuous improvement” of PGCPS.
“We want to make sure to frame our findings and recommendations in the light of the work that has already been done and the work that is ongoing,” Librizzi said. “We are trying to do a review, obviously, across these areas but in a very real way where we’re going to be capturing a snapshot of a train that is in motion.”
Moving forward EY will make monthly progress reports and is expected to have a “very strong” draft by August, just in time for the new school year.