Goshen, Indiana school officials struggle to answer financial questions

October 29, 2012

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Ashleigh Costello Ashleigh Costello

Ashleigh is a research specialist for EAG and joined in 2012.
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GOSHEN, Ind. – A recently retired school superintendent could have been eligible to receive a $94,000 sick leave payout upon retirement, according to his contract, yet he only walked away with $11,250, and nobody seems to know why.

Goshen Community Schools superintendent Bruce Stahly retired in June after 14 years with the school corporation.  A well-respected superintendent, Stahly also served as the corporation’s business manager.

EAG requested a copy of Stahly’s superintendent contract in June as part of our continuing effort to track wasteful public school spending across the nation.

Several provisions of the contract suggested Stahly would receive generous payouts and benefits upon retirement, which we were prepared to question based on the financial condition of public schools at the moment.

In too many school districts, administrators get big raises and sweet retirement deals while asking teachers and other employees to sacrifice. We believe school officials should lead by showing their willingness to sacrifice, as well.

But as it turned out, Stahly apparently did not receive the amount of money called for in his contract. He received far less.

That’s certainly good news from a taxpayer’s perspective. But nobody at the school district seemed to know how much he received or why. That raises troubling questions about financial accountability.

This is a problem we’ve noticed in many school districts across the nation. We have submitted simple questions to many schools in various states, based on financial statistics that should be easily accessible in the computer age, and ran into mass confusion.

A lot of our questions went unanswered because school officials either refused to process the request, or really had no idea how to do it. Sometimes the figures they reported were just absurd. For instance, the San Francisco school district reported having more than 9 million teacher absences in 2010-11.

We figured out that was an error, all on our own. District officials were never able to get us an accurate number.

Who’s entitled to what in Goshen?

EAG contacted an administrator at Goshen schools to confirm the dollar figures suggested in Stahly’s contract, and the response was confusing.

As of June 13, 2012, Stahly had accumulated 189 days of sick leave.  According to his contract, “The calculation of any severance pay… shall be limited by a maximum daily rate of $500…” According to this calculation, the district would be responsible for paying Stahly $94,500.

However, when EAG asked for the total amount paid out (or applied toward other benefits) by the district for unused, accumulated sick days for Superintendent Stahly, the number reported was $6,750—quite a large difference.

The corporation was also fuzzy on the amount Superintendent Stahly received as part of his 401(a) plan. The contract states the school corporation will contribute 10% of the Superintendent’s annual salary (basic and supplemental) into a 401(a) plan of the Superintendent’s choice.”

EAG calculated the total amount contributed to Stahly’s 401(a) plan to be $124,086.  However, school administrators initially reported that the amount was only $17,802.76.

EAG notified the school corporation of the discrepancies in August.  GCS administrators struggled to answer what should have been simple questions, and eventually reached out to the since-retired Stahly for help.

Stahly claims the maximum daily rate of pay for unused sick days is $75 per day and the maximum number of days is 150.  That totals $11,250.  As for his 401(a) plan, Stahly said the total amount contributed was $137,644.63.

School administrators should have these numbers at their fingertips.  While Goshen Community Schools is a relatively small district, administrators are responsible for tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, and they should know where they are going.

According to the most recent fiscal data available, the school corporation’s total revenue was just over $89 million for the 2008-09 school year.  That same year the corporation’s total expenditures totaled $77 million.

EAG contacted Goshen Community Schools on three separate occasions to verify their numbers.  Each attempt resulted in different answers and with different explanations.

If private businesses conducted their finances this way, they would be bankrupt.

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  1. ricseag says:

    Isn’t it a pain when reality doesn’t match up with your screed!!! And here you had this article all ready to go, only to find out it wasn’t true….. Hate it when that happens!

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