ACADEMICS


From this CPA’s perspective, investing in students pays off

With an election season in high gear, the issue of public education is sure to emerge as one that candidates – whether running for local school committee, a seat in Congress, or the White House – will look to use to gain favor with voters.

After all, no one is against the education of our children. 

But there is debate as to the financing of our public schools and how the taxpayer money invested in them is allocated, which might explain why it has become commonplace to find CPAs working behind the scenes in school departments all over Rhode Island.
 
Mary King, a long-time member of the RISCPA, is just one of those CPAs. King is Director of Administrative Services for the North Kingstown School District, a position she has held since 2012. King is responsible for the nine-school, 3,900-student district’s finance/business office; payroll and benefits; human resources; transportation; food service; and facilities.
 
It is a challenging role to be sure, explains King, but one that is critically important to providing students the resources they need to succeed. 
        
“The biggest challenge we face, as do many school districts, is decreasing funding from all revenues, mainly local revenues, namely property taxes appropriated by town officials,” said King. “Every year general operating expenses increase but our local funding has not kept pace.  History shows that local funding has not kept pace with inflation, resulting in year-over-year cuts to programs and staffing.” 
 
King said that another significant challenge that school districts face is funding for capital investment in buildings and infrastructure. Increased pension costs, she said, are also on the horizon. In that vein, North Kingstown is a microcosm of cities and towns throughout Rhode Island, as well as around the country. As much as possible, King takes a business approach to meeting these challenges. As a CPA, she does see similarities in the operation of a school department and that of a more traditional business.
 
“Many of the same covenants apply, such as prudent fiscal spending, strong purchasing regulations, and tight internal controls,” she said.
 
The North Kingstown School District could serve as a model to other cities and towns. The district has been recognized for strong internal controls, timely, quality fiscal reporting and data transparency. This year, it was the winner of the ASBO International (Association of School Business Officials International) Meritorious Budget Award. 
While she does not enter a classroom, King is a tireless advocate for public education, and in particular, those students who attend North Kingstown schools. They deserve, she said, a sound investment of resources.   
“Our current students are our future leaders,” said King. “They will make up our workforce for every level of employment. It is critical that our students are taught skills needed in the workplace or to prepare them for college.”