Audit dings oversight of state’s K-12 bandwidth program

Audit dings oversight of state’s K-12 bandwidth program

(Calif.) Even as bandwidth connectivity remains a precious resource at most school districts, the state entity charged with supporting K-12 networks routinely holds back millions in authorized spending, according to a new audit.

The California K-12 High Speed Network, overseen by the Imperial County Office of Education, also lacks a good method for determining when and by how much it should increase the bandwidth for a client school district, the report from the State Auditor found.

The review also discovered that some key performance measures, such as system reliability, were not being included in annual reports to the state.

The audit findings and its recommendations, which were released late last week, were not challenged by Imperial County or staff at the California Department of Education.

Local educational agencies were individually responsible for connecting their classrooms with the internet until 2000 when lawmakers established what would become the K12HSN. Today, the agency manages access for about 85 percent of the LEAs in California, representing about 4.8 million students.

Between 2010 and 2015, the program has received an annual appropriation of $8.3 million but spent only about $7 million each year, the auditor said. During that period, K12HSN generated an operating reserve of $14.7 million but continued to request the same $8.3 million annual allotment.

Last year, lawmakers held back funding in an effort to make sure the agency spent down the reserve but auditors said they remain concerned about how the program’s funds are managed.

“According to our review, these reserves appear to be a product of inadequate budgeting by ICOE and a lack of oversight at the state level,” the state audit team said. “(Imperial County) has taken some steps to improve its budgeting process, but concerns remain about its accuracy and transparency.”

Top managers of the program explained that it has been difficult in the past for them to anticipate network service costs and that they sometimes took a conservative approach to budgeting.

The audit team suggested that the Legislature should require the county to submit a more detailed budget request in the coming fall.

State regulators were also critical of how program managers determine when to upgrade service capacity to a district and by how much.

They pointed out that Imperial County is looking to take up “expensive capacity increases to the network's circuits,” which are the individual connections between network sites or those sites and the rest of the network. The auditors said that the specific pathway chosen by the county “even though less expensive options have been available.”

They said that the county could not “justify the costs associated with some of these increases.”

Also of concern is a state law that puts the responsibility on the CDE to ensure that Imperial County and the K12HSN program are providing good services to schools. The auditors discovered that several key performance measures—including one related to system reliability—were not being reported to the state.

One such indicator is the control of “latency,” which is a measurement of data delay; and another is “packet loss,” which is the measure of data sent versus data received.

“Videoconference users, for example, experience latency as a loss of video and audio synchronization, which may result in participants' talking over each other because of the delay,” the auditors said. “With even a small amount of packet loss, a videoconference may periodically lose audio, and images may freeze. Industry standards support both measures as appropriate methods to gauge a network's quality of service. However, ICOE has not provided statistics in its annual reports regarding the latency or packet loss experienced over the network.”