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SFS COVID-19 Update #3

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

 

School Finance FAQ

Thanks to all of you who have been submitting school finance questions related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. We have been working with our DPI federal grants colleagues to compile a single federal and state FAQ with all of our current questions and answers included.

We will continue updating the FAQ as questions come in and answers are determined. DPI does not have answers to all of the questions asked to date, and the answers are subject to change depending on any federal or state legislative and regulatory action. Each individual Q&A is dated and will be noted as an update if the answer needs to change.

The School Finance FAQ is a publicly viewable Google Doc available at the following link:

DPI School Finance FAQ

The link is also available on DPI’s main COVID-19 page.

Membership Audits

We continue to be asked about membership audits and the May 1 due date. A number of districts have not had their auditors in yet for field work. Governor Evers’ “Safer-at-Home” order allows financial services providers to remain open for business; the expectation is that audit firms will still be open to complete membership audits.

While PI 14.03 requires that school audits be conducted on-site, we recognize that circumstances may make this difficult for some audit firms and districts. Audit firms who have not yet completed their site work and believe the COVID-19 situation will require an alternative, such as working remotely, should email dpiauditreports@dpi.wi.gov with the following information:

  • Name(s) of district client(s),
  • Originally scheduled site work date(s), and
  • The firm’s proposed alternative arrangement(s), including alternative work date(s).

The SFS Team may require additional details or changes to the proposed alternative. However, if we do not respond within two working days, the firm may consider its proposed alternative to be acceptable.

Response on Transportation Payments

DPI has been hearing from legislative offices about school district payments to bus contractors. We are aware this is a hot topic out in the field right now, and know that many districts are working out with their contractors how to ensure that the local bus drivers and employees are given similar consideration as district employees. We also understand that there is some disagreement about how neighboring states’ actions in this area are best characterized.

Below is the response we are providing at this time to legislators and others. Links have been added to the Illinois State Board of Education and Minnesota Department of Education COVID-19 guidance documents that discuss transportation payments.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) recognizes the importance of school transportation contractors in the education of Wisconsin’s children. We understand the hardships on contractors’ employees during this public health emergency, just as we do with school district and other local education agency (LEA) employees.

Like our counterpart state education agencies (SEAs) in Illinois and Minnesota, DPI does not have the authority to order transportation contractors be paid as though school remained in session (3/24 update: Minnesota's guidance is an "expectation" that LEAs "maintain collaboration and contracts," Illinois' is a recommendation that districts work to ensure employees are paid). School districts should work directly with their transportation contractors and legal counsel through this unprecedented situation. The department does not have access to district contracts.

The Illinois and Minnesota SEAs have provided assurances that any such payments to transportation contractors will be eligible for state transportation reimbursement. An assurance would not be necessary for Wisconsin’s Pupil Transportation Aid as it is based on distance and ridership counts, not expenses. With regard to High Cost Transportation Aid, and any other school aids that would be affected by transportation expenses, DPI would need statutory authority to make similar assurances for aid eligibility.

For questions about this information, contact COVID-19questions@dpi.wi.gov