Friday, April 25, 2008

Accounting for the Synod

When I served as a board member for the Synod's Board for Communication Services from 2004-2007, I saw many things which troubled me, one of which was the practices which the General Accounting services had in charging synodical agencies, including KFUO for administrative costs.

It's no secret that it costs a lot of money to operate the administration of The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod. Somebody has to pay and there has to be an accounting for it.

You might think it would be fair to determine what each agency spends on copy machines, paper, office supplies, publication costs and payroll -- and then charge them on the basis of that.

But it doesn't work that way. That's the OLD way which was much too complex.

The new way (roughly speaking) which has been in effect since 2001, is imply to charge synodical departments on a per capita basis. So $X is charged per department based on how many people work there -- not on the basis of how much they spend or generate.

There are at least 2 issues with this: First of all, do you think executive directors are going to be careful about how much their departments spend if they are simply charged on a per capita basis?

Admittedly, they DO have to submit budgets and attempt to stay within them, but do you think the departmental budgets would look much different if they were done the old way? Maybe not.

But the kicker is this: even if a seminary student were to work minimally, part-time in a synodical department, the department would be charged the full amount by General Accounting as is paid for full-time staff. (I won't venture here to state what that charge is currently, but it's thousands of dollars per person.)

Special allowances were made for KFUO, reducing the per capita dollar amount since they were not located at the IC building. But the allotment was still substantial. The station had been operating in the black with at least $100,000 in reserve, but all of that was sucked away and more besides when the General Accounting policies changed in 2001.

SECONDLY, broadly stated, the Communications Services department is to be the clearing house for all material presented to the public (again, please note this is an informal statement/summary). I believe it is a big drain on the efficiency of our synod that every department is doing its own thing. Each department operates its own website with its own staff/webmasters, every department contracts individually for printing materials, booklets, etc.

And to be fair, according to what I have been led to believe, the way that Communications Services had operated prior to 2003 when the departments took things into their own hands, dragging its feet or doing inferior work, practically forced these agencies to have to start up their own mini communications departments. Now that they have these things going, they don't want to give them up. Dr. Kieschnick could do something about it by mandating a change, bringing things back under the auspices of the BCS, but that isn't going to happen even though I think it would save the synod a fairly substantial amount of money.

I think that this reduplication of effort WASTES MONEY BIG TIME. Additionally, it is inefficient and it fails in presenting a unified look and a sense of coherence in the way that the synod presents itself to its constituents and to the public.

I believe that I am justified in saying that the synodical mess is very, very serious -- and that few people, in some cases not even the district presidents, are well-apprised of what is going on in synodical administration.

The current administration would be hard-pressed to spend two days fielding pointed questions from experienced members of synod in the presence of the synod in convention about the way things are managed. I really don't think people would be happy to see the way that things are being done.

Admittedly, it may be a thankless job and it is an Herculean task. Those responsible for running the administrative side of the synod might be upset by criticism when they are struggling to put out many fires.

HUGE lines of credit have been opened to cover the growing debt. I believe that the administrative practices of Dr. Kieschnick results in spending and spending and spending -- together with corporate salaries which distinguish those who get them from common pastors and teachers. People might get an idea by reviewing the minutes of the synod's Board of Director's at the synodical website.

And there are too many pundits complaining about what is going on in synod and recommending courses of action which DON'T get to the heart of the problem. It isn't just a matter of getting faithful pastors and laymen involved. We need to have people who are experienced as well.

Our concerns aren't just theological. Or political. They're financial, too.

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