Thursday, July 29, 2010

Audit of Seattle Schools finds lots of problems

State Auditor Brian Sontag audited Seattle School District and found a lot of problems. At SAO (pdf) Lynn Varner at Seattle Times covers it. In her opinion:
... audit uncovered worrisome mistakes that seem less like incompetence and more like an ingrained comfort with spending other people's money without accountability.
Seattle Schools overpaid at least 83 employees and maybe up to 144 of them. They say they are getting payback from those still there. But some have left the district. Careless tracking of equipment. Auditor's report:
We asked the District to provide a report on all property losses that had occurred since the prior audit and a list of items shown as misappropriated in the asset database. From these lists and police reports, we were able to identify at least nine losses the District did not report to our Office. Some of the items were computers, digital cameras and camcorders. The dollar value assigned to the lost or misappropriated assets not reported to our Office was at least $7,412. The District had not assigned a value to some of the items.
State law restricts government agencies' use of capital funds. Seattle Times:
Yet, the district spent $1.8 million encouraging small and minority-owned businesses to bid on district work. First, I don't buy that, in a recession, the district has to entice bidders for lucrative contracts. Second, because no one bothered to familiarize themselves with state law, the district must replace the money by dipping into its general fund. That's less money for the classrooms.
... a series of careless mistakes, each one small in a budget the size of the district's, building a damning case of carelessness and lack of caring. The district was forced to pay nearly $1,700 in credit-card late fees in a single year. ... The shoddy reporting and bookkeeping gets worse. Employees charged $250,000 in gas, not necessarily a problem considering the size of the district and the many employees who travel between schools. But employees are required to note how many miles were driven between fill-ups so usage can be tracked. Few did so. Some scribbled in one mile, others took wilder guesses. They might as well have written "none of your business." Officials also cannot explain why in a 30-day span, nearly a quarter of fuel purchases charged to district credit cards occurred between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Auditors look at personnel records and found no employees working at those hours. Kennedy wonders if the gas pump time clocks were off. That would be some coincidence.
There are also violations for not keeping minutes of meetings and making them available to the public. State Auditor Brian Sonntag also finds that Seattle Schools has not fully corrected faults found in previous audits. As Lynn Varner says, they are comfortable misusing other people's money.

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