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.
OK, this hit the news over a week ago...
Posted by Ron Hebron at July 29, 2010
12:08 PM | Email This
1. Is ANYone surprised? Especially after KING 5's investigative piece on the ferry system, etc. This is but the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
When dilettantes and union members are elected to school boards incompetence and dysfunction reign supreme.
The more worrisome education policy issue is SPI Dorn is advocating implementation of the new federal education standards. One size fits all policies in public education guarantees mediocrity plus indoctrination for statism to replace our democratic republican form of government.
I think the big question here is how to stop it.
School choice and a modified free market would go a long way to curing this. But that is not going to happen as schooling isn't "for the children" any more but a protected make work project for liberal neo-com apparatchiks.
4. Sounds like they need to clean house in the finance dept. We need people who have worked in the private sector and have had to be responsible and accountable with the resources of others... Hey, I'm an unemployed accountant... I would consider it a civic duty to clean up their sloppy accounting!
#1. Nobody is surprised. We (conservatives) oppose the abuse, and the liberals embrace it, coddle it, protect it, nourish it, etc, etc.
6. Did anyone loose their job over the last audit? Will anyone be fired over this last one?
We all know the answer to those questions. Without accountability the problems will continue, no matter how many audits are done.
7. This story broke almost three weeks ago. Why did it take so long for Sound Politics to pick up on it?
8. And they wonder why we get mad about tax increases. They really AREN'T doing their best to spend wisely what they already have. Clean up your act, school officials.
I assure you my kid's private school didn't disrespect the parents' tuition dollars like this. You see, they actually have to answer to the parents for any would-be misbehavior or people would leave. With SPS, they just shrug.
I've been a school board director in a smaller district for more than a decade, we've had no findings, just suggestions from the auditor. However, after reading the audit report from Seattle, I don't find it as alarming as most of you.
The most glaring issue seems to be a central office one. I'm guessing the Superintendent has limited knowledge of not only the law but school financing and I'm pretty sure there must be a disfunctional school board that hasn't enough individuals to put a check on the deficiencies of the central office.
Most of the issues seem to stem from the lack of knowledge of the law or a blatant disregard for it in an effort to circumvent the restrictions. When it comes to posting minutes or the OPMA they look to have little knowledge and there should be at least two board members and the superintendent that not only know the law through and through but also relevant court cases.
The issue with spending capital funds looks to be minor. What I mean by that, is that it could have been a reasonable assumption by the office that the 'cost' of getting bids to do capital projects should be paid from that fund. Any business man would also include those incidentals when depreciating their assets - however, our laws don't allow that in relation to school district capital funds.
The issue with overpaying employees is not uncommon, it's multiplied at Seattle because of the large district nature. Most of the time it is because a teacher lied about where they are on the salary schedule and they are bound to pay it back. It would be good to have checks and balances on those, but I imagine for a school that size they'd have to give up 80 to 100 hours a year for that - maybe they should.
"less like incompetence and more like an ingrained comfort with spending other people's money without accountability."
Kinda reminds me of the old bumpersticker, when the phone companies enjoyed a government regulated monopoly: "Ma Bell - We don't care; we don't have to!"
These types of problems will never be resolved until we do away with seniority, unions and tenure and replace them with true meritocracies.
We should also do away with much of the public school administration and use that money to increase teacher pay. But of course the increased pay would be only for those who are eligible, with frequent evaluations by teachers, parents and peers.
And if teaching was a meritocracy, like employment at Microsoft, then there would be vigorous competition for the higher pay.
Collectivism fails every time.
12. a few notes--only surprise is that it's VARNER's story; she usually is pro-Dem-lib-system to the max & all the "victims' issues"; if anyone remembers, Goodlowe-John. was clueless in her interviews when asked about SEA's then-current (shyt) finances; you'd think someone did their interview-homework beforehand; she got a pass; but now, she learned the hard way; and ok--she took action--much UN-like "the SEA way" of her predecessors; small steps;
--and Michele-yes--God bless the private schools & home-schools! no crap excuses here--it's TRULY "stand and deliver!" and people actually CARE
13. and once again, this underscores why these audits are an exceptionally good idea. Taxpayer money gets wasted and abused all the time---while politicians just raise taxes to cover it over and keep going. That's citizen abuse, my friends. And then when you learn that Gregoire and her democrat friends don't want people to see the results of these audits (that's why they don't want the audits in the first place, genius....!)you get even angrier!
14. As Lynn Varner says, they are comfortable misusing other people's money.
Yet, I've never heard of a Democrat (or Politician) that wasn't...and this is news to a vacuous dolt like Lynn Varner? Wow!!
15. This is not surprising.
Working with city and king county employees, I see daily the incompetence, complacency on the part of the majority of workers and the resulting waste that would more that cover the county deficit many times over. This is at every level in city and county government. The system at the city and county in broken and dysfunctional.
We soon will be asked to vote on an increase in sales tax for king county.
The county's Sheriff is threatening officer cuts and loss of law enforcement support. Her mismanagement of officers is as criminal as the crooks she pursues.
The hourly rate for an office is $37/hr, yet the average yearly salary is well over $100,000 per year. The first officer on the list made $290,000 on a $37/ hour rate. This means out of 8760 hours in a year, he worked 7837. This must have been Robocop since he got no sleep.
Check out this web sit and scroll down the list: http://www.thenewstribune.com/soundinfo/kingsalaries/?appSession=108271475259277
Check out others that make similar hourly rate, all departments are in the scroll down list. Many make hourly rates of $34/hr, yet bring home nearly $200,000 a year. The Ferry workers have nothing on the county.
Do you know it rains a lot in Seattle?
Why do I mention this?
Well since this must be "the Stating the Obvious Post" I thought I would join in.
"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."
Thats easy, they had just finished their alcohol education class at the local bar and had to get back to the teachers lounge to sober up for their next class.