Our old pal Diana Costello has a story out today, Audit faults Tarrytowns school district purchasing about the findings of a state audit.
The school district failed to seek competitive offers to ensure the best price before awarding a variety of contracts and expenditures totaling more than $1.3 million, according to a state audit released yesterday.
Our own District here in New Rochelle came under criticism from a similar audit in June.
In a form reminiscent of our own schools honco here in New Rochelle, Schools Superintendent Howard Smith, having been caught with his pants down, has the nerve to blame the State for its findings.
[Smith] said the audit report, in certain respects, 'failed to establish an appropriate context for interpreting the significance of their findings.'
Huh? What context is he talking about? The law requires getting competitive bids when spending taxpayer money whether the Superintendent or anyone else in the District finds that "convenient". Smith broke the law. What context is required?
In case anyone is wondering how the game is played, 60% of the cash, over $800,000, went to just nine people who were given no-bid contracts for what are described as so-called "professional services".
'There's a reason why we have laws, rules and regulations on school district spending,' said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. 'Districts have to get the most for every tax dollar they spend. If school officials fail to follow the guidelines for spending, they not only fail the taxpayer, but they undermine the public's confidence and jeopardize tax dollars.'
What public confidence can we here in New Rochelle that our money is being well spent when our District officials are willing to make statements to the press that do not comport with the facts.
In June, the Journal News reported:
The New Rochelle school district needs to improve financial oversights and should seek competitive bids for professional services such as legal counsel, the state comptroller's office said in a recently released audit. The comptroller's office, which by law must audit every school district in the state by 2010, advised the district to improve its written purchasing policies and to separate the duties of the treasurer and purchasing agent. The vulnerabilities found do not assure "that funds have been used in the most prudent manner," according to the report.
As was the case in Tarrytown, the State Comptroller expressed particular concern about the purchasing of professional services.
As for service contracts, the district paid $460,000 for legal services and $48,000 for culinary classes without competitive bids. Even though the district is not required to secure competitive bids for such contracts, the comptroller says it's a good practice.
In other words, since its polices are not set up correctly the auditor cannot be sure what the District has been doing with our money and is particularly concerned about the lawyers the District is using. Fifteen years without a review of whether the District could get a better deal elsewhere? Wow! For half a million dollars the District ought to be able to hire its own attorneys to work full-time for the District. Why even hire an outside firm at all? The District is a $200 million operation and could more than justify having its own in-house counsel. Think about it. Four hundred and sixty grand a year is about twice what we pay the Superintendent.
More to the point of this blog, when the District and the Mayor make public statements claiming that school funds are evenly distributed around the District how can we be certain that this is true. Given the Tarrytown audit, we ought to be particularly interested to know how many no-bid professional services contracts the District has doled out over the past few years and how our money is being moved around.
You can almost hear the slushing sound from here.