State Auditor's Office Says District Misused $1.8 Million--and That's Not All

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In a 44-page report released today, the state auditor's office told the Seattle School District it should "familiarize" itself with the law and regulations it is governed by. Why? Because the district seems unable to follow so many of them, apparently. "In all of the areas we examined, we found lax or non-existent controls in district operations," the auditor's office concluded (see pdf).

While the auditor's office has noted some of the same problems in reports on other big schools districts in the state, it's rare for audits to identify so many problems at once, says Mindy Chambers, a spokesperson for the office.

One of the most significant findings is that the district inappropriately spent $1.8 million in capital project funds on a program it runs to foster small businesses. The program was started two or three years ago to encourage competition among contractors who might bid on school projects, according to district spokesperson Patti Spencer-Watkins.

Spencer-Watkins says the district still believes that at least some of that $1.8 million was correctly used. But the audit suggests that all the money was misused because it did not directly go for construction and building improvements.

Among other problems turned up by the audit: the school board failed to take minutes at workshops and retreats, as required by state law; staff ran up $1,685 in late fees on credit cards; and the district incorrectly reported to the state the education and experience of some of its staff.

And all that is apart from the $334,000 in overpayments the district made to an estimated 144 employees because staffers goofed as they manually entered pay rates into a new payroll system--an error that had already been revealed in an interim report in May.

The district issued a response to the audit late this afternoon, saying that it was developing "corrective action plans for each finding." One has to wonder how effective they will be, however. Another beef of the auditor's office was that the district had failed to correct problems it had already identified in past reports.

All in all, it's not the greatest news for Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson (above), the subject of a mostly flattering Seattle Times profile today who has nevertheless been battered by a string of no-confidence votes from teachers and critical surveys from parents.

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