Monday, July 5, 2010

Time for DOE to be Schooled by Juan Gonzalez - NY Daily News

Where's the accountability for Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg..?

Read original...
The faculty at John F. Kennedy High School was accused of pocketing more than $90,000 from fund raisers.

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein were supposed to bring private sector savvy to improve the running of our public school system.

So how come all these cases of theft and shoddy financial management keep popping up at the Department of Education?

Recent reports by state Controller Tom DiNapoli and Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon suggest a growing - perhaps systemic - problem in Klein's financial oversight.

Last week, a DiNapoli audit revealed that staff at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx stole or misused more than $90,000 of money raised by students at bake sales and other fund-raisers over a two-year period. Principal Anthony Rotunno quickly resigned as soon as the problem was uncovered.

Another DiNapoli audit concluded in May that the principal of Bronx Law and Finance High School, located on the same campus as Kennedy, used an account known as the General School Fund (GSF) to pay for more than $5,000 in credit card charges, most of them unrelated to student activities.

The investigation also found that officials at the schools periodically bounced checks and failed to keep proper financial records and receipts. DiNapoli blasted the DOE for failing to "provide adequate oversight and training."

Then there's computer hacker Albert Attoh. He was sentenced to one year in prison in March for breaking into the DOE's computerized payment system and stealing more than $640,000.

While any big agency can be victimized by a hacker these days, what's amazing about Attoh's theft is that it continued undetected over a four-year period. During that time, he kept withdrawing small amounts via a school system software program known as the Small Item Payment Process (SIPP).

"It is difficult to understand how the [agency] accumulated years of account statements, reflecting hundreds of thousands of public dollars spent to pay bills, but did not review them," Condon wrote in his investigation of Attoh.

"This is not the first time that [this office] has found serious lapses in fiscal oversight within the DOE."

Back in 2008, for example, an employee in the assessment office at DOE's Tweed headquarters used an agency-issued debit card to steal $60,000 in school funds that he blew on iPods, sound systems and international trips.

In that case, the thief also was enabled by lax supervision.

That same year, another Condon investigation at Public School 132 in the Bronx found that the principal's assistant and a payroll secretary siphoned more than $200,000 for their personal use over a three-year period.

The women used the school's computerized finance system to pay themselves for hundreds of hours of overtime that the principal had never approved, for thousands of dollars in credit card bills, for purchases of computers, digital cameras, jewelry, kitchen items, all of which were delivered to their homes.

In 2007, Condon found that the principal of Intermediate School 109 in Queens "misappropriated more than $30,000 in funds" collected from students and parents for school lunches, snacks and caps and gowns.

Even when they discover no direct theft, several Condon investigations have found a scandalous lack of financial training for principals and school treasurers.

In late April, the commissioner informed Klein that another investigation had revealed that two employees in charge of bank accounts at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Harlem "did not have receipts, bank statements or deposit slips" for the school's petty cash account, as required.

"Many investigations conducted by SCI have found this type of situation at DOE schools," Condon warned. In many cases, "those charged with the finances of a school...simply do not know how to perform those duties."

Klein has given principals and staff more responsibility over school finances, but he hasn't provided more training and oversight.

The watchdogs keep warning there's a systemic problem. When will the chancellor finally listen to them?