State Audit Criticizes Columbus Schools’ Spending, Record Keeping

A state audit of the Columbus School District has found millions of dollars in missing equipment and federal funds that may have been used improperly. The state also says the district should reimburse $16,000 that was misspent.

State auditor Mary Taylor says an audit released Thursday found a variety of misspent money.

“We have over $8,000 in health insurance premiums for employees who did not qualify to receive the benefits,” Taylor says. “We have over $7,400 in salary overpayments to a contracted company that was managing the district’s voluntary separation plan. We have $227 in improper charges for personal cell phone use and $137 in improper food and beverage purchases.”

Taylor says the audit also revealed that nearly $4 million dollars in district property could not be accounted for.

“We have over $3.7 million in assets that we can’t account for,” Taylor says. “We’re not making a statement that they’ve been improperly used or money has been improperly spent. Our question is, where are these assets? Why can’t we track them? Proper accounting, proper checks and balances should be in place so that when we come in we should know.

In a press release and subsequent news conference Thursday afternoon, school district officials brushed some of the audit’s concerns aside. The press release says the audit found No Material Weaknesses for the fifth consecutive year. The missing equipment was mostly old computers that had been replaced according to the district’s internal auditor Howard Saunders.

“We do believe that there will be instances, because we’re such a large district and have such a large number of assets, that there is a potential for some not to be located; which we don’t believe that we’ve lost any,” Saunders says. “We subsequently do find them at some point in time if they’re not in the room where they’re listed. We also plan to implement some other measures by upgrading technology in order to track those assets.”

The audit raised questions of how nearly $3 million in federal grants were used. Saunders said that teachers who were paid from federal grants sometimes did not keep proper timesheets. Superintendent Gene Harris added that the money may not have been disbursed in the proper timeframe.

“Our goal is to make sure that we have continuity of programming for our students,” Harris says. “Misspent is such a difficult word. It’s not a situation where we have inappropriately sent money on something other than the programs that where intended for children. It’s a matter of making sure that they were spent in the right granting period.”

But state auditor Mary Taylor says the spending of public funds should be properly accounted for.

“I think the overriding theme is we’re spending taxpayer money and that every dollar of taxpayer money counts,” she says. “And that’s the position we’re coming from. We’re here to protect the taxpayer dollar and to point out when we believe that it’s not being spent appropriately.”

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