Audit raises new questions for Philly schools

April 30, 2008 3:59:09 PM PDT
They followed the dollars and the city says its found more cases of mishandled money within the Philadelphia School District. Details of an audit came out in an announcement held by the city controller today.

The controller's critical report focuses not on teachers and students, but on how the massive district accounts for some of its money.

Auditors sampled credit card accounts used by top brass during the Paul Vallas era. In 17 or 18 statements examined, auditors found questionable non-documented charges for 11-thousand dollars for gas, food, and even flowers. Small amounts, said city controller Alan Butkovitz, but maybe indications of bigger trouble.

"This type of environment allows waste, mismanagement and possibly outright fraud," he said.

Butkovitz found trouble sampling travel reimbursements in the district. The auditors used Map Quest.

"In the case of one employee who requested reimbursement for 754 miles, Map Quest calculated the mileage to be only 412 miles, he said.

Referring to an earlier report about artwork owned by the district, Butkovitz said the district still refuses to let auditors access some of those works.

For the controller, many questions remain as to how district spends its money. It was a sentiment echoed by some parent groups who follow the budget.

"What are we getting for the money we are spending? Are we spending too much for the things that we are paying for? Are we getting efficiency out of dollars?" wondered Gerald Wright of Parents United for Public Education.

The district responds that its books are transparent, contrary to what the controller might say.

"I think we are transparent. It shows that he is able with a fine comb to go through our expenses and find $500 missing here or $11,000 that need better receipts to be able to explain," said Fernando Gallard, director of media relations for the Philadelphia School District.

Gallard added that new internal controls over executive credit cards have been put in place.

Butkovitz said his office would audit more schools' funds this year.