Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Don't Worry. It's For The Children.


The Greece Central School District, a leading F.A.I.R. Plan critic, has been busted for wasting millions in taxpayer dollars.

These are the same people who have been blasting County Executive Brooks’ F.A.I.R. Plan for what they describe as its devastating blow to the school district’s budget. (Oops! Sorry. We mean, its devastating blow to the children.)

Here are excerpts from the Democrat and Chronicle reports. (All are from the paper’s February 3 edition unless otherwise noted.)

  • A draft audit of the Greece Central School District paints a scathing portrait of overspending, lack of financial controls and wasted tax dollars.

  • The confidential draft audit, obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle, detailed years of financial waste and abuse, including officials overspending on a building project and then hiding the excess while keeping the Board of Education in the dark about the project’s status.

  • . . . the district overspent $2.5 million on a building project that was supposed to be complete in 2004, but has yet to be finished. The district then allegedly hid the excesses by shifting the expenses to the budget's general fund . . .[February 4 edition]

  • "The school) board did not protect the district's financial interests from waste and abuse," the document states. "The board's failure to develop sound policies to manage district resources, its unwillingness to monitor district finances and its acquiesence to the demands and practices of a powerful superintendent resulted in a poor control environment in the district."

  • The draft audit alleges district officials made a deliberate effort "to avoid public scrutiny of project activities," thereby raising "ethical concerns about the actions of the board and district officials."

  • Auditors also found that the project's construction manager was paid an extra $1 million as directed by two change orders issued in May 2004, and the district could not provide auditors with documentation showing why the payments were made, other than "ambiguous language" in the manager's contract.

  • Examples of wasteful spending auditors found include nearly $23,000 for each of six custom-built wheelchair lifts that were never installed because the "former superintendent objected" to where they were going to be placed.
    • • •
    Putting the lifts elsewhere in the buildings would have required complex construction changes, so the lifts now sit idle in off-site storage, costing taxpayers an additional $2,600 per year.

  • Also, the draft audit states, more than $60,000 was spent on risers that the director of arts never wanted and are still not being used.
    • • •
    According to the report, staff hired by the board to oversee the project were never properly trained in their jobs and were unable to carry out their duties. A clerk of the works hired to help manage the project quit in August 2004 after not being allowed to attend meetings to talk about the project.

  • The draft audit also faulted the district for paying out more than $127,000 in compensation to employees without board authorization and alleges the board generally gave superintendents the freedom to grant employees extra benefits without oversight.
    • • •
    For example, the audit said that in January 2005, [then-Superintendent Steven L.] Walts allegedly made an agreement to provide some employees with free lunches at district cafeterias and more portable health benefits. According to the draft, which did not explain how the two were linked, the actual cost for the program was $6,000 per year but had a potential liability of about $55,000.
    • • •
    And, in March 2007, the draft audit alleges a district official was granted a $20,000 lump-sum retirement incentive, which was approved by the board in an executive session out of public scrutiny. Boards may not vote to spend district funds during executive sessions.

So now we wonder……will the lock-step Greece PTA now screech the same abuse at the Greece School Board as it did towards the County Executive over the FAIR plan? Will it express outrage at how the school district’s negligent leadership and incompetence will lead to higher school taxes?

Don’t hold your breath.

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