Tuesday, July 12, 2005
ANSWER #5 for NEBRASKA: AUDIT STATE AID TO EDUCATION
I find it tremendously hard to believe that Nebraska taxpayers can be expected to pony up $2.16 billion for public schools (see for yourself on the statewide tallies at http://ess.nde.state.ne.us) and yet nobody is double-checking those expenditures on behalf of us taxpayers.
Of course each district has an annual audit, but it’s what they call “pro forma.” Did the district spend what they said they spent? Yes. So they “pass.”
Well, that’s not the kind of spending oversight that more than two billion big ones deserve to get. It’s long past time for Nebraska’s state auditor to be empowered to begin forensic audits on at least a spot-check basis on certainly state aid to education, at the very least. Please, please, won’t some upstanding state senator get this done next legislative session?
Look. I’m like most Nebraskans: I can’t believe there could be widespread fraud, waste and incompetence in our public education system. These are my neighbors and friends. The vast majority of educators are honest and give us the best bang they can, for our bucks.
But hey: let’s get real. Can we say that it’s NOT going on? How do we KNOW, in the absence of corroboration? It’s going on everywhere else, so how can we say it isn’t here? And if it IS going on, why on Earth wouldn’t we want to find it, and put a stop to it? Wouldn’t the mere fact that we’re finally LOOKING be a deterrent, at any rate?
I’m telling you, folks. I read a lot of stuff from all over about public education. There is corruption aplenty from coast to coast. Nebraska is oddly out of the action. It just doesn’t seem credible that there’s none of that here. And it just doesn’t feel good to know that we’re not lifting a finger to even try to find it.
STOPPING SCHOOL CORRUPTION
Q. What guarantees do we have that our tax dollars are really going for education, and for waste, fraud, nepotism and corruption?
According to a New York University law professor who has studied corruption, incompetence and mismanagement in the public schools all across the country in districts large and small, the answer comes in two words: “forensic audits.
It’s unacceptable that there is so little oversight on school spending in this day of computerized records and sophisticated investigative techniques. States that do not have at least a minimal spot-check performance audit system in place are letting taxpayers down, bigtime.
The law professor, Lydia G. Segal, says in her 2003 book, Battling Corruption in America’s Public Schools (Northwestern University Press) that waste, fraud and abuse are by no means limited to big cities like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, although she documented plenty of evidence from them. Examples:
-- $8 million in undocumented expenses were found in the Roslyn School District on Long Island, where superintendent Frank A. Tassone and an administrator have pleaded not guilty to stealing more than $1 million for four homes, a Lexus, airline travel, cruises, dermatology treatments, furniture, jewelry, and no-bid contracts for the superintendent’s roommate. The school board has also been investigating huge expenditures to companies that have no record of doing business with the district, rentals of limousines, and other irregularities.
-- A school construction scandal in Fort Worth, Texas, ended with prison sentences involving $15.9 million in kickbacks between an executive director of maintenance for the public school district and a contractor.
-- Eight employees of the New Orleans public school system pleaded guilty to stealing more than $70,000 in a phony payroll scheme, though the state legislative auditor of Louisiana believes the paycheck fraud totals $3 million.
-- In Oakland, Calif., accounting was so messed up, state auditors couldn’t tell if the district was in compliance with state and federal regulations or not, and multi-million dollar repayments might be assessed.
-- The Los Angeles school district has the most expensive high school ever built still under construction, at a pricetag of $270 million in an appalling comedy of errors and mismanagement.
-- An audit has charged the Miami-Dade County, Fla., school district with wasting more than $100 million in its school facilities program.
Homework: The article is on http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=15595
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