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Pa. Auditor General says some findings in York City School District audit are “inexcusable”

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YORK, Pa. -- Inexcusable, negligent, incompetent, inconceivable are just a few of the choice words Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale used to describe major issues within the York City School District.

One of the biggest issues DePasquale's audit from 2010-2015 showed was the district failed to closely monitor credit card spending. He said some cards were kept open even after employees left the district.

"It is literally unbelievable that that could happen in today's day and age," DePasquale said.

The school district in a statement said the issue of credit card monitoring has been resolved.

Another issue is the district cell phone policy. Employees can use cell phones and data plans for only $25 a month. The district picks up the rest of the bill.

He said, "The problem is no one is even monitoring the usage of those un-reimbursed cell phones to determine if those employees were actually using them for business purposes."

Other problems identified were travel points earned on credit card purchases.

"You had an employee wracking up personal travel miles and rewards points for booking official government traveling," he said.

DePasquale also said the district needs to keep better track of its laptop computers and digital tablets.

"IT inventory records auditors reviewed were unreliable, showing IT equipment may be missing or misplaced," he said.

Rep. Carol Hill-Evans said she is confident the district can fix the problems.

"Now that they know what it is they're looking for that they'll address those issues, and the next time the audit is done we'll be in a better place," she said.

One of the positive improvements: The York City School District did increase its general fund from $2.7 to $17 million.

The district also decreased long-term debt by $16 million.

"York City is actually one of the few districts that has been increasing its fund balance. So that will allow it to weather certain financial storms that may happen in the future," DePasquale said.

In a statement responding to the audit, the York City School District said:

The administration of the School District of the City of York would like to thank the state Auditor General’s office for its thorough and constructive review of District finances during the five-year period between 2011-12 and 2015-16. We take seriously our responsibilities as stewards of taxpayer dollars and welcome any and all opportunities to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Through an extensive review of financial records and budgets worth nearly $130 million over five years, the Auditor General’s office found two areas of concern that the District was able to immediately address. One was a clerical error causing over-payment of retirement benefits to a former employee.

Secondly, the Auditor General’s office found weaknesses in the District’s recordkeeping system for credit-card receipts. Both issues have been resolved.

In a third finding, the Auditor General’s office revealed a lack of accurate records detailing the District’s inventory of information technology equipment. The District had previously noted this issue in the District’s financial Recovery Plan and included a technology audit and management plan as one of 23 strategies for recovery in the Recovery Plan approved last year. The District originally scheduled the technology audit for the 2017-18 school year but has since expedited that process to resolve inventory issues as quickly as possible.

The Auditor General’s fourth and final finding amounts to a philosophical disagreement over the merits of the District’s financial Recovery Plan. The District’s plan – approved by the state Department of Education – is built on the conviction that our financial situation, insofar as can be controlled on a local level, will improve as student achievement and the community’s perception of the District improves.

We respectfully challenge the Auditor General’s criticism of the District for its dependence on state revenue.

The District is, in fact, largely dependent on state revenue. But this is a reality of urban education structured by the school funding system in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Despite levying the highest property-tax rate in York County, the School District of the City of York is restricted by the concentrated poverty within its geographical boundaries to raise sufficient revenue for the education of its children – by a significant margin.

That is why Superintendent Dr. Eric Holmes and other York County superintendents have supported the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, which advocates a permanent fair-funding formula for Pennsylvania school districts. The need for fair, consistent and timely state allocations is especially urgent in urban districts like York City, and we respectfully ask the Auditor General’s office to join us in advocacy for making education a top priority for state lawmakers.