GAO report: Where did D.C. school dollars go?

Says officials need better monitoring of contract files, funds

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As Republicans prepare to take the leadership reins of the House, D.C. school officials on Friday welcomed recommendations in a new federal report that faults the Fenty and Rhee administrations for failing to track and monitor how federal education dollars were spent.

During the investigation, D.C. school officials tried to find detailed information on programs that target literacy, early childhood education and professional development, but came up short, according to the Nov. 16 report.

Citing past and current deficiencies, the Government Accountability Office report said the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) “continues to be designated as a ‘high risk’ grantee” and that D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) continues to have “systemic problems in its internal controls” of federal funds.

Some of the rules and policies are in place, but not always followed.

DCPS has policies on responsibilities for monitoring contractor performance; however, these policies do not cover how to do the monitoring and they were not consistently followed,” the report said.

The mismanagement meant that contracting officials could not find “three of the 17 files we requested for review,” according to the report, and “four of the 14 contract files we reviewed — totaling $2.7 million — were missing performance evaluations, and evaluations of [three] additional contractors were not completed within the required time frames.”

“Performance evaluations are an important tool to help the contracting and program offices determine whether to extend a contract, and these evaluations must be submitted before a contract extension can be awarded,” according to the GAO report.

While the GAO reviewed management practices during the tenure of former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who took over the system in 2007 and resigned last month, it did single her out by name, nor did the incoming Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in his statement.

“The D.C. Public School system continues business as usual and is plagued by a lack of accountability,” said Rep. Darrell Issa of California, a strong school-choice proponent whose committee oversees D.C. affairs. “With teachers unions having succeeded in cutting off Opportunity Scholarships, it’s deeply troubling that poor D.C. school children have no alternatives for getting an education.”

But D.C. school officials said Friday that the federal money was spent on behalf of effective school reforms.

“Over the past three years, DCPS has used our federal payment funds to support critical, innovative programs that have helped reform public education in the District,” a spokesman who did not want to be named said in an e-mail to The Washington Times. “Federal payment dollars have directly funded innovative compensation structures including performance pay; supported our rigorous teacher evaluation system; and funded a new staffing model that enabled DCPS to bring art, music and PE teachers to every school.

The GAO report made several recommendations, including requesting that the mayor “direct OSSE and DCPS to establish and implement written policies and procedures for monitoring use of federal payments for school improvement.” It also said DCPS should “maintain contract files and other expenditure documentation.”

D.C. school officials said they welcome the recommendations.

“Although the study pre-dates Chancellor Rhee’s administration, we welcome the recommendations made by the GAO with respect to the policies and procedures in place at DCPS for contract monitoring,” the schools spokesman said. “In fact, DCPS has already made a number of improvements in this area. We are also pleased to see that the GAO report makes clear that DCPS appropriately accounted for each federal dollar appropriated and spent.”

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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