- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Nearly $700,000 worth of computers, audio-visual equipment and other equipment is missing from about a dozen Prince George's County schools, auditors said in a report obtained by The Washington Times.
What's more, 27 of the county's 188 schools lack the financial resources to continue operating due to fraud, unpaid vendor bills and overspending, the auditors said in the June 30 report.
Auditors found that $689,404 worth of school equipment disappeared over the past school year from certain schools, including Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, which has been in operation for one year.
Auditors also found some goods had been transferred from certain schools to other schools or loaned out without proper documentation, and other items were cited as stolen without proper reports being completed. New items had been purchased but not added to inventory logs. Auditors said they were able to recover $70,852 worth of equipment, a little over 10 percent of the missing inventory.
About one-sixth of all county schools are "insolvent" because of fraud, unpaid vendor bills and overspending of restricted funds by school officials, the auditors reported. The 27 schools include Largo High School, Nicholas Orem Middle School in Hyattsville and Hillcrest Heights Elementary School. The schools' combined deficit is $219,223.
Schools officials said that it was too early to comment on the findings but that they would review them.
"We will study the findings carefully, then take appropriate action," said Athena Ware, spokeswoman for the county school system.
Schools officials gave no reason why school board members received the audit nearly two months after it had been completed. The audit comes as Superintendent Iris T. Metts begins the second half of her four-year contract with the Prince George's County school system, after receiving a negative review of her performance this year.
Mrs. Metts is appealing her review.
Other findings in the audit, which county school board members received this week, include:
Management problems in the $19 million student activity funds, where auditors found a lack of separation in the duties of collecting, recording and depositing funds; lack of documentation for disbursements; checks issued payable to cash and loans, personal expenses and inappropriate expenses paid from the account.
Problems with a school field trip to Spain by students of Oakcrest Elementary School in Landover, where at least 14 participants did not pay the required $1,600 fee but attended the trip.
Personal funds mixed with petty cash available to the catering office of DuVal High School in Lanham.
Funds missing from James Ryder Randall Elementary School in Clinton.
School board members yesterday expressed anger and dismay over the report. "Some of the issues are repeat violations that were mentioned in previous reports and nothing was done to change things," said board member Robert Callahan, District 5.
Another school member who asked not to be identified said the schools needed to spend money they did not have because of budget cuts by the administration over the past two years.
"These schools are having a lot of problems staying afloat," the board member said. "And some of the bills weren't paid because the money was yanked out from under them."
Auditors recommended several changes to current procedures to improve financial accountability, including better internal controls, better documentation and follow-up audits.
Vaishali Honawar contributed to this report.


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