- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2001

Maryland lawmakers yesterday expressed disgust over reports that more than $700,000 in high-tech equipment is missing from the Prince George's County school system.
"It's just another nail in the coffin," said state Sen. Leo Green, Prince George's Democrat. "Things like this just make it tougher to bring home more money. This is a bad situation."
The Washington Times reported yesterday that school auditors had found that $689,404 worth of computers, audio-visual equipment and other equipment could not be accounted for in more than a dozen county schools, acccording to an internal audit examining the past school year.
Auditors also found that 27 of the county's 188 schools are "insolvent" because of expensive copier contracts, fraud, unpaid vendor bills and overspending. The schools' combined deficit is $219,223.
School officials said that even though the accounts of some schools were overdrawn last year, those schools would still be operational and able to provide for students this year, adding that a new budget year started July 1. Meanwhile, the administration is working with principals to correct the problems.
"We are looking at the report, meeting with principals and helping them to track equipment," said school spokeswoman Athena Ware. "And we are working with them to clean up their finances. Every year we work with schools to remedy problems that are brought out by the annual audits. This isn't the first time."
Other officials downplayed the problem of missing equipment, saying the items "were around" and just not "on paper."
County school board members expressed anger and dismay that problems persist, saying the school administration needs to implement better tracking systems.
"These audit recommendations just smack the hand of principals," said board member Angie Como, District 1. "But financially, things are a mess. Principals are saying they aren't getting accurate financial statements. Issues such as inventory controls aren't getting followed up on. We need to resolve these issues once and for all."
Board members said they would like to have the internal auditors report to them rather than the administration to ensure independence.
Principals and their union leaders said their financial situation is a mess but blamed budget cuts and poor information for central administration.
"It's a nightmare down there," said one principal who asked not to be identified. "At one point, our monthly financial reports weren't even coming in. We would try to call to find out how much money we had and never got calls returned."
The principals' union leader, Doris Reed, said principals have often complained to her about receiving two budgets to work from. "After using the lower one," she said, "there would still be money missing. Then the principals get blamed when the school is in trouble even though they haven't been able to get any answers."
The audit, which was released to the board this week, highlights investigations into missing school money, problematic construction contracts for two new county high schools, improper field trips and discrepancies in school activity funds.
Among the auditors' findings:
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 France and 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.
Auditors also found some equipment 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.
Auditors recommended several changes to current procedures to improve financial accountability, including better internal controls, better documentation and follow-up audits.

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