- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

D.C. public schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance yesterday placed several principals and business managers at six schools on administrative leave for making improper purchases with government-issued credit cards.

School officials said the suspensions resulted from an ongoing review that has uncovered improper transactions during the past 18 months at Moten, Bunker Hill, Houston, Randolph and Ludlow-Taylor elementary schools, and Hamilton Special Education Center.

As many as 10 persons have been suspended but the number may grow, said a spokesman for D.C. public schools.

“This is what my constituents and the [D.C.] Council have been calling for — accountability. It is a shame that the executive has not taken the same sort of action,” said council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat.

The Washington Times first reported last month that city auditors found that school officials could not account for more than $1.6 million in credit card charges, making up about one-quarter of the school system’s $6.3 million credit card expenses in fiscal 2001.

The school system has issued 275 credit cards to central school administrators and individual school officials, and a little more than $15 million has been spent by school personnel using the cards over the past two years, said school officials.

Mr. Vance said the review could lead to terminations as well as referrals to law enforcement agencies.

“I am glad Vance did this,” said council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

Mr. Chavous, chairman of the education committee, said Mr. Vance’s action is the best way to combat internal government abuse — “strict and swift enforcement.”

“I think what is important is unfortunately a tone of acceptance from [Mayor Anthony A. Williams]for this type of behavior,” Mr. Chavous said.

Cardholders have a $2,500 transaction limit.

Officials say violators made illegal transactions such as buying computers and Internet service and paying contractors for computer-related work.

The Times also reported last month that auditors found that school-finance officials could not provide documentation to support about $984,728 in credit card payments and had incomplete documentation for charges totaling $684,518 in fiscal 2001.

In addition, cardholders in city schools made improper purchases, such as $3,935 for food and water; $1,522 for hotel services; $1,050 for entertainment; $11,900 for gifts; and $473 for rental cars.

Auditors also found that school workers paid tax on items that were tax-exempt and that the school system paid $112,415 in late fees on credit cards — more late-fee expenses than in any other of the city’s 15 agencies.

On Wednesday, the council voted unanimously to suspend the city’s government-issued credit card program for 225 days, overriding a veto by the mayor.

Records show some municipal workers have ignored spending limits on city-issued credit cards by hundreds of thousands of dollars, made questionable purchases and run up interest charges.

Administration officials said suspending the program would bog down workers in procurement paperwork and procedures for items or services they need quickly.

But council members called the matter a “scandal” and said the program needed “sweeping reforms” before they would even consider reactivating it.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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