Monday, April 25, 2005

The D.C. public school system has left vacant many key positions in the 13-employee internal watchdog office that scrutinizes how it spends and manages an annual budget of more than $1 billion, financial records show.

The school system’s office of compliance last year received funding for 10 auditor jobs. But pay records show that at one point the system had left nine of the auditor positions unfilled, but employed two directors and a management analyst.

John M. Cashmon, director for the compliance office, said hiring has soared since last year. As of last week, he said, only two of the office’s auditor positions remained unfilled.

“It has not been a quick process,” he said, citing a lag in budget approvals and personnel descriptions last year.

Although several auditors have been hired since last fall, Mr. Cashmon said, the compliance office has had trouble finding candidates to scrutinize city school system financial records.

“There is a definite shortage of auditors,” he said. “We’re also fairly picky when we’re selecting our staff. We’re looking for good, qualified staff.”

School system pay records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the system’s compliance office has been depleted over the past year.

The school system’s Schedule A pay records compiled in January show six auditor vacancies out of nine funded positions in the compliance office. In April 2004, the school system listed as vacant nine out of the 10 auditor positions.

The Schedule A document, which is hundreds of pages long, includes a detailed list of all funded positions, compensation levels and vacancies. It is given to the Board of Education and to the D.C. Council.

Mr. Cashmon called the document “a snapshot in time.”

“That is put together at a point in time, and we’ve advanced long past that point in time,” he said. “We’re progressing.”

The D.C. inspector general and the office of the D.C. auditor have made numerous inquiries into the school system’s contracting practices and finances.

D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey recently told the D.C. Council Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation that the ongoing inquiries have put a strain on administrators trying to comply with auditor’s demands for documents.

Mr. Janey told D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, who is chairman of the education committee, that the school system is cooperating with all internal and external audits. He also said he is asking for more coordination from agencies examining school system finances.

Mr. Cashmon said his office does not duplicate audits that are conducted by the inspector general’s and auditor’s offices. The compliance office has an annual personnel budget of about $1 million for fiscal 2005, with funding for 13 employees, including nine auditors, financial records show.

“We do coordinate our efforts with the inspector general and auditor,” Mr. Cashmon said. “When they’re doing an audit, we don’t do it.”

Mr. Cashmon said budget issues have kept his office from becoming fully staffed over the past year. He said full staffing had to wait while school system officials obtained budget authority and hiring approval.

“We went through some growing pains a year ago … but I’m happy we’re just about completely there,” he said.

The compliance office is an internal audit division under the school system’s office of the chief operating officer. The office of the D.C. auditor and the office of the inspector general are independent.

Mr. Cashmon said the compliance office develops its own audit, which the superintendent reviews. “We also have audit requests from [public schools] officials, and we try to honor them as much as possible,” he said.

In recent years, the compliance office has investigated the misuse of credit cards by school employees and the misspending of school activity funds by administrators.

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