1,853-item list totals $2.6 million
The Recovery School District, which oversees the public school education for roughly 80 percent of New Orleans students, has a long-term problem keeping track of its equipment, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor charged in a report released Monday.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera wrote that in the school district, known as the RSD, $2.6 million of equipment, including 1,583 items, “have been identified as unlocated during the past four-year period.” In the latest fiscal year alone, which ended June 30, the RSD could not locate 428 items that were bought for more than $735,322, the report stated.
The audit looked at 18 underperforming public schools and 58 charter schools in New Orleans that are overseen by the RSD. The RSD also oversees some schools in Caddo, East Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee and St. Helena parishes.
Part of the strategy of its decentralized system is to allow school officials the autonomy to make decisions that can lead to better educational outcomes at a particular facility.
One of the drawbacks, the auditor says, is keeping up with equipment purchased for the schools by state taxpayers.
“Failure to safeguard moveable property and enter new property additions into the asset management system timely, increases the risks that assets may be misreported, lost or stolen,” the audit stated.
RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard said the numbers cited by the audit report are misleading and reflect a misunderstanding by individual school officials of how the state property control system works, rather than thievery or incompetence.
“A lot of the property is no longer functional,” Dobard said, so the schools disposed of it or stored it in a closet somewhere without following the proper state procedures. “What happens is they come up missing in the state system. And what we have to do is work with schools and let them know that, as a state entity, the schools have to properly code and inform the RSD of the proper disposal of the equipment,” he said.
The RSD has been increasing training to ensure that the independent school officials follow the rules, he said.
The total annual discrepancies decreased from $1.5 million in 2012 to $735,322 for 2013, which Dobard said shows that the training and procedures put in place by the RSD are working.
He also said the amounts are too high because the auditor cites the acquisition price, as required in the Louisiana Administrative Code, rather than the much lower market value of the missing items. Much of the equipment, such as computers bought in 2007 and 2008, is no longer functional, he said.
Auditors also found the decentralized nature of the RSD hampers the ability of employees to learn about and follow the processes that state government uses to keep track of taxpayer-owned property.
In his letter to Purpera, Dobard agreed that the RSD manages schools in a decentralized fashion.
“I don’t think decentralization is the root cause,” Dobard said in an interview Monday. Because each school operates independently, but under the umbrella of the state, school officials need to be aware of the procedures necessary to account for taxpayer-owned property.
Dobard said he would like to see the legislative auditor work with school officials in advance of issuing reports: “Instead of it being more like an ‘Ah ha!’, it’s more like, ‘Here’s how you can improve the processes.’”