N.O. School Board, Inspector General, take fight to court

New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux and the Orleans Parish School Board will have it out in court next month over Quatrevaux’s bid to get a look at the board’s finances.

The inspector general has been trying to get the local school district to cough up financial records for months, arguing that it’s crucial he be allowed to perform an audit and see how the district is managing millions of the city’s tax dollars. Last month, he sent the district a formal subpoena demanding that School Board officials produce records or take the issue up with a judge.

This week, the board chose court, making the case again that Quatrevaux has no jurisdiction over the school district because it is technically an independent subdivision of the state, not an arm of city government. In a court filing on Monday, the School Board argued that Quatrevaux’s rationale for claiming the right to audit the district is “fatally defective.”

Now the decision falls to Civil District Court Judge Christopher Bruno. Quatrevaux is due in Bruno’s Section F courtroom on Aug. 2 to make his case that the board should fall under his watch.

One central question concerns where the board gets money to operate schools.

The School Board has invoked the city’s Home Rule Charter, which gives the inspector general the responsibility for providing oversight over “city entities” or any entity “receiving funds through the city.”

The board argues that school district does not qualify as the former because it is not a wing of City Hall but a political subdivision created by the state of Louisiana.

Nor, the board argues, does the district receive funds “through the city” in any real sense.

The city only collects tax money on the school district’s behalf, for which City Hall charges a fee.

The board votes on its own sales and property tax rates and draws up its own budget. It doesn’t get an appropriation from the Mayor’s Office and City Council, as city agencies do.

“The city is a mere tax collector for the OPSB,” the board’s filing says. “The funds are not city funds, nor do the funds in any way enure to the benefit of the city.”

In arguing for jurisdiction, Quatrevaux cites state law that gives him the right to perform audits and investigations of “quasi public” agencies, as well as any entity made up of “independently elected parish public officials whose office receive funds from the municipality.”

The School Board rejects those arguments also, making a case that the district is not a “quasi” public entity but a fully public entity — just not one that falls under the inspector general’s jurisdiction.

“Neither the Home Rule Charter nor the ordinance creating the OIG’s office grant it the power to issue a subpoena to an independent political subdivision of the state of Louisiana,” the board argues.

Quatrevaux has already laid out his case. In a letter to the board last month, he argued that the board is elected by city residents, spends their tax dollars and thus should fall under the jurisdiction of the city’s inspector general.

Quatrevaux wrote, “These provisions of state law give the effect to the vote of the citizens of New Orleans who demanded oversight of the use of all their tax dollars — including Orleans Parish property tax dollars given to the OPSB.”