For months, I've advocated for detailed annual audits of the nearly $3 billion the Philadelphia School District spends. Despite efforts by City Controller Alan Butkovitz to make that happen, those audits still have not taken place.
Yet when I spoke with Dr. William Hite, the district superintendent, in a radio interview nearly nine months ago, he told me he was open to such audits being performed. However, when Butkovitz forwarded a draft resolution detailing the scope of the audits to the School District's chief operational officer, Fran Burns, there was no response.
That's not acceptable. When decades of white flight have left the district serving students who are mostly brown and poor, the remaining children and parents have a right to know why there are few nurses, few counselors and few teachers. They need to know why, despite a multibillion-dollar budget, there aren't adequate classroom supplies.
They need to believe that the district will spend every dollar on educating children, even if most of the white kids are gone.
Sadly, the browning of the district has been accompanied by financial problems and mismanagement.
For example, a 2010 federal audit found "widespread misuse" of $138.4 million in grant funds between 2005 and 2006. The district used a portion of the money, which was meant to educate poor students, to buy things like mini-refrigerators and microwave ovens, and to plug a $66 million hole in its budget.
Those things happened under former Superintendent Paul Vallas, but if regular, detailed audits were taking place, perhaps the widespread misuse of those federal funds would have been discovered earlier. Perhaps we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now.
The resolution that Butkovitz asked Fran to forward to the School Reform Commission for a vote would have allowed for a new level of accountability.
The resolution, in part, reads: "The City Controller of the City, as School Auditor, shall audit at least annually the financial affairs of every department of the District, and of all persons handling the funds of the District, including the accounts of the receiver of school taxes, the Treasurer of the Board, school depositories, teachers' retirement funds, directors' association funds, sinking funds, all other funds belonging to or controlled by the District and, as far as may be necessary, the accounts of any other agency receiving funding from the District. . ."
To be sure, that's a lot of power to place in the hands of a single official. But at least we would know who is responsible for district finances.
When I asked the district's chief financial officer, Uri Monson, to name the responsible party, he couldn't give a definitive answer as to where the buck stops.
That's a problem, one reflected in the answer I received when I asked district spokesman Fernando Gallard why the district ignored the resolution it received from Butkovitz.
"While we appreciate the Controller's interest in performing additional audits for the District, we are also mindful of avoiding duplication of effort and wasting public resources," Gallard said in a statement.
"In addition to the Controller's annual CAFR and Single Audits, the State Auditor General conducts financial and performance audits of the District; the Inspector General's Office conducts investigations; Federal granters perform periodic program audits; the U.S. Department of Education contracts with the Federal Inspector General to conduct financial and performance audits of federally funded programs, and the District utilizes contractors to provide certain accounting and internal review services."
I understand what Gallard is saying, but I also understand that, even with all those investigations, the School District is still broke, the children are still failing, and there is no end in sight.
To be sure, the district's survival depends on much more than another audit of the way it spends its money. The continued disinvestment in Philadelphia schools from Harrisburg lawmakers has delivered a more serious blow, over a longer period of time.
The point is, none of this was happening when the children in the district were mostly white.
It shouldn't be happening now.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM). firstname.lastname@example.org.