Maxed out

City's school spending practices dinged for cash card misuse

A receipt photocopy from a school's p-card purchase that officials say was created only after the school was audited.

Principals and teachers spent thousands of dollars from their city-issued cash cards on purchases that they were later unable to justify, including furniture, Kindles and $200 worth of movie tickets, according to an audit released today by Comptroller John Liu.

Liu found that of the $130,000 in audited transactions, $85,551 was spent illicitly. Receipts were unaccounted for, transaction logs didn’t match spending records, and, in one case, pizza receipts appeared to have been doctored to make up for the missing documentation.

Liu’s office targeted 500 receipts from five high schools that had suspicious records. The selected sample represented just a slice of the $17.2 million that city schools spent using the debit cards in 2011, called procurement cards, or p-cards.

The city adopted the purchasing method in 2003 to provide more flexibility over budget spending. A teacher can use p-cards to pay for admission into museums or zoos for class trips; a school, meanwhile, could use them to quickly buy a new ink cartridge at a Staples instead of ordering through a vendor, which takes longer and costs more in processing fees.

Liu’s audit concluded that the flexibility had come in exchange for lax oversight. Although the city requires that schools follow considerable compliance when using the cards, Liu’s report suggests that the audited cardholders were not being required to follow the rules.

Cardholders must file receipts and fill out transaction logs detailing why the purchases were made. To maintain a tax exempt status, cardholders must complete a form at the time of their purchase. Some types of meals are banned from being expensed to the p-cards. And for individual purchases over $250, cardholders are required to first solicit bids from at least three vendors before deciding on the lowest-priced options

Sixty-three of the 541 audited transactions — worth about $30,000 — did not have documentation that proved it was an “educational need.” That includes $775 on five Kindle from Amazon.com, $194 in movie tickets from Costco.com and two sofabeds from Target worth nearly $700.

Eighty-three of the transactions totaling $13,409 went toward banned food purchases. These included a couple of dinner bills at an Upper West Side restaurant totaling $1,292 for 40 people. The host school, English Language Learners and International Support Preparatory, also spent $395 at an Indian restaurant for what school explained at “professional development”.

The other audited high schools were International High School, Murray Hill Academy, Pan American International High School At Monroe and Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences.

The audit didn’t directly accuse any of the schools of illegal purchases, but it suggested that the lack of proper governance left open the door for fraud.

“Greater care and discretion in the use of p-cards is in order before outright waste and abuse ensue,” said Comptroller John Liu.

Liu referred two of the schools — International Support Preparatory for allegedly doctoring pizza receipts and Murray Hill Academy — to be looked into by the Special Commissioner of Investigation.

A SCI spokeswoman said both investigations were closed and “there were no positive findings.”

All of the schools belonged to the same network, Children’s First 106, which officials targeted because it tallied the largest collective tab of any network in the city in 2011 — $516,667. The rest of the networks spent an average of $273,000.

In response to the audit’s recommendations, the city responded that it agreed with most and said it would strengthen the way it trains school staff with p-card holders and enforces the spending requirements.

A copy of Liu’s audit is below.

P-Card Audit

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.