WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.C. – It’s difficult enough to provide effective instruction for K-12 students from poor neighborhoods.
That situation is only made worse when officials in school districts that serve high percentages of impoverished children waste tax dollars that could be spent in the classroom.
One example comes from the Washington County school district in North Carolina, which has “a poverty rate much higher than the state or the nation as a whole,” according to columnist Patrick Gannon of RockyMountainTelegram.com.
In 2014, the state auditor accused the district’s former superintendent, Joe Davis of spending approximately $94,000 in school funds on travel, meals and various types of merchandise over 33 months, according to Gannon.
The spending was done without the authorization of the school board or documented business purposes for the transactions, Gannon wrote. Sometimes there were no receipts to validate the amount of money that Davis was reimbursed.
“The former superintendent spent $48,021 on hotel accommodations, airline tickets and car rental fees, rarely providing a business purpose and infrequently submitting itemized receipts,” Gannon wrote.
Davis took 23 trips outside of North Carolina and 38 trips within the state during the time period in question. The school board contributed to the problem by not having an established travel policy.
The superintendent also spent $27,000 on food and drinks on his trips, or at local events, according to Gannon.
Davis, who left the district in 2015 to take a similar job in Missouri, was quoted as saying that he had “no reservations about anything I spent.”
The state audit had a different perspective. It said the money should have been used to “improve teaching and learning in high-poverty schools … to meet challenging state academic achievement standards.”
Meanwhile, students in the Buffalo, New York school district were similarly ripped off, not by a free-spending administrator, but by bureaucratic mismanagement of funds, according to the Buffalo News.
In Buffalo, 41.9 percent of children live below the poverty level, according to news reports.
One area of waste was $3 million worth of overtime pay for certain tradesman, according to the newspaper report. Part of the reason for the overtime was because the workers were required to clock in during school hours, but couldn’t actually do the work until after school when students were gone.
That means they sat around for an untold number of hours being paid for time when they couldn’t work.
Another problem was that auditors found roughly $700,000 worth of credit card purchases that were not accounted for, according to the News. Employee credit card use is largely unregulated by the district, the report said.
“The practice leaves the potential for purchasing materials in surplus, or materials going unused,” the news report said. “Auditors found the district supply warehouse contained unopened boxes of athletic uniforms and books that had not been distributed to schools.”
An auditor also reported that the Buffalo district had to return $6 million in grant money to the state of New York because it was never used, the news report said.
Ironically, Buffalo school board members heard a report about all of that waste at the same meeting when they were trying to figure out where to find the money to lower elementary class sizes and fund after school academic programs, the News reported.
“This is our biggest obstacle this year, to find the money for this program,” board member Larry Quinn was quoted as saying.
He could start by closely examining all the ways the district is flushing taxpayer money down the drain, instead of spending it on the children who need it.