Auditor: School districts inconsistent in how they report expenses

Tom Wagner

Tom Wagner

DOVER — A report released Wednesday by the auditor’s office says there are “widespread inconsistencies” in how school districts report expenses, making it nearly impossible determine how much money goes into the classroom.

The report focuses on all vouchers and state credit card purchases made between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016 by each of the 19 school districts. The state has more than 1,500 classification categories for purchases and “inconsistencies in expenditure coding across the 19 school districts” made it extremely difficult for the auditor’s office to fully analyze school spending, the findings say.

During the period studied, one-third of the $3.91 billion Delaware budget went to public education, with about $1.07 billion going directly to school districts. Although school districts have greater freedom to spend money than state agencies, they are still subject to a variety of policies and limitations.

Not all of the money spent by districts was properly categorized: Auditor Tom Wagner’s office found, for instance, the Cape Henlopen School District charged $200 for pastries while reporting it as computer supplies, and a $2,140 purchase of computer supplies by the Indian River School District used the code for table games.

“Potentially suspicious” purchases involving boat dealers and clothing stores were found to be acceptable, while $2,000 that appeared to be improperly given to a former Delaware secretary of education actually went to a special-needs individual who assisted the custodians at a school and had the same name as the former cabinet secretary.

Of the $98,660 charged to state credit cards by school districts for in-state meals, about $55,096 came from the Cape Henlopen or Lake Forest school districts. With few exceptions, state employees cannot be reimbursed for meals purchased in Delaware during working hours.

The auditor’s office determined certain purchases went to professional development, employee recognition and meetings that included non-state employees.

Food can be charged to the state for training events held “off-site” during normal working hours. However, the state’s budget and accounting guidelines do not define what off-site is, and districts classify events in conflicting ways, the report says.

“For example, if a middle school teacher attends a training offered at the high school in the same school district, some school district personnel consider that as ‘off-site’ for that particular teacher. However, (the auditor’s office) views the school district as one entity,” the analysis says. “Regardless of the location, school districts should consider whether buying employees food during normal working hours is the most prudent use of those funds or if those funds could be put to better use in the classroom.”

Potential issues can also be seen with in-state lodging, per the report. Of the $18,589 spent on in-state lodging, $8,328 came from Cape Henlopen and Red Clay school districts.

Additionally, four districts spent a total of $582 on flowers, while two charged $350 for gift cards. State government prohibits both flowers and gift cards from being purchased with taxpayer dollars.

In general, no more than $10 can be spent rewarding a state employee per year.

The analysis recommends districts work together with the auditor’s office and the Department of Education more accurately code transactions. It also calls for districts to find alternate ways of rewarding employees, such as asking for private donations to buy flowers.

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