Councilman calls city department ‘waste of money’

Posted on: 11:54 pm, May 10, 2012, by , updated on: 02:50pm, May 11, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – All departments across Richmond City government are checked and balanced by the city auditor’s office–with the exception of one.

Richmond Public Schools has its own internal audit department, with a budget of about $460,000 dollars a year—close to half a million.

Over 95% of that money is spent on employee salaries and benefits.

The task of the four auditors employed in the department is to find fraud waste and abuse. They’ve even got a hotline for whistleblowers to report abuses.

“Total waste of money, total waste of money,” said Marty Jewell, Councilman, 5th District. “They’re supposed to be auditing the school division.”

The task of the four auditors employed in the department is to find fraud waste and abuse. They’ve even got a hotline for whistleblowers to report abuses.

But Jewell says their published audits don’t attempt to investigate any such things. He points to an audit done on school warehouse inventory.

“Count widgets and count pencils and count office supplies, give me a break…a half a million dollars for that makes no sense,” said Jewell.

Jewell says that unlike employees in the city auditor’s office, the school auditors don’t have the necessary credentials for the job.

In fact, the chief auditor is the only one with any credited certification.

No one in the office is a certified public accountant—this according to their bios on their own website.

“I just have to say it, they don’t have the expertise that are necessary to make that office worth keeping,” said Jewell.

Richmond School Board member Kim Gray said the board assigns the auditors their work.

“I don’t know that they’ve been asked to do the deep digging,” she said.

She also said deep digging is needed now more than ever with schools in a $24 million dollar deficit.

“It’s something that I’ve been asking and we really need to step it up,” said Gray.

Gray admitted that ‘stepping it up’ may not only mean more investigative audits that reveal more inefficiencies but also more “of” them.

According to the school district’s own numbers, yearly audits in the schools department can fluctuate.

There was just one audit in 2007, nine audits in 2009, four in 2010 and so far in 2012—just one.

Grey said, when asked, why there hasn’t been a push for more audits.

“It takes a majority of the board to really push for those answers and we haven’t had a majority of the board willing to do that.”

City Auditor Umesh Dalal recently presented to the school’s budget task force.

The group is looking for ways to close the schools budget gap. Dalal said he could absorb the school audit division into his department, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city.

“In the short term it can be done at no additional cost,” said Dalal.

It was clear at the meeting that some school board members opposed the possible consolidation–calling school auditors the eyes and ears of the school board.

Other board members tell us that school auditors have special knowledge of how to audit schools, which is valuable to the process.

We tried to get School Board chair Dawn Page to talk to us about the auditors but she declined to do an on camera interview, after granting CBS 6 several other recent interviews connected to her upcoming bid for a City Council seat.

We also tried to talk to the school’s chief auditor, but were denied there too–and so questions remain. Questions that some are hoping will soon be answered with action.

“Tell me how many times have you read in the paper or reported any findings of significance from that audit department at schools?” said Jewell.

“It affects our children at the heart of it, if we can’t improve the quality of their education then we should all go home,” said Gray.