Auditors examining troubled Philadelphia school district

Part 92 of 92 in the series Educating America

It’s time for an audit of the School District of Philadelphia.

By Maura Pennington | Watchdog.org

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania state auditors are delving into the School District of Philadelphia’s finances and operations, paying particular attention to the district’s response to suggested corrective actions from previous years.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced the process is already underway and the audit will cover the school years from 2009 to 2012.

DePasquale said the biggest areas of concern are financial stability and school safety. For instance, auditors previously recommended Philadelphia schools implement an independent safe schools advocate at the expense of the state Department of Education.

Since 1987, the district has raised red flags. In 2011, auditors found that the schools were unable to verify attendance data, which is problematic in accounting for state subsidies based on enrollment.

With over 130,000 students in district public schools and about 60,000 in public charter schools, Philadelphia educates more students than any other district in the state.

The School Reform Commission recently adopted a lump sum budget at least $320 million in the red. If the commission doesn’t receive sales tax revenue from the city, it will jump to a $440 million deficit.

“It’s extremely important to get as much information from individual third-party groups as possible about how effective we are able to use funding that we have,” said Superintendent William Hite.

According to Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, the district could be receiving $1.83 billion of state taxpayer money this year.

The audit will address other areas, including staff certification and governance.

The state is also interested in looking into the effects of discontinued charter reimbursements. Prior to 2011, school districts could receive additional funds for students in charter schools.

“Our auditors will be just as vigilant here as they are in the smallest district because I am finding that many school districts — of various sizes and in every region of the state — are struggling,” DePasquale said.

An interim report will be ready by October. The complete findings will be available in 2015.

Contact Maura Pennington at mpennington@watchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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