Saturday, December 1, 2007

Combatting Fraud In 2004, the worst case of fraud and theft in any school district in the United States was uncovered in Roslyn, NY, by a school board member who worked for Home Depot. The scandal dragged on for over two years and involved the superintendent, the business official, account clerks, board members, and who knows how many others, to the tune of $11 million.

Now, in a district like Dryden, you would be fairly likely to miss $11 million right away. Be that as it may, the state's answer to this is to mandate a six-hour workshop on finances and fraud for every BOE member in New York. That's what I did today, in Horseheads, having put it off until the very end of the year.

The workshop leaders were game and pleasant, but the information could not have been duller, and I cannot get past the sheer injustice of requiring any kind of all-day training of a volunteer. BOE members already go to New School Board Member training, which is not required but fairly useful, by which I mean that assuming you're new, you might learn perhaps one piece of information per hour. And I don't doubt that the message of today's workshop, which was approximately "You are the stewards of the taxpayers' money," is one we should repeat to ourselves more often around budget season. But this new joyful mandating of training for volunteers (Paul has "required" training for ZBA, which he has thus far ignored) is just another way for the state to spend taxpayers' money, provide consulting jobs for people who have paid their dues in other ways, and justify the existence of arcane departments in Albany. Do you suppose now that we're attending six-hour sessions that there will never be another financial scandal in the schools? It's kind of hard to assess the usefulness of this, don't you think? But, then, assessment isn't really Albany's strong suit.


Mary Ann said...

Sounds like another good idea gone wrong. The level of financial literacy of voters is appalling. So, it's not surprising that they elect people who can't read a financial statement - or anything with more than three numbers on the page. (For eight years I worked for an organization whose Executive Director never did grasp the difference between debt and deficit.)

Maybe it should be up to the Board President, or the Superintendent, or a Finance Committee, to be sure board members receive meaningful financial information and understand it. I know this has been a problem in town government. That's how we lost the HUD money. Not to mention the former bookkeeper who was embezzling
because the Supervisor was signing blank checks.

KAZ said...

Oh, and I count myself among the financially illiterate. Spreadsheets make my eyes cross, and I'd rather eat ground glass than peruse the school warrants monthly. The art of moving money around a page is completely beyond me, and I am (as most board members everywhere are, I suspect,) entirely dependent on our business official. Nevertheless, I muddle along and ask questions, and I like to think I'd notice if $11 million were missing from our coffers.

It's interesting to note that the number one place where fraud occurs is in extracurricular activities, some of which appear to raise money for nothing at all. That money is entirely out of the district's hands, but we get reports and can ask questions if we see something weird. Newfield recently had an arrest involving club funds that had been siphoned off over a period of many years.