Report 99130 Summary - June 2000

Grant Joint Union High School District:

It Needs to Improve Controls Over Operations and Measure the Effectiveness of Its Title I Program

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The Grant Joint Union High School District (Grant) serves approximately 11,600 students, primarily in north Sacramento County. Grant has experienced a great deal of turmoil and will continue to face challenges in the future. For example, a significant challenge Grant is currently addressing, in response to more stringent state requirements over achievement testing, is improving on its history of low student achievement scores. Some problems may be attributable to a lack of consistent leadership over the last eight years and a perception that the board of trustees (board) did not always act in the district's best interest. Recently, however, both district and board leadership have changed, and Grant is making further changes intended to strengthen leadership. Although Grant is working to improve its educational programs and student achievement, it is too early to assess whether the current plan of action will have the intended effect.

This report focuses primarily on Grant's administrative practices, rather than on any actions it is taking to improve its educational programs. For the areas we reviewed, we found that generally Grant was managed properly and spent funds appropriately. However, it could improve its administrative practices in several areas. For instance, current district procedure does not require advance board approval before certain types of purchases are made or contracts are executed. Although some board members expressed concern that the board was not involved in certain expenditure decisions, we found that in some cases Grant's decision not to seek advance approval from the board was in accordance with its understanding of board policy. For example, among other purchases and contracts, Grant did not submit for approval purchases totaling more than $1.1 million it made through a purchasing program it implemented in 1998. It also did not obtain the board's advance approval for contracts, including an architectural contract that resulted in an expenditure of $1.4 million, although state law and board policy required it to do so. Such actions could result in the board being neither involved in deciding nor aware of the use of district funds.

Grant also could improve its control over agreements initiated by its legal counsel. Grant paid nearly $488,000 for services it received during calendar year 1999 for these types of agreements. Staff did not maintain copies of all agreements, and it appears as though written agreements never existed in certain instances. Additionally, some agreements lacked clear descriptions of the work to be performed, and some related invoices did not contain sufficient detail. As a result, Grant is less able to make an informed judgment that it is paying only for allowable services.

Furthermore, Grant lacks an adequate system to track and safeguard its current inventory, totaling more than $32 million. This is of even greater concern as Grant becomes increasingly involved in purchasing significant amounts of expensive information technology equipment.

Grant's control over personnel procedures also should be strengthened. For example, it could not demonstrate it was engaged in activities that would lead to a resolution of the personnel actions it took for five employees placed on extended paid leave for significant blocks of time during calendar year 1999. As well as being unable to demonstrate it used district funds prudently, Grant is vulnerable to criticism that certain employees receive special treatment. Additionally, Grant does not always adhere to its policies requiring volunteers to submit to background checks and tuberculosis tests before allowing them access to district facilities, thus placing the safety and security of its students, employees, and facilities at risk.

Furthermore, federal law gives some schools in the district flexibility when using Title I, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Title I) program funds-grants to schools to improve the teaching of children who are at risk of not meeting academic standards. Grant currently receives $2.6 million annually from the federal government for this program. Instead of targeting students that meet Title I qualifications, schools that have an approved "school-wide" program may combine their Title I funds with most of their federal and state funds to upgrade the school's entire educational program. Because of the flexibility the schools are allowed under a school-wide program, in addition to the perception that the Title I program has failed in this district, it is especially important for Grant to have a means in which to measure the effectiveness of its Title I program. However, Grant has not taken the steps to consistently measure whether its Title I program is effective. In response to more stringent state requirements over achievement testing, Grant is implementing an annual evaluative process for all its students. It is too early to tell whether this process will demonstrate that Grant is using its Title I funds in the most effective manner. However, due to the program's importance, Grant must focus on this critical area in the future.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To improve control over Grant's contracting and purchasing, the board should clarify and review its existing policies, decide on the extent to which it desires to be involved in and informed of contracts and purchases, and revise its polices to meet those expectations. Additionally, to improve controls over its operations, Grant should take the following actions:

  • Follow its own policies and state law for obtaining board approval when contracting for or purchasing goods and services.

  • Maintain complete files of all signed agreements initiated by its legal counsel and prepare written agreements for all services it requests. These agreements should include complete descriptions of the work to be performed, and Grant should require all contractors to submit detailed invoices.

  • Safeguard its equipment and ensure the accuracy of its inventory records by performing a physical inventory of its equipment and updating its records.

  • Limit paid administrative leave by taking prompt action in disciplinary matters to ensure that it is using funds prudently and treating employees equitably.

  • Tighten its controls over the review of volunteers' files so it does not permit access to school campuses before the completion of background checks and tuberculosis tests to ensure the safety of its campuses.
Finally, as Grant progresses in the development of its overall assessment process, it should consistently assess whether its Title I program is effective.

AGENCY COMMENTS

Grant generally agrees with our conclusions and recommendations, and it is Grant's belief that most of the recommendations of our audit are consistent with the reforms its board and administration are now initiating. Grant plans to propose actions on the recommendations to its board over the next several months.


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