TRENTON — A state audit of the public school district found systemic failures in financial oversight and record keeping during the 2008 and 2009 school years, including problems that allowed more than $300,000 in potentially fraudulent billing by home tutors.
In one case, a teacher claimed to have given 2,000 hours of home lessons in one year, in addition to teaching regular classes and taking graduate courses. Another instructor allegedly forged parent signatures on time sheets.
State Auditor Stephen Eells released the report this week, while noting that the Commissioner of Education appointed a fiscal monitor in March to oversee district fiscal operations and to reform the special education department.
“This increased departmental oversight should help ensure district policies and internal controls are properly established and followed,” the report said. “In addition, certain questionable items will be referred to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice.”
Superintendent Rodney Lofton could not be reached for comment, but in a letter attached to the report he said many of the findings had been addressed. The district is hiring a director of pupil personnel services to oversee home instruction and is considering conducting a forensic audit of the allegations, he wrote.
Much of the report focused on instructors who are paid to give students lessons at home when they cannot come to school for health or legal reasons or because of a disability.
The district paid more than 80 instructors almost $2 million over two years for home visits, the report said. The program was rife with teachers either double billing or being paid without providing records of visits, in addition to giving lessons to ineligible students.
The misspending described in the report was based on examinations of only the 10 highest paid instructors, suggesting that the full extent of the problem was wider.
Those 10 instructors were paid $738,000 over two years, or an average of $36,900 each per year. Of those payments, $321,000 were “questionable,” the report said. They included $51,000 for billed hours that could not have occurred, such as simultaneous or overlapping visits to two different students, as well as work hours that were listed twice on two different time sheets.
No time sheets were available at all for another $112,000 in payments.