The District agencies in charge of school modernization broke rules, spent money on the wrong projects, and couldn’t account for millions in modernization spending, according to a new report from the D.C. Auditor.
The report arrives a week ahead of a joint D.C. Council hearing on the cost of school modernization since legislation passed in 2006 laid out the modernization plan.
For her part, Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she has “concerns” about how much renovations and new schools cost. According to the audit, Bowser’s concerns are well-founded.
The Department of General Services staffer in charge of school modernization contracting, according to the audit, was unfamiliar with “basic terminology and accounting practices.” Between the 2010 and 2013 fiscal years, when the District spent more than $1.2 billion on school modernization, auditors couldn’t find evidence that $168,997,484 worth of expenses had been approved. $44,945 meant for schools was instead on parks and recreation centers.
“The District may have paid fraudulent or inaccurate invoices,” the audit reads.
While a private joint venture created to handle modernization contracting received $37 million from the District between 2010 and 2013, the audit questioned whether the money would have been better spent building an in-house contracting office at DGS. According to the report, DGS’ oversight responsibility often only amounted to providing “the final signature” on payment approvals.
“It would appear that the District government has relinquished at least some of its responsibilities to its private contractors,” the audit reads.
The District government has made the process of which school receive renovations just as opaque, according to the audit.
“It has proven difficult, if not impossible, to determine, when, why, and by whom schools are selected for modernization,” the report reads.
Not that the schools selected for modernization get it quickly—or cheaply. The report lists Powell Elementary School and Duke Ellington School of the Arts as two examples of years-late modernization projects. Meanwhile, more than $2 million was spent at two schools that were then scheduled to be closed.
The audit also found other school modernizations running way over their expected outlays. In 2010, modernization estimates were put at between $210 and $255 per square foot. At Roosevelt Senior High School, though, modernization programs are expected to cost roughly $400 per square foot, while Duke Ellington will cost more than $1,000 per square foot.