Poor administrative practices plagues New York’s public sector. The reasons are complex, but one of the major problems is that state and local government entitites have been to get away with sloppy practices for decades in part because there was always enough money to paper over the problem. That’s no longer the case. Now every dollar that is wasted is a dollar that is not available to use in the delivery of essential services.
When the Comptroller’s office issues reports detailing poor practices around the state, the local media only report on the results if a local agency is involved. Thus the big picture is missed. So here, as a public service, let me recap yesterday’s findings concerning six school districts:
Beekmantown: “Auditors found the board adopted budgets that underestimated revenues by $3.6 million and overestimated expenditures by $10.5 million…”
Clarkstown: “Auditors found a potential for duplication of services” in contracts with two legal firms and “the district’s legal costs were high relative to all other districts statewide.” (Sounds like those law firms have friends in high places.)
Geneva: “Auditors found the district did not properly process its claims for Medicaid reimbursement.” How much will taxpayers have to make up as a result? $175,000.
Taconic Hills: “The audit found district officials did not establish adequate internal controls to effectively safeguard the district’s computer system and data.”
Two districts — Homer and Riverhead — were praised for improvements over previous practices.
I’ll make a totally unsubstantiated claim which you can discount if you like. However, it is my belief that if the Comptroller’s office doubled the number of audits it performed, the number of cases that it would be able to report of schools and other local government entitites engaging in mismanagement would double.
The reason that I believe this to be the case is that I firmly believe New York has too many school districts and villages and towns that are too small to be able to take advantage of current technology and professional training and oversight, thus resulting in duplication, inefficiencies and occasionally fraud.
While consolidation without a commitment to upgrading training, technology and oversight will not solve the problem, consolidation makes it more likely that the resulting larger entity will have the capacity and the leadership necessary to do the job right.