Sixteen boxes of Hula Hoops.
Wii video game systems.
Dozens of laptops.
Ten boxes of stopwatches.
It's just a fraction of what's sitting in storage rooms around York City School District like forgotten Christmas decorations, according to an investigation by the office of Auditor General Jack Wagner.
In total, there are $834,000 worth of unused, taxpayer purchased items in York City's storage, according to the investigation.
"This is a blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars," Wagner said at a press conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday.
Wagner called the conference to announce the findings of his investigation into 21st Century federal grant money, an investigation requested by the U.S.
The investigation found that both the school district and the state Department of Education are in the wrong, Wagner said. During the 2008-09 school year, district officials discovered it grossly overestimated participation in the before- and after-school 21st Century program -- a program they no longer offer --- and had a major surplus.
To avoid returning the $834,000 to the federal government, the district instead purchased such things as $43,000 in computers, $100,000 in books and $6,000 in Hersheypark tickets, tickets that went unused. That's just a few of the laundry list of items, Wagner said.
"There was no intended use," he said.
Emails obtained during the investigation showed that district officials were urging employees to purchase items quickly -- librarians were told to spend $100,000 in 60 days -- so the money would stay in the district.
Names were not released in the investigation. During that time period, Sharon Miller was superintendent of schools and Jeanette Torres was board president.
The Department of Education was pushing the district to spend the money, Wagner said, making them culpable as well.
He is recommending to the U.S. Department of Education that all items purchased with the money be redistributed to districts around the state. He is also recommending:
* that the state department no longer encourages districts to spend taxpayer-funded grant money solely to avoid returning it to the federal government;
* that the state department institutes a zero-budget practice for grant money so that only needed items can be purchased and annual checks are done to account for changes in the number of participants;
* that the district improves its administration of taxpayer-funded grant programs;
* and that the district stop spending taxpayer-funded grant money "unnecessarily," even if it is being pressured to do so.
Response from city, state:Replies from the state department and school board president Samuel Beard are included in the investigation, with Beard promising the district will fully comply.
"It is clear that the school district made significant purchases of supplies, materials and equipment using grants funds which were not needed," Beard wrote.
Beard said the state department had given them "firm insistence" on spending the money. Wagner's office said it can "sympathize to some extent" with that explanation, knowing the district wouldn't want to put other funding in peril and that the state department "failed to provide leadership, but that the district should have acted in the best interest of taxpayers."
In the state Department of Education's response by Deputy Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq, she said her department agrees completely with the "condemnation of government officials and employees expending taxpayer funds improperly or wastefully." They are already working to correct the problem, such as doing quarterly performance reports of the 21st Century grant spending; the federal grant money is funneled through the state, which distributes it to schools.
Dumaresq denied that the department had insisted the district spend money, and that the department only was reminding the district of grant time lines.
York City is not in danger of losing funding, but the U.S. Department of Education, under the auditor general's advice, could force the district and/or the state to repay the $834,000.
As per protocol, the case has been handed over to the state attorney general's office and to the York County district attorney's office, Wagner said, to see if any criminal charges are valid. The U.S. Department of Education could also pursue criminal charges, he said.
District Attorney Thomas Kearney declined to comment since he has not seen the investigation results. A spokesman with the attorney general's office declined to comment because the office does not confirm or deny investigations.
- Reach Andrew Shaw at 505-5431 or email@example.com, or on Twitter @ydblogwork