State Auditor General Jack Wagner called a press conference last November to highlight the "blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars" by the York City School District.
During the 2008-09 school year, the district spent nearly $1 million in federal grant money on items it didn't need and never used, according to Wagner, who investigated at the behest of the U.S. Department of Education.
The money was distributed through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant Program to districts offering before- and after-school programs for students, particularly those in high-poverty and low-performing schools such as York's.
But the York district overestimated the participation in its program and was left with an extra $834,000 -- money that should have been given back to the federal government.
Instead, district employees went on a spending spree, snapping up such unnecessary items as green houses, putting greens, and Wii video game systems.
The purchases have been sitting untouched in storage rooms ever since.
"It is clear that the school district made significant purchases of supplies, materials and equipment using grant funds which were not needed," former school board president Samuel Beard wrote in a response included in the investigators' report.
Yet Beard alleged, and Wagner agreed, the state Department of Education pressured the district to spend the money rather than return it. A deputy director in the department denied that, claiming it was only reminding the district of deadlines.
So what's the punishment for such an outrageous waste of money?
Not much, it seems.
Although a final agreement is pending, it looks like no criminal charges will be filed, and York City schools will not miss out on future federal funds, according to a state Department of Education spokesman.
The district even gets to keep the mountain of items it never needed in the first place.
The feds approved a plan to let York City school officials distribute the goods throughout the district so they will be used and not sitting around in boxes, the state spokesman said.
The York City School District is in a dire financial situation, and we were in no way hoping this fiasco would fall to the local taxpayers.
Facing an $8 million shortfall this year, the district could not afford to reimburse the federal government the money it misspent, and it needs those grants to make ends meet.
Had the district been punished in such a way, it would have been the students and city property owners who suffered.
Perhaps the parties involved in deciding the district's fate recognized this.
But to allow the district to keep the purchases is silly.
The items weren't necessary before, and they're probably not needed now.
What the district needs is something to keep programs alive and teachers in the classroom: Cash.
The state or federal Departments of Education should have seized the items and distributed them to districts that actually need them. Unfortunately, the state spokesman said that idea wasn't financially feasible.
In that case, why not let the district sell the goods and put the money to good use?
Surely someone on eBay is just dying to get their hands on 16 unopened boxes of Hula Hoops.