Andrea Karshan's Articles, Charter Schools, School

Stringer, Bed-Stuy Charter School Butt Heads Over Audit

school (1)By Andrea Karshan

City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released an audit today ripping into the Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School (BSNBCS).

But BSNBCS Board of Trustees Chair Joseph Sciame said the audit unfairly characterizes the school because many of the report’s recommendations and purported issues of concern focus on policies and practices under BSNBCS’s prior administration, which BSNBCS has since addressed.

The school, located at 82 Lewis Avenue, serves roughly 600 black and Hispanic students and no white students in grades K-8, including 17 percent having special needs, according to the City’s Department of Education Snapshot.

The audit uncovered that the school spent nearly $1.7 million of taxpayer dollars on renovations and the purchase of services and supplies but didn’t keep proper or consistent financial records, including written contracts.

Money was spent on renovations made without written contracts, detailed project plans, or adequate evidence that the board of trustees even signed off on the spending.

The audit also found the school to have a lack of financial control over tens of thousands of dollars in cash received from families for school lunches, after school programs, and general fundraising. New Beginning’s escrow account which is required to have a minimum balance of $70,000, to pay for legal and audit expenses in case the school was forced to dissolve, was found only to have a balance of $2,529 in the account and for nearly three-quarters of FY 2013.

“Ensuring that every dollar we spend on schools goes toward the education of the next generation must be our highest priority,” Stringer said. “Verbal agreements and informal arrangements to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are neither good business practice nor the appropriate way to fund our children’s education. There must be accountability to protect these resources from waste, fraud and abuse.”

But Sciame responded in a June 7 letter to Deputy Comptroller Marjorie Landa that the audit’s recommendations and purported issues of concern focus on policies and practices under BSNBCS’s prior administration, which BSNBCS has since addressed.

“We are therefore disappointed that your report does not acknowledge with greater particularity the positive changes at BSNBCS since the audit scope. We see this omission as a missed opportunity to portray the current state of our school accurately, particularly after such a lengthy, 19-month audit,” wrote Sciame.

“Second, when describing instances in which certain recommended documentation was missing, the report too frequently—and unjustifiably—takes an accusatory tone and suggests malfeasance. As we discussed over the course of the audit, many of the missing documents were the result of the school’s change in administration, as well as its evolving document management system. There is no evidence whatsoever that any school documents were intentionally misplaced or destroyed. We would therefore request that you edit the audit report to note explicitly that there is no indication of wrongdoing in connection with any missing documents,” he added.

Last year 16% of the eighth graders met state standards in the English test and 27% met state standards in math. The English scores were about even with the district wide average of 17% and considerably exceeded the math average of 16%.

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