NJ DOE says Title 1 money misspent

HARRISON — The N.J. Department of Education wants the Harrison Board of Education to pay back $60,335.95 in federal Title 1 funds the DOE says may have been misspent.

But the HBOE will be challenging that claim, according to Assistant Superintendent of Schools James Doran and Business Administrator Daniel Choffo.

A 15-page, June 18 letter signed by Robert J. Cicchiono, director of DOE’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC), details the findings of an audit of Title 1 funding to Harrison for the 2015-2016 school year.

The district received a total of $1,276,798 in Title 1 monies for that period, according to OFAC.

Title 1 money is earmarked for programs designed to enhance educational programs to help children succeed and its allocation is keyed to the percentage of free and reduced-price lunches served in a local school district. Program funds can be used for everything from textbooks to payroll expenses.

The DOE wants these monies returned:

  • $39,136.57 in employee salaries for which “adequate documentation was not provided demonstrating that certain costs charged to the FY (Fiscal Year) 2015-2016 Title 1, Part A program represent allowable costs.”

In this case, the auditors said the district “did not provide copies of board approvals, time/activity reports and/or other records indicating Mr. J. R. Huaranga [Harrison Councilman Jesus R. Huaranga, listed as parent liaison coordinator] was assigned or performed work attributable to the Title 1 program.

“Nor did the district include Mr. J. R. Huaranga’s name on the Salary Analysis Schedule which lists personnel funded in whole or in part by Title 1. As a result, the salary costs incurred for Mr. J. R. Huaranga totaling $30,192 are deemed to be unallowable.”

An additional $9,124.57 charged to Title 1 payroll for extended day and summer programs for 2015 and 2016 was also disallowed for lack of timesheets and other documentation.

Auditors found that Title 1 salaries paid to J. R. Huaranga and J. A. Huaranga, the councilman’s son and Title I teacher, were allocated to the same district account number.

(Nowhere is it suggested, however, that either employee was a no-show. The only recommendation made by the state in this matter is the district “… must improve procedures for the payment of expenditures related to the Title 1, Part A program ….”)

  • $20,568.01 in miscellaneous expenses “… charged to the Title 1, Part A program absent any correlation to district’s Schoolwide Plans, and were not deemed to be reasonable and necessary for the efficient performance of the federal program.”

The auditors found that Title 1 schoolwide plans for Lincoln Elementary School, Washington Middle School, Hamilton Intermediate School and Harrison High School “were identical,” nor could they find any “explicit or discernable connection between the strategies and programs contained therein ….”

Among the items questioned by the auditors: $10,216.30 for 20 Canon digital cameras with accessories for photography class; $3,316 for rental of 60 marching band uniforms; $2,063 for 20 tickets to see the Broadway show “School of Rock” for summer program; $1,275 in payroll costs for staffers’ supervision of “dance team, fitness club, environmental club and gifted & talented; $1,085.28 for one Dell desktop computer and HP LaserJet printer; $739.45 for 150 t-shirts for volleyball tournament; $636 for one document printer for guidance officer to print IEPs (Individualized Education Programs); $499.79 for 11 basketballs and two vinyl hockey balls; and $450 for nine afterschool yoga classes.

  • $451.37 in “excess expenditures … not substantiated by actual program charges.” The auditors cited bookkeeping procedures for this alleged accounting error.

The auditors additionally took the district to task for incorrectly calculating the amount of reimbursement owed the state for the cost of employee “pensions, group life insurance, social security and other benefits to the Teacher’s Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF)” by using “both contractual and non-contractual salaries to calculate their reimbursement.” And the district was late in making that payment, they said.

Also, the auditors found that the district “did not accurately record salary nor benefit costs on a consistent basis as [Title 1] activities were performed,” failed to list “funding percentages, nor dollar amounts” for Title 1 appointments in BOE minutes, failed to “produce documentation regarding consultation with nonpublic school officials during the design and development of the Title 1 program” and “on various occasions … failed to issue a purchase order prior to services being rendered.”

Doran attributed some of the difficulties with record-keeping to staff transitioning during the relevant time period.

Meanwhile, OFAC requires that the board “shall discuss the findings of the audit … at a public meeting of the district board of education no later than 30 days after receipt of the findings. And “the findings of the (state) audit … and the board of education’s corrective-action plan shall be posted on the district’s website …”

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