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Audit shows serious problems with school finances

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Friday March 15, 2002

An independent audit of last year’s school district finances points to a number of serious flaws. 

The audit, conducted by Bohren and Company of Martinez, and presented at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, focuses on 10 areas of concern, including four serious “material weaknesses.” These weaknesses include: 

• Inadequate monitoring of the district’s self-insurance, adult education and cafeteria funds. 

• A failure to track student contributions to clubs and other student-funded activities. 

• An inadequate reserve fund. 

• A rejection of last year’s budget by the Alameda County Office of Education. 

Bohren’s audit manager, Sondra White, presented the document and spoke sternly to the board. 

“You have to have adequate reserves,” she said, in one of several pointed criticisms.  

But White said many of the 10 problems, including a failure to spend $450,000 in state and federal grant money that expired at the end of the year, are related, at least in part, to a faulty data system, which the district plans to replace by July. 

Board Vice President Joaquin Rivera said he was particularly upset that all six of the problem areas identified by Bohren for the 1999-2000 budget were again cited in the 2000-2001 audit. 

“I find it very disturbing,” Rivera said, addressing district staff. “What are the plans to make sure these issues are addressed?” 

Associate Superintendent of Business Jerry Kurr warned that some of the 10 items will likely be on the list next year. But, he said he is working hard to correct errors in several areas. 

“The audit is a tool,” Kurr said. “For me, it provides a road map for areas we need to work on.” 


Board rejects field trip ban  

The board, which voted unanimously to accept the audit Wednesday night, also rejected a resolution, put forth by the Peace and Justice Commission, to ban student field trips to the Lawrence Hall of Science on Centennial Drive.  

Commission members, students and activists from the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste raised concerns about the science museum’s proximity to Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Tritium Labeling Facility. They said radioactive waste from the tritium facility, which is due to shut down permanently in a matter of weeks, could harm children. 

But Lawrence Hall staff and Rivera pointed to several scientific studies demonstrating the museum’s safety and accused activists of attempting to drag a long-standing political fight over the tritium facility into the schools. 

“This is just a bring the school board into their political agenda...and I resent that,” Rivera said. “No evidence has been presented to me that will make me change my opinion.” 

Gene Bernardi of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste objected to the board’s decision in an interview with the Planet.  

“I think it’s disgusting,” Bernardi said, arguing that the board should operate on the “precautionary principle,” blocking student trips even if they are not sure about the risks involved.  

The vote against the resolution was three to zero, with two board members, Terry Doran and John Selawsky, abstaining. Doran and Selawsky, while raising concerns about tritium, said they did not have enough information to pass an immediate ban.