Hearing explores what happens without PA School Audit Bureau

Lawmakers in Harrisburg explore fiscal responsibility in our schools following the closing of Pennsylvania’s School Audit Bureau

HARRISBURG, May 4 – During a hearing today, lawmakers explored the impact of the auditor general’s closing of its School Audit Bureau, which laid off employees, and unilaterally decided school compliance audits would no longer happen in Pennsylvania.

Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-Lehigh, joined Chair Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, in hosting the hearing in Harrisburg. During the hearing, Dr. Sherri Smith, deputy secretary of the Department of Education, said that the School Audit Bureau was shuttered without any consultation from her department and the hearing confirmed they do not have the knowledge or capacity to handle the audits of themselves.

“Without an auditing function, Pennsylvania could lose billions of dollars because of malfeasance or improper allocation of funds in our schools,” said Ciresi. “If we don't have experts auditing our institutions, it’s going to be impossible to ensure fiscal responsibility throughout our Commonwealth.”

Lawmakers heard from testifiers who emphasized the incredibly complex accounting and reimbursement structures for costs throughout the education system. Dr. Michelle Sallitto, former state director for the School Audit Bureau at Pennsylvania’s Office of the Auditor General, shared the example of transportation cost reimbursements and an instance where school districts gave contractors 20 more miles per day for three years despite not traveling that far – leading to a massive overpayment every year.

Testimony from municipal-level and county-level controllers described that without these audits, taxpayer dollars won’t have oversight and there will not be transparency. Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb explained that audits he and other controller offices throughout Pennsylvania perform lead to changes in laws and strengthen fiscal responsibility throughout the Commonwealth.

“I find it incredibly troublesome that citizen dollars won’t have audits going forward,” said Rep. Mary Isaacson, D-Phila. "The Office of the Auditor General has asked for a $4 million increase, yet he has decided to make this enormous cut. I had suspected this had to do with continuing to obscure the public from charter school spending of taxpayer dollars.” 

Donner Cooper from Children First outlined that her organization used data and examples from Ohio charter schools to explain how the elimination of the School Audit Bureau would further impede on the ability to regulate non brick and mortar schools, leading to unchecked executive compensation in cyber charter schools, and unchecked waste, fraud or abuse.

“Where this really hurts is with our seniors who are often on a fixed income,” said Bizzarro. “If we are not auditing the largest expenses in our Commonwealth, tax dollars will be misused, funds will be wasted, and our taxpayers and the kids in our schools will pay the price.”

Information about this and other Pa. House Democratic Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policycommittee.