Auditors: Colorado School Construction Not Prioritized
DENVER (AP) - More than $1 billion spent on Colorado school construction projects has failed to always reach the neediest places because a board overseeing the spending hasn’t prioritized the funds, state auditors said Tuesday.
The report released to lawmakers concluded that only a quarter of 70 schools identified as being in the worst condition have received grant funding since 2009.
Auditors said the problem stems from the fact that the board in charge of the grants has not developed a methodology to identify critical projects or a prioritized list. Without such a tool, the board “cannot demonstrate the rationale for approving or denying each grant application,” the report said.
Lawmakers created the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Program in 2008 to help the infrastructure needs of school districts and other public education organizations. So far, the program’s board has distributed $1.1 billion for 211 construction projects. The state has funded $759 million of that, while districts have spent about $330 million in matching funds.
Auditors said they found instances in which the board denied funding for some projects that were considered critical but funded others that were not.
“Each dollar spent on one project is a dollar that is not available to help another school to provide a safe, healthy, uncrowded environment for the students, teachers, and members of the public who use those facilities,” the audit said.
Democratic Rep. Angela Williams, chair of the state’s Legislative Audit Committee, said she was concerned about a lack of transparency.
“To not have any documentation and just haphazardly decide, ‘Well, this school is going to get this, and this one is not.’ That’s not a fair way in which we do business in the state of Colorado,” she said. “We’ve gotta have some clarity on how those decisions are being made and get some documentation and processes in place.”
Auditors issued seven recommendations to improve the grant program, including prioritizing school construction projects and developing a standardized system to evaluate grant applications.
Education officials who work on the program agreed with all of the audit’s recommendations.
“The audit really highlighted the need for improved documentation of existing processes,” said Leanne Emm, associate commissioner for the Education Department’s Public School Finance Unit, which oversees the grant program and its board. Emm said the board “welcomes the opportunity to receive feedback from the audit in order to look at how to improve the program.”
The nine-member board includes a public school board member, a superintendent, an architect and a school finance expert. The Colorado State Board of Education appoints them.
Lawmakers will meet with the board again in a few months to check on its progress implementing the recommendations, Williams said.
- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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