State's follow-up audit of KC Public Schools finds flaws, fixes

Though there were significant setbacks in the past year, the Kansas City Public Schools are continuing to fix what had been systemic operational flaws, the state auditor said.

In a follow-up report to an audit completed last fall, state Auditor Thomas A. Schweich said the Kansas City district has addressed problems in how it secured and monitored major service contracts.

“We found a lot of serious deficiencies,” Schweich said Wednesday, “but they’ve made a real commitment to fix the problems.”

He complimented the district’s new internal “procurement and contract committee” that he said will help the district consistently follow necessary bidding processes, avoid the appearances of conflicts of interest and deal better with crises.

The auditor’s office gave the district a “fair” rating last fall, noting concerns with contracts and in the management of surplus property and inventory, but expressing confidence that the district was taking steps to strengthen its operations.

However, new issues arose with new contracted services, the auditor said, referring to an investigation last fall by KSHB-TV into the district’s contracting in a $55 million energy project.

The district ultimately dropped the project, which it had awarded to a contractor that had recently served as a consultant to the district.

An independent audit found that no one in the district acted fraudulently or intentionally to inappropriately sway the selection process, but identified several flaws in the bidding process.

The auditor said the district also did not have a process in place to secure contracts in an emergency situation, noting concerns over a $117,000 contract to install security cameras in rapid response to a series of arson fires at Southwest Early College Campus in March 2011.

The district last fall hired a new purchasing manager and a new chief financial officer, and Schweich said he believes the administrative team under Superintendent Steve Green is making more improvements on top of the improvements the 2011 audit noted were made under former Superintendent John Covington.

“We’re pretty happy,” Schweich said. “They’re working toward the vast majority of the recommendations we made. I think they’re in pretty good shape now.”

The district issued a statement saying it welcomed the review and is strengthening its operations.

“Constructive feedback and support from the community is the key to the transformation of the Kansas City Public Schools,” the statement read. “KCPS continues to work diligently to be good stewards of taxpayer resources.”

Some of the other findings in the follow-up report noted that the district has implemented a process for finding new uses for its empty buildings and that the district is taking steps to better manage and dispose of surplus property and inventory.