HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — An audit of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ transportation services shows the district missed out on nearly $2 million in state reimbursements because of poor record-keeping and no-bid contracts.
“Student transportation is among the largest expenses school districts must pay,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said. “Providing safe and reliable transportation is critical and must be done as efficiently as possible to ensure as much education funding as possible makes it into the classroom.”
According to auditors, the district paid over $119 million to some 20 different vendors using nearly 600 vehicles to transport more than 21,000 students.
For five consecutive years, the district failed to require transportation vendors to submit fuel data that could have resulted in more than $2 million in state reimbursements.
“It is too late now for the district to recoup that $2 million, but I am glad to see the district has begun seeking that reimbursement,” DePasquale said, noting that the district received $717,863 for 2017 and 2018 combined. “That’s nearly three-quarters of a million dollars the district can invest in student education.”
Pittsburgh Public School administrators said they agree with this finding and will continue to apply for the reimbursement money.
Auditors also pointed out the district’s failure to keep required documentation on the $32 million in state transportation reimbursements it did receive.
“The lack of record-keeping by the district’s former transportation director was completely irresponsible and unacceptable,” DePasquale said. “Without proper records, my team was unable to determine if the district missed out on additional funds from the state.”
Additionally, auditors were concerned about the lack of competitive bidding and the same one-size-fits-all contract being given to each vendor.
“Students and taxpayers are being short-changed by the use of one-size-fits-all, no-bid busing contracts,” DePasquale said.
The report goes on further to say the school district failed to monitor its vendors for performance and safety standards. The report said, “the district was contractually required to perform semiannual evaluations of each of its transportation providers and visit each of its transportation providers in the first two weeks of August of each year of the accuracy of the vehicle registration cards.”
It stated the district failed to comply with these requirement putting student safety at risk. “The district also missed the opportunities to hold vendors accountable for the services,” the report said.
Pittsburgh Public School offered this statement to the audit:
“The District received a notification on August 6, 2018, that the Auditor General would begin a General Transportation Performance Audit on August 22, 2018.
Approximately a year before Auditor Pasquale’s audit of the District and two months after her appointment as the District’s new Chief Operations Officer (COO), Pamela Capretta discovered the District was not applying for state reimbursement of liquid fuel tax. Since that time, the District has collected $717,863 in fuel tax refunds. The appointment of a COO was among key recommendations of the Council of The Great City Schools, charged by Superintendent Hamlet to provide an environmental scan of the District.
A competitive bid process is only competitive if you can select the best bid. In the case of Pittsburgh Public Schools, the District cannot select bids because of its need for the resources of all 18 transportation carriers used to provide 800 vehicles to serve our students. Based on the broad needs of Pittsburgh Public Schools, a competitive process would force the District to accept a majority of bids, potentially increasing costs for the District.
While carrier garage visits and inspection occurred, the District agrees that documentation was lacking. The District has drafted a written checklist that provides the ability to track improvements. This new checklist was utilized this school during carrier inspections.”
To see the full 29-page performance audit, click here.
The auditor general is still working on reports about the travel of district officials and contracts that the district awarded without seeking bids, following our recent KDKA investigations by Andy Sheehan. Those are expected by the end of the year.