PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Hundreds of credit cards issued by the district to teachers and staff have questionable oversight and controls.
Procurement cards, or p-cards for short, are school district-issued credit cards for the purchases of last-minute supplies.
They are a convenient and streamlined way of keeping the wheels of education turning.
But a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.
And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.
“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.
Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.
The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.
And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.
“It opens the door up to fraud and abuse,” Lamb said. “Because when the opportunity is there, someone’s going to take it.”
In response to KDKA’s inquiry, the district issued a copy of its regulations — stating that the card purchases are reviewed by department heads and school principals and that employees found to use the cards for personal use will face discipline.
But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.
And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.
The school district says that as a school for special needs students, food purchases are often used as academic incentives and teaching tools.
But Lamb says the district needs to rein in these cards and establish much tighter controls governing their use.
“Obviously, too many have been issued and there’s no a set policy on how they should be used,” he said.