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Audit Finds Overpayment, Improper Credit Card Use at Bronx Charter School

By Eddie Small | February 29, 2016 5:11pm
 The comptroller's office recently audited the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts.
The comptroller's office recently audited the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

MOTT HAVEN — The principal of a South Bronx charter school has been overpaid by $23,000, according to a recent audit from the city comptroller's office.

The report on the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts, located at 164 Bruckner Blvd., is the first in a series of charter school audits that Comptroller Scott Stringer announced in October 2014 as an attempt to ensure that the schools are using taxpayer dollars appropriately.

Although the audit found that SBCSICA generally reported its finances accurately, Stringer's office still found about $130,000 worth of expenses that were either improperly documented or authorized out of the roughly $900,000 it examined from July 2012 through June 2014.

This included $7,125 in unapproved travel expenses to Boston, Albany and Las Vegas for the school principal and $6,473 spent on meals without itemized receipts, according to Stringer's office.

The audit also argues that the principal was overpaid by roughly $23,000, as she received this money for supervising an after-school program, a duty that is included in her contractual obligations.

Additionally, although the school purchased 180 30-day unlimited MetroCards for its students, it was unable to provide signed receipts from parents for 143 of them, which were worth a total of $16,000, according to the comptroller's office.

“There’s no excuse for thousands of dollars to slip through the cracks," Stringer said in a statement, "and it’s even more concerning when those funds should have gone toward the education of our schoolchildren."

His office made a series of recommendations to help the school improve the way it tracks its finances, suggesting that staffers refer the principal's after-school money to the board for review and possibly recoup the funds, as well as reform the way they keep records and receipts to make sure that school funds are used properly.

The school responded to the audits findings within the report, maintaining that its Board of Trustees was informed of and approved all payments made to the principal but would review its employment contracts regardless.

School officials also said that the proper records for its MetroCards were likely lost when SBCSICA moved to its new location in September 2014, and they had started filing such records electronically to prevent similar problems going forward.

"We are pleased that the audit found no evidence of wrongdoing or inappropriate spending," school officials said in the report, adding that they had still started developing a new manual for their finance policies that the Board of Trustees was reviewing.

Representatives from the school declined to comment on the audit beyond their written comments in the document itself.

SBCSICA puts a strong focus on teaching the arts. It is also a dual language school, offering classes from kindergarten through fifth grade in both English and Spanish, according to the audit.

The comptroller's office will release audits of Merrick Academy in Queens, Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School and Success Academy Charter Schools in the coming months, according to Stringer's office.

“If we are going to make sure that every child in our city has a fair and fighting chance to succeed," Stringer said, "we must ensure that money spent on their education actually goes toward that goal."