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Audit: Prince George's County schools used stimulus funds for principals' watches, microwave ovens

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Local,Maryland,Education,Watchdog,Andy Brownfield,Prince Georges County,ARRA

A federal audit shows that Prince George's County schools misused nearly $167,000 in stimulus money on things like a microwave oven and minifridge for a school administrator, engraved watches for principals and a legal book on the firing of school employees.

The audit by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General also found that Prince George's schools couldn't produce adequate paperwork to back up an additional $124,000 in stimulus expenses, including electric bills, overpayments to vendors, catering end-of-year events and a mother-daughter tea.

The report reviewed how Prince George's and Baltimore City schools spent federal grant money in 2009 and 2010. It also found that Prince George's school teachers and officials were using tablet computers for personal use and had downloaded unauthorized applications, such as the games Angry Birds and Words With Friends, the Bible and instant messaging service Skype.

Those unallowed expenditures include $8,736 for 145 engraved watches and velvet bags to hold them, 100 engraved laser pens that doubled as USB drives and 150 personalized folders that were handed out during a 2011 principals' meeting. Prince George's schools also spent $525 for a trip to a skating rink for students who improved their behavior and $1,083 for a rental car that the school district can't provide a receipt for.

Shopping list
Unallowable purchases made with stimulus money:
» Minifridge and microwave for TurnAround Schools' administrator's personal use: $411
» 145 engraved watches, 100 engraved laser pens, 150 personalized folders for principals: $8,736
» Legal book on termination of school employees: $180
» Travel expenses for 85 students, teachers and parents to conference in Texas: $108,882
» Advance payment for a rental car that was never rented: $1,083
» Trip to skating rink to recognize students who improved their behavior: $525
» Electric bills incurred before the stimulus bill was signed into law: $13,785
» Personalized portfolio binder bags, book bags, pens, pocket folders and water bottles for a career expo: $6,463

"We are aware of the draft audit report findings, and have responded with our comments," Prince George's County Public Schools spokesman Briant Coleman wrote in an email. "While we do not concur with a number of the findings, we do agree there is room for improvement and we will continue to work with [the U.S. Department of Education] to rectify this matter."

Prince George's County argued in a response to the government that $124,369 of the $166,606 in expenditures that auditors found to be unallowable were actually permitted under the rules of the grants. The county said it did indeed have documentation to back up $95,994 of the $123,889 in inadequately supported or unsupported expenditures.

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker has pushed for more control over a school system that has lagged behind neighbors in test scores and has had trouble keeping superintendents. The General Assembly earlier this year passed a bill to allow Baker to appoint a superintendent from a list provided by an independent committee, as well as add new members to the school board.

A spokesman for Baker did not respond to a request for comment.

The audit recommends that Prince George's County return the money it wasn't authorized to spend and any money for which it can't provide proper documentation.

Maryland Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said the state is providing more information and working with the federal government to resolve the findings of the audit and wouldn't comment further until that process is complete.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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