PARSIPPANY — Assemblyman Jay Webber announced he will introduce legislation that would require local school districts to implement best practices and expand the authority of the state auditor to ensure safeguards against fraud and abuse in New Jersey’s education system.
The results of recent state auditor assessments of school districts in Pemberton and Ridgefield Park highlight the importance of the legislation.
“Our school children, parents, taxpayers, and educators all have great stakes in the best and most efficient use of our educational resources,” said Webber (R-Morris). “The state auditor consistently finds, however, that through carelessness or worse, school districts all too often waste that money. Laptop computers disappear. Health insurance bought for the wrong people. Failures to perform basic criminal background checks. New Jersey needs to beef up its ability to review and monitor our schools, and we need to do it now.”
The investigation of Pemberton schools revealed that administrators purchased 703 extra Chromebooks beyond the total teacher and student population, costing taxpayers $313,000. In addition, district administrators could not account for where they went. In Ridgefield Park, the auditor uncovered $3.6 million in unnecessary health insurance liabilities and multiple conflicts of interest on the part of school board members.
The New Jersey state auditor, an independent agency within the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services, conducts random, in-depth performance audits of school districts. A performance audit targets and analyzes how well a government institution is allocating resources and then prescribes corrective action for identified failures.
“A performance audit may be the only current vehicle that evaluates the actual performance of government institutions, and we should be looking to expand it for that very reason,” continued Webber. “It is a more powerful tool to identify waste and fraud than routine fiscal audits. Students and taxpayers are the ultimate beneficiaries of the corrective actions from these audits.”
Assemblyman Webber’s legislation will direct the state auditor’s office to release a compendium report based on past audits. The report will include a collection of past problems identified in school districts, as well as the best practices to avoid problems encountered in other districts. Each school district will have to affirmatively certify that they are in compliance with those best practices, and the state auditor’s office will have the authority to conduct further audits on school districts to ensure all are in compliance.