UPPER MARLBORO — After an internal audit of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) found that thousands of dollars in school funds have gone missing over the last few years, Interim CEO Monica Goldson released a statement emphasizing the school system’s dedication to upholding the trust of the public.
“Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is charged with ensuring the highest standards of academic excellence, upholding the public trust and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Goldson said in her statement on Feb. 1.
The internal audit from 2014 showed that just under a million dollars were found missing from various student activity funds, sporting events and unpaid facility fees over the last few years.
Goldson said the challenge of the missing funds could not be addressed unless the school system is willing to have honest conversations and commit to making improvements.
“External reviews of our processes and procedures enhance public confidence, holding everyone accountable through transparency,” she continued. “I want to thank our Board of Education leadership and our internal audit process for bringing these issues to light.”
Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton said despite the disappearance in funds that occurred under previous leadership, PGCPS has made tremendous progress in transparency and he said that the State Board of Education called PGCPS “the most transparent of school systems in the state of Maryland” after a review of the school systems implementation of a list of recommendations following a graduation audit near the end of last year.
“That’s important to say because we do aggressive auditing at a level that is probably unparalleled,” Thornton said. “So we uncovered what’s wrong. I’m very proud of our auditing unit…The State Board of Education president said he wants other school systems to do the same thing. Many other school systems and I’m not diverting, but school systems do not do the kind of aggressive auditing that we do.”
However, Thornton said the issue of the missing funds has been “oversimplified” to some extent.
“There is in fact resources, use of facilities for which there was not proper accounting,” Thornton said. “For example, if you have a gym that people are allowed to come in and use, you know how guys come in, ladies come in and use the gym, and there is not proper charging for it, the auditor will come in and pick that up and say ‘hey, look, you should have charged those people for that and the fact that you did not charge them, that’s missing money.’”
With Goldson coming on as CEO of PGCPS only in July 2018, missing funds is a problem that she has inherited. However, she assured the public that while these problems did not start under her leadership, she will ensure that they end under her leadership.
At this time, Goldson has recommended the Board of Education refer all of the cases of missing funds and alleged fraud since 2015 to the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office for review and possible prosecution and going forward, she said that PGCPS will coordinate with law enforcement on any waste, fraud and abuse cases within the system.
“What the board has decided to do is to take the audit report, the board has asked the CEO and our auditors to come up with administrative procedures to what do you do when you determine after proper investigation that someone has in fact engaged in missing funds,” Thornton said.
“We will refer such persons, after we do appropriate due diligence and get people due process, refer people to the State’s Attorney for appropriate action. And that’s what the Board is doing, and we will take a look at what’s being recommended by our CEO and our Board attorney at our next meeting.”
Additionally, Board Member Raheela Ahmed said she spearheaded an effort of herself a few Board of Education members who sent a list of recommendations to Goldson on how to implement change.
“We have a policy on fraud, waste, and abuse that was passed by the Board of Education in 2017 under the Maxwell Administration,” Ahmed said. “When that was passed, there were charges in that policy requesting the administration to procedures around fraud, waste and abuse. That never occurred.”
These new recommendations include automating as many financial processes as possible, provide detailed physical training to administrators and bookkeepers, referring proven cases to the State’s Attorney office and establishing progressive action leading up to removing people from money management roles if they show a pattern of not being able to manage that money.
“I think we just need to move toward more of a restorative culture rather over a punitive culture,” Ahmed said. “And that takes time, but in order for us to be more transparent, we need not to be afraid of our flaws and embrace our issues so that we can address them and move forward.”