A September audit of the St. Louis Public School District flagged many problems such as failure to bid contracts, lack of internal audits, potential violations of the state’s Sunshine Law, lack of safeguards against cheating on tests, and rampant social promotion.
“These were not token issues,” said Spence Jackson, a spokesman for the state auditor’s office.
The district, Missouri’s largest, spends more than $15,000 per pupil and enrolls 25,000 students. It has been academically and financially troubled for some time.
Social Promotion Rampant
The auditor’s central finding was the district’s failure to hold back low-performing students, said James Schuls, an education analyst at the Show-Me Institute.
In 2011 and 2012, the report says, 2,000 students in grades 1-8 scored “below basic” in reading. This is the state test’s lowest designation. But the district held back only 155 and 128 students from these grades in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, respectively. Passing most of these students may violate state law, the report says.
“The bigger question is whether realistically one can expect inner city urban districts to meet high academic expectations when the problems are as much related to nonschool factors—dysfunctional families, for example—as school factors,” said J. Martin Rochester, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The audit found the district’s central office does not know how many education programs it has—the report estimated more than 1,000—and does not evaluate them to see if they actually benefit students.
Wasting Money in Contracts
The district has contracted with the same vendor for student busing since 2004 without requesting competitive bids, the report notes.
“The district is awarding multimillion-dollar projects without receiving multiple bids,” Shuls said. “This is very concerning to taxpayers. Multiple bids are needed to ensure the district is spending money wisely. The lack of received bids for these projects indicates the [request for proposals] process is not being conducted thoroughly.”
The St. Louis area has many large bus companies that would likely compete for the district’s contract if they could, he said. The report also noted the district has contracted with the same legal and lobbying firms for several years, also without requesting competitive bids.
Next: Another Report
State Auditor Thomas Schweitch will perform a follow-up audit in “about 90 or 120 days … to see what action, if any, has been taken on the recommendations that we’ve made,” Jackson said. Both reports will be available on the state auditor’s web site.
“We considered the St. Louis School District a rating of ‘fair’ but it was a low fair, because they just had a lot of issues,” he added.
“If an entity gets a ‘fair’ or a ‘poor,'” Jackson explained, “it generally means there are very serious problems that need to be addressed.”
Auditor Thomas Schweich discusses the audit of the St. Louis Public School District: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYq16bQntuY.
“Saint Louis Public School District,” Missouri State Auditor, September 2013: http://www.auditor.mo.gov/Press/2013-085.pdf.
Image by Frank Ellenberger.