“State Auditor Beth Wood says North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction will have to repay $18 million in federal money intended for students with disabilities because of department errors.”
Those words begin Ann Doss Helms’s report for WFAE yesterday on the audit of DPI that was released last week right before another contentious NC State Board of Education meeting.
The link to the report online has a print and audio version. Both should be digested if only to observe/hear the plain talk of State Auditor Beth Wood in her descriptions of what she found in her yearly audit of DPI’s finances.
- “DPI is really falling down on the job of making sure that when they pass the money off, that whoever gets it is using it like they’re supposed to.”
- “You give money. You pass it down to a lower level, and then you don’t go see and follow up that they’re doing what they’re supposed to correctly, then you’ve failed in your job.”
- “just egregious issues”
- “I just don’t understand that we’re not doing a better job on something so fundamentally elementary.”
- “Really not good.”
- “Because they either didn’t understand or they were asleep at the wheel, or they knew it was wrong but did it anyway, they failed to get the obligations before the program date ended,”
- “The board has been concerned for some time about the number of vacancies within the department in several key areas of department operation. This has put a genuine strain on the department.”
Those are not flattering words for the leader of DPI. In fact, it is not a far-fetched notion to think that this would be a “fireable” offense in many businesses. And as a teacher and parent of a child with special needs, the loss of this money because of incompetency is more than disturbing. It’s maddening even within the context of all of the other things that Johnson has done to cause alarm.
And there are a lot of things Johnson has done to cause alarm.
The specific offense that Wood is referring to in this news report is explained in this audit of DPI for 2019.
18 million dollars is a lot of money for schools, especially in this time of economic upheaval during the COVID-19 pandemic. That could finance several hundred teacher assistants or support staff around the state. Add to that the money spent on iPads and the amount goes up many millions.
But the greater offense for this is that Johnson TAKES NO RESPONSIBILITY. Yes, he says these are legitimate concerns, but he places the blame on others.
Back to Helms’s report:
To understand these errors, Johnson said you need to look at timing. The relative power of the superintendent and the state Board of Education, a body appointed by the governor, has been in flux for years. June Atkinson, a Democrat, held the post from 2004 until losing to Johnson, a Republican, in November 2016.
The very next month, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed a law putting the superintendent in charge of DPI, which currently has more than 600 employees. The Board of Education promptly sued to maintain control.
The Board of Education remained in charge while the case worked its way through court for more than a year.
“They hired their hand-picked chief financial officer over my objections in 2017,” Johnson said.
That’s BS. Why? Well,
1. Johnson has been in office for over three years. DPI gets audited every year. In fact, even after the lawsuit was over there was an audit done for the year 2018 that should have given Johnson a view of what needed to be done or the processes he needed in place for 2019.
2. The lawsuit was over power of DPI’s budget. That power shift was done by the NCGA who before Johnson even took office gave him that power. He should have known that these things would then become his responsibility.
3. Never has there been this type of error on a previous audit. That means that the previous way that these monies were tracked seemed to work. Until the switch to Johnson’s control after the lawsuit, wouldn’t this system still have been in place?
4. Johnson made himself the point person of all of DPI almost two years ago. Remember this from 2018? It was Johnson’s reorg of DPI.
Below is what it was prior to the new reorganization.
This is what it looks like now.
In essence, he wanted everything to be his responsibility or he would not have done this. If he wanted the “power,” then he has to accept the responsibility.
5. Johnson is the person who eliminated jobs at DPI that could have helped to catch these errors. HE LITERALLY SHRANK DPI. This is from a 2018 post that Greg Childress published on NC Policy Watch that summarized what has happened at DPI in the first couple of years that Johnson took over.
Here’s a brief look at some of the DPI vacancy numbers through July 11:
- 157 – Total number of vacancies at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
- 46 – The number of vacant positions with no recruitment activity
- 15 – The number of vacant positions posted
- 18 – The number of vacant positions in screening
- 32 – The number of positions for which candidates are being interviewed
- 31 – The number of vacancies filled
- 5 – The number of positions DPI is preparing to post
- 1 – The number of positions being reallocated
- 12 – The number of positions on hold
6. Johnson should already know he sucks at audits. He spent a million dollars to pay Ernst & Young to perform an audit to find supposed “wasteful” uses of funds in DPI. That audit concluded that DPI was underfunded. Now, that’s some irony.
7. He’s a damn lawyer. He should know that there are legalities involved. in spending these types of funds.
And before Johnson even thinks about saying that he will investigate what has happened, you might want to revisit the whole iStation debacle and look at some of the blatant inconsistencies there uncovered by Justin Parmenter on his blog Notes from the Chalkboard.
And there is the fact that Johnson was seeking higher office (Lt. Gov.) this election cycle. Good thing that he never made it our of the primary. He is not prepared to be that important. Just look at the last three-plus years.