City Controller: Poor oversight of School District TransPass program may cost millions in losses

As the Philadelphia School District faces a $200 million-plus budget hole that seems to widen by the day, City Controller Alan Butkovitz on Thursday released an audit that appears to paint a picture of financial mismanagement within the system.

According to his report, a lack of oversight of the School District’s $33 million program providing free transportation to eligible school students through weekly SEPTA passes may lead to the loss of millions of dollars annually.

“As we first discovered in our 2008 School District special audit of TransPasses, failing to provide adequate accountability is an ongoing matter that needs to be corrected immediately,” Butkovitz said in a statement. “It would be inconceivable if the School District continued to ignore our finding and recommendation and not implement and monitor on a weekly basis the Student TransPass Program.”

School personnel who issue the passes are required to account for each one, checking students’ names off the list as they claim them and keeping a monthly tally of the number of passes the school received, distributed and returned.

A one-week sample of four high schools found that 575 of the 4,944 TransPasses they received – or 12 percent – could not be accounted for, resulting in an estimated loss of $9,545 for that week. “If a loss of $9,545 for one week is indicative of the unaccounted TransPass amount for the rest of the school year, for all schools, then this could result in a loss of millions,” Butkovitz’s office said in a release.

At all four schools surveyed, Butkovitz said, the majority of TransPass distribution lists weren’t signed by the employees responsible for handling the passes. Workers at two of the schools said they didn’t count the actual number of TransPasses given out, but instead based their monthly summary on the difference between the number of passes they received and the number of passes they had left when it came time to return them.

“The School District cannot afford to guess how many passes were actually distributed by counting only what’s left at the end of the week,” Butkovitz said. “They’re leaving the door wide open for theft and abuse, at the expense of Philadelphia’s taxpayers.”

The School District said in a written response that they will reenforce the importance of complying with TransPass policies during ongoing principals’ training, repost them to the Principal Bulletin Board and add the topic to their mandatory Principal Financial Planning agenda, to be discussed this summer.

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