A New Orleans East charter school that closed in June after subpar performance has come under fire again, this time for selling computers purchased with public dollars.
From May 20 to June 24, officials at Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business sold $15,760 worth of computer equipment to parents and teachers to help pay off the school’s debts.
But doing so might have run afoul of the school’s charter and state policy, which prohibits schools from selling items purchased with federal or state funding, according to a report Monday from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office.
“We recommend that Miller-McCoy identify the funding source of all equipment sold, inform (the Recovery School District) of the equipment sold, and consult with its legal counsel to determine what amounts may be owed” to the RSD and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the audit said.
Miller-McCoy, the city’s only all-boys public school, closed this summer after prolonged leadership struggles, a failing state grade and reports of fighting and other problems at the campus. Auditors began looking into the school’s finances after tipsters alleged improper computer sales.
The ensuing investigation found that the school had sold 86 computers, phones and projectors, all valued at less than $500 per item. Half were bought with Title I grants, federal dollars that schools receive for educating low-income students. Auditors said they could not determine how other items were bought because their serial numbers were missing or mismatched.
Miller-McCoy’s former operations manager, who isn’t named in the report, told investigators the items were sold because of her interpretation of RSD and state accounting policies. Under those policies, items in that price range may be excluded from the school’s inventory, she said.
However, RSD officials said they told Miller-McCoy at least four times that selling the property was prohibited. The charter would have been allowed to donate the property to another state-authorized charter school if its independent board approved such a transfer, officials said.
Miller-McCoy takes issue with the state district’s rules. “I have reviewed the report’s findings and we respectfully disagree with the Recovery School District’s interpretation of state law and policies,” said Blake Oakes, a member of Miller-McCoy’s board. “It should be noted that prior to selling the computer equipment, Miller-McCoy consulted with the RSD, and we believed there was agreement on this point.”
School officials have given the RSD a list of the equipment in question and are identifying what funds were used to pay for the equipment, Oakes added.
The RSD’s strong warnings to Miller-McCoy came almost a year after auditors criticized the district for failing to keep track of $7 million worth of school computers and laptops.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.