To the Editor:
Last night the Alexandria City School Board Chair, Alexandria City Public Schools Acting Superintendent and ACPS Chief Financial Officer appeared together before the Alexandria City Council to respond to questions regarding the ACPS capital improvement program. The primary issue was the Board’s recent reallocation of $1.8 million of CIP funds.
The trio told Council that the identification of these funds was the result of a recent ACPS Educational Facilities Office review and prioritization of all CIP projects. They went to great lengths to say that the CIP debacle of 2011/2012 was an anomaly, lessons have been learned, improved financial process are in place, more employees have been hired to implement the CIP and the Board is conducting active oversight of the CIP. The word “transparency” was tossed about freely.
They did not hesitate to place the blame for the prior mismanagement on individuals no longer employed by ACPS. They expressed confidence in the Director of Educational Facilities who joined ACPS on July 1, 2012 and his staff. They appeared to believe that a year is how long it should take for a director to become familiar with the CIP history, project status and foreseeable future.
One could think it’s a new day in ACPS and we might be able to once again make sense of the schools' CIP. If last night’s rhetoric and the September 5 budget transfer request are any indication of what is in store, Alexandria taxpayers might want to be very concerned.
(1) In spite of the Chair's claims, I am unable to find evidence of meaningful Board oversight of the CIP. There is an Operations Committee, and it is supposed to deal with Operational Services, which includes the Facilities Office. But prior to September 23, that committee only met once – on May 29 – and their proposed scope of work appears very light in the facilities area.
While the CIP transfer was discussed at the September 11, Budget and Audit Committee meeting, agendas and minutes of prior committee meetings do not reflect substantive discussions of the CIP. I suspect the reason it was on the committee's September 11 agenda at all was because of Board member and committee chair Pat Hennig's concerns surrounding the $1.8 million transfer. When the transfer came before the full Board for approval, she was the lone dissenting vote.
(2) The budget transfer memo states: "The two major projects in the Deleted Project category are T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Green Roof projects and New Emergency Generator on the site To Be Determined. These deletions are being recommended after a detailed review of both of these projects was completed in June of this year to ensure we did not cancel them if there was a legitimate requirement and/or they could be supported."
The March 22, 2012 School Board meeting included a CIP update and budget transfer request. One of the documents provided by the ACPS Interim CFO to the Board in conjunction with that agenda item was a project status summary report. This report lists the Green Roof project at Minnie Howard as "CANCELLED". Three other EcoCity projects at Minnie Howard were either "CANCELLED" or "NOT STARTED". At least a portion of these funds ($913,774) was transferred to other projects at that time.
The ACPS decision on the green roof was made at least 18 – not three – months ago. The current CFO and two current members of the facilities staff appear to have been involved with the decision and transfer of funds in 2012. This appears to contradict the Acting Superintendent's response last night to Councilman Smedberg's questions about oversight of the CIP. She said, "You asked about oversight and I think we have to be completely transparent here. We have an entirely new staff."
(3) For several years emergency generators have been listed in the CIP budget as "Shared Program Priorities." The fiscal year 2013 CIP contained the following justification for a $210,000 line item for which the City provided funding.