After Embarrassing Audits, City Schools, Auditor Make Nice 

The Richmond Public Schools have reached a tentative agreement, 14 months in the making, after a long-running impasse with the city auditor.

After a string of embarrassing investigations by City Auditor Umesh Dalal — including one that found 500 new computers sitting unused in a Richmond school warehouse in 2010 — questions have dogged the system about its ability to audit itself. The school system has its own internal auditor; Dalal is appointed by City Council.

City Councilman E. Martin Jewell introduced a proposal in February 2010 calling for the creation of memo of understanding to outline how the two sides should proceed with inspecting and overseeing the school system. A draft of that plan was presented to a council committee last week.

Richmond Public Schools spokeswoman Felicia Cosby says the district has been cooperating with council and the city auditor's office to develop the protocols. "We will continue to work with Richmond City Council and City Administration to realize greater operational efficiencies," she writes in an emailed statement.

But some close to the process say there was much resistance from the school district. "They didn't want Umesh coming to their doorstep," says one City Hall source.

It's a disagreement that predates the current School Board. A 2006 City Council resolution named the school auditor's office as one of more than a dozen departments that could be consolidated with corresponding city departments.

In the years since, Dalal's office has issued a number of unflattering reports on inefficiencies and lapses in oversight within Richmond schools, leading School Board members and city officials to call for consolidating the school system's internal auditor's office with the city's.

For his part, Jewell says he introduced the bill out of concern that city school system was not performing the "requisite" number of audits. "There were a number of things they should have been doing as part of the normal audit schedule that they weren't doing," he says.

Kim Bridges, chairwoman of the School Board, says that in recent years the school system has established a process for scheduling and selecting audits based on risk assessments made by the city auditor.

Dalal says that the agreement is an attempt to "do things cooperatively rather than forcing the office upon them."

But there's nothing that requires Dalal to be so diplomatic. The city code allows Dalal's office to investigate the finances and expenditures of any entity that directly appropriates city funds, and to do so without notifying the subject of the audit.

Jewell says he'll propose formalizing the agreement into law once it's finalized.


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