PSJA district sorting out grant discrepancies

PHARR — An audit into a multimillion research grant by the Departments of Justice and Education to the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district questions the use of $52,200, in what the district reported as consulting and travel related costs.

The audit was on a more than $4.1 million grant awarded to the district in 2014 under two new programs — Developing Knowledge About What Works to Make Schools Safe and Comprehensive Schools Safety Initiative — that allow awardees to learn how to improve safety through personnel, programs and activities.

The recently released audit states the district reported spending $3,000 per day on a consultant, but the grant only allowed a maximum of $650 per day. This amounted to a total of $49,350. The additional $2,850 questioned in the auditor was attributed to four transactions reported by the district as travel expenses that the auditing agency — the Office of Justice Programs — found to be unallowable as they were not included in the approved budget.

“The recipient is responsible for establishing and maintaining an adequate accounting system, which includes the ability to compare actual expenditures or outlays with budgeted amounts for each award,” the audit states.

PSJA ISD Superintendent Daniel King said that, as the audit shows, there has been constant communication with the auditing agency to solve the problem, which he attributed as mainly accounting discrepancies. The initial spending plan was approved by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, he said, so the district wasn’t expecting any discrepancies.

“When the grant was issued, the district sent in all the plans on how to spend it very detailed, everything was negotiated and everything was spent the way it was all agreed to,” King said.

The district, he explained, was required under the grant to also contribute what they call an in-kind investment, which exceeds the $52,200 in question. This contribution can be used to cover those unapproved costs and in turn switch some of the expenses previously reported under the in-kind funds to the grant money.

In a letter responding to the audit, the district disputed with the audit findings stating the expenses were previously approved and the consultant payments were not made to an individual but an agency, Safe and Civil Schools, which would not apply under the expenditure limit.

The auditing agency did not agree with the district’s position, however, stating the district reported these expenditures under an individual and not an agency.

The district has 180 days to solve the issues, which King said should be solved sooner than the deadline to ensure there isn’t any issue with either agency. He assured that if the auditors continue to disagree with their proposal, the matter should still be resolved easily by utilizing the district’s investment to pay for the questioned investments.

“It’s like with any bookkeeping — at the end of the day everything needs to balanced out and be assigned to the right area,” King said. “So we will either be able to convince them of our point or make an accounting adjustment and that will all be done over the next weeks.”