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Between 2013 and 2017, the Utah Board of Education potentially mishandled more than $1 million in federal funding for the state's Dual Language Immersion program, according to a report released Monday by Utah State Auditor John Dougall.
The funding, which Utah received through the Flagship and STARTALK grant programs, lacked adequate oversight, Dougall said, while the structure of the dual immersion program led to inappropriate compensation and payments between administrators at the state and school district levels.
Monday's audit was requested by the Utah Board of Education, Dougall said, after accounting and reporting errors were noted by board staff.
"The whole arrangement was sloppy," Dougall said. "Rules weren't followed."
Monday's report highlights several lapses by the Dual Language Immersion program manager, who is not named in the audit. Funding was awarded to school districts without required oversight by state education managers, procurement and hiring procedures were circumvented, and purchases and compensation were carried out without proper documentation.
In at least two cases, the report states, the dual immersion program manager was paid by Utah school districts for work performed outside the manager's normal hours with the state school board. And the program manager also received a MacBook Pro, purchased and shipped to his home by a school district rather than through the Utah Board of Education.
"This is an employee of the state board of education getting side payments from folks that he oversees," Dougall said. "We find that completely inappropriate."
The state auditor said there also was confusion over whether local dual immersion directors were state or school district employees.
He said it's possible some errors highlighted by the report were the result of dual immersion employees being hired largely based on language education expertise. "They may not have a good understanding of legal and financial oversight," Dougall said. "That appears to be one of the weaknesses in this case."
More than $1.3 million in "questionable" or potentially mishandled costs were identified by auditors. That figure represents the bulk of combined funding from the Flagship and STARTALK grants, both federal programs.
"What it means is, potentially, the federal government could come back and request repayment,' Dougall said. "It's a significant amount of money over many, many years."
Deputy state superintendent Scott Jones said the first hints of a problem came as part of ongoing review of education programs intended to correct "decades of poor fiscal management" at the Utah Board of Education.
He said his team has put in place a number of accounting controls aimed at preventing future errors and identifying existing issues.
"We're serious about knowing where every dollar goes," Jones said. "We have a lot of work to do."
He said the Dual Language Immersion program showed several instances where large purchases were listed only as "materials," rather than with line-item descriptions. That led to an initial examination by the school board's internal auditing staff before the Office of the Utah State Auditor was asked to step in, Jones said.
"The more and more samples we pulled, the more and more we realized we had a problem," Jones said.
Dougall said the school board cooperated with the audit and has accepted the report's recommendations, which include the recovery of improper compensation, clarification of policies and requirements, and corrective actions against the program director.
"I think they recognized the significant failings on multiple fronts when it came to these programs," Dougall said.
Jones said the program manager remains employed by the Utah Board of Education, and that any corrective action will be determined by of the state superintendent and state school board.