The transfer of the truancy program this summer from the city of Richmond back to the city school system wasn’t as smooth as it was hoped, according to an audit conducted by school officials.
The move was underfunded and the promised equipment, including cars, was either faulty or inoperable, said the report from Debora R. Johns, chief auditor for the school system. The report, dated Oct. 3, was delivered to Superintendent Dana T. Bedden and the nine members of the Richmond School Board.
School officials built a plan based on the availability of 18 cars. They bought 10 for $153,997, and counted on receiving the other eight from the city. But the allotment from the city included three 15-passenger vans, which the state prohibits school systems from using for the transfer of students. Of the other five vehicles, none was deemed roadworthy by the school system’s fleet maintenance contractor.
The audit also highlighted uncertainty about the fate of student records accumulated by the city in the nine years since then-Mayor L. Douglas Wilder took over truancy and assigned it to the police department.
“I think our people are doing what they need to do to succeed,” said School Board Vice Chairwoman Kristen N. Larson, 4th District. “They’ve had to deal with what we got.”
What they got, the audit said, was not as much as they expected.
The city promised $1.5 million, eight cars and 25 two-way radios as it shifted the function from the Department of Justice Services, which assumed it from the police department several years ago, back to the school system.
School officials estimated the cost of running the program at $2.2 million but scaled back their plan based on the lower funding.
Even at the lower budget, the move has not been smooth.
The group of vehicles provided by the city includes a 1998 Ford Taurus with 104,572 miles and a variety of age-related issues; a 1999 Ford Taurus with 96,743 miles that needs mechanical work estimated to cost at least four times the car’s $1,000 value; a 2000 Ford Taurus with 109,616 miles, four dry-rotted tires and a work list in excess of its $1,000 value; a 2001 Ford Taurus with 95,751 miles and a long list of mechanical and cosmetic issues; and a 2002 Chevrolet Malibu with 58,160 miles that won’t lock, has a broken gear shift and inoperable instruments.
At least two of the cars have significant paint issues, which is evident in pictures that are included in the audit.
“When you look at that, you have to laugh or you’re going to cry,” said Larson. “They gave us an asset that doesn’t really have any value to it. We can’t send our officers out in those cars.
“That’s something else we’re going to have to buy. We can’t send truancy officers out on the city bus looking for kids. They need cars.”
The city also transferred 25 two-way radios, but school officials couldn’t make them work on the correct frequency, so they sent them back for reprogramming.
“After I read the audit, the concerns I have are one, we need to have safe, reliable transportation for our truancy officers; and two, if we’re going to have a robust truancy program, we have to fund it,” said School Board member Jeff M. Bourne, 3rd District.
Tammy Hawley, the press secretary for Mayor Dwight C. Jones, said issues were anticipated with the transfer and that city administrators were prepared to work through them.
“It is my understanding that the superintendent agreed that any issues developed with the transfer would be things he would submit for funding in the upcoming budget process,” she said in an email. “We would expect to address the matter further during that time.”