Report 96121 Summary - October 1997

Los Angeles Unified School District:

The District Can Improve Its Handling of Employees Accused of Child Abuse as Well as Its School Financial Accounts

Results in Brief

The Los Angeles Unified School District (district), which serves more than 800,000 students, can improve its handling of employees accused of child abuse. Specifically, in some isolated instances, administrators have not complied with written district policy when dealing with employees accused of child abuse. As a result, the district may be jeopardizing the rights of its employees and exposing itself to potential legal liabilities. The district has provided training to its administrators to clarify their role in these situations. Nevertheless, the district does not require its employees to consult with legal counsel before taking action such as reassigning accused employees. However, we were unable to conclude that the district retaliated against employees.

Our review of alleged child abuse cases revealed the following shortcomings in the district's dealings with employees accused of child abuse:

· When handling child abuse allegations, it appears that at least two administrators did not adhere to written district policies requiring them to consult and obtain the approval of investigating child protective agencies before taking action such as investigating reported allegations or temporarily reassigning accused employees.

· The district does not consult legal counsel prior to taking actions such as reassigning accused employees.

· In one case an administrator exceeded her authority by investigating an allegation rather than simply making inquiries to determine whether an allegation constituted a reportable offense.

Because of the above, the district has been open to charges that it takes retaliatory measures, violates employees' basic rights, treats employees unfairly, and harasses accused employees. As a result, the district has also exposed itself to potential legal liabilities.

We also found that the district and its schools can improve controls over certain financial accounts. In part because the district does not have adequate policies concerning school checking and imprest accounts, five schools we visited do not properly manage these accounts. These accounts contain funds advanced to each school by the district, which requires schools to maintain account records for five years. However, in some cases, the district audits those accounts only once every ten or more years, thus creating the potential for misappropriation of funds during the years not covered by the district's audits. During our review of five schools, we found that three schools fail to obtain receipts to support expenditures from the funds, and four schools do not require appropriate approvals for the purchases. Further, some of the five schools do not reconcile their school checking and imprest accounts with bank statements. Consequently, neither the district nor the taxpayers can be sure that the schools are spending these public funds appropriately.

Recommendations

To ensure equitable, appropriate treatment of employees accused of child abuse, the district should take the following steps:

· Clarify its policy requiring the district to consult with, and gain the approval of, designated child protective agencies before it investigates or reassigns accused employees.

· Include information in its written policies that explains the distinction between inquiry and investigation.

· Attempt to further define the circumstances under which all employees accused of child abuse will be temporarily reassigned.

· Ask its legal counsel whether any proposed action related to the child abuse allegations may have legal consequences.

Finally, to confirm that its schools are spending school checking and imprest accounts legitimately, the district and its schools should do the following:

· Require that schools obtain original receipts from individuals requesting reimbursement.

· Ensure that all reimbursement requests include proper approvals.

· Ensure that schools reconcile on a monthly basis their imprest and school checking accounts to bank statements.

· Improve separation of duties related to the accounting process.

· Establish a risk-based approach for monitoring imprest and school checking accounts and audit high-risk school accounts no less than once every five years and assure that documents are retained between audits at other schools.

· Require schools to comply with district policies and procedures, and educate employees responsible for school funds about the proper ways to maintain school checking and imprest accounts.

Agency Comments

While the district disagrees with some of our conclusions, it agrees that it will comprehensively review its written policies and its practices to make clarifications in the areas identified in the report. The district believes it has maintained a consistent policy and practice with regard to child abuse reporting and that neither the policy nor practice has jeopardized employee rights or increased the district's legal liability.

In regard to the school financial accounts, the district generally agrees with our conclusions and will revise and strengthen its policies concerning documentation required for reimbursement, reconciliations, and auditing school accounts.


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