Wednesday, May 13, 2009

 
Is There A State Constitution? Really!

The Chief Financial Officer of the Buffalo School District, Gary Crosby (who I previously credited with resembling the aged actor, Chris Walken, below), is championing the cause of Comptroller audits of charter schools by criticizing the lawsuit by charter schools to stop such audits. His op-ed on this appears in today's the Buffalo News (here).

Mr. Crosby acknowledged in this piece that the Comptroller's office is knocking on his door, soon to audit the Buffalo district itself, a centi-million enterprise for which he's been the chief bean-counter for five years. In his timely way, Crosby says Comptroller audits are "important for transparency and accountability" and "encourages continuous improvement."

This fawning to the Comptroller's office is hardly subtle. What's worse is that after five years on the job, Mr. Crosby is serving up his predecessors for blame when the Comptroller's office finds its inevitable imperfections in the district's financial records and internal controls. After all, there is still "much work to do on the business side to overcome the many, many years of neglect," Crosby writes (emphasis mine).

I guess five years hasn't been enough for Crosby to straighten out this neglect. Look for that spin in the district's dealings with the Comptroller. As the consumate bureaucrat, we'll also soon find out if Mr. Crosby's transparent attempt to soften up the auditors and blame the past will be reflected in the audit itself.

Regarding the charter school lawsuit, we make no apology for trying correct the State Legislature and make the Comptroller adhere to the New York State Constitution, Article 5 of which circumscribes the Comptroller's authority regarding the entities that can be audited. Mr. Crosby nowhere acknowledges the Constitution, nor the arguments and case law backing our lawsuit, which makes his piece in the Buffalo News all the more vacuous.

The State Constitution is designed to limit Comptroller's auditing power to local governments and their agencies, that is, "political subdivisions" of the State. Charter schools clearly do not fall under that definition, which was acknowledged by the trial court that ruled in our favor. These constitutional limitations reflected the fact that other state agencies had regulatory and oversight authority over non-governmental entities carrying out public policy.

The Appellate Division earlier this year reversed the trial court on very simplistic grounds, stating that education is important so charter schools should be audited, and that they are "incidental" to school district expenses. This banal reasoning ignored most of the constitutional arguments and history, all of which will be reviewed by the State Court of Appeals next month when it hears our appeal.

Charter schools will continue to undergo rigorous monitoring and oversight by SUNY, the state Education Department (on behalf of the Board of Regents) and the New York City school district which has authorized charter schools. This oversight includes financial oversight and reviewing internal controls. Mr. Crosby doesn't think they do enough, saying its "preposterous" for me to suggest otherwise.

If he really believes that, then he should demand charter authorizers do more, beginning with himself, who oversees the two charter schools approved directly by the Buffalo Board of Education. To punt this to the Comptroller is not a substitute for proper financial oversight that authorizers are responsible to conduct.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard
 

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