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Can privatization clean up Chesterfield schools?

By   /   March 31, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

CHESTERFIELD, Va. — After allegedly “sandbagging the budget,” a Richmond area school district is under pressure to hire a private overseer for future construction projects.

Photo courtesy of Chesterfield County

TIGHTER REINS: Chesterfield Supervisor Dan Gecker says third-party supervision of public school construction projects could control spending.

An audit flunked Chesterfield school administrators for their handling of four recent campus renovations. Auditors said their review was limited because project files were misfiled, original documents were missing and key correspondence with contractors was not maintained.

State law requires that such documentation be preserved for four years.

Additionally, the audit found employees in the construction division allowed contractors to perform work without written approval and authorized change orders without supporting documentation. Changes orders on one project added $1.5 million to the final cost.

A $55 million bond initially floated for a new high school technology center ballooned to $72 million, said Rodney Martin, a county activist. When the price tag came in at $68 million, the school district kept the $4 million difference.

“The school was built on sandbagging the budget. This is clearly unethical.” Martin told Watchdog.org in an interview.

School Board Chairwoman Carrie Coyner and County Supervisor Dan Gecker have suggested outsourcing construction management of schools.

James Marconi, a local member of Americans for Prosperity, believes “schools have too much control over capital projects and operations.”

Taxpayer Chris Eliot adds that too many district operations are antiquated and inefficient.

“They pay employees $22.50 an hour, plus mileage, to drive around collecting time sheets. With 21st century technology, why doesn’t Chesterfield have electronic time sheets?” Eliot asks.

Amid taxpayer complaints, Chesterfield’s Board of Supervisors, which annually allocates half of its $800 million operating budget to public schools, is looking at more outsourcing to cut costs and enhance accountability.

Privatization benefits have been mixed, so far. Critics complain that a private contract for janitorial services is leaving school facilities filthy.

“Custodians spend five to eight minutes per classroom,” Eliot wrote in the Chesterfield Observer. “Floors are mopped and waxed once a year, desks are never disinfected. No wonder our children are ill during the winter months.”

Kenric Ward is chief of Wachdog.org’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at (571) 319-9824.




Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.