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Audit: East Rockaway district ignored guidelines for issuing contracts

East Rockaway school officials frequently ignored the district’s guidelines by hiring attorneys, architects and other professional consultants without inviting competitors to apply, according to a report issued over the weekend by the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The state report zeroed in on what it described as the district’s repeated failure to issue formal Requests for Proposals, or RFPs, which are used to obtain offers from professional-services providers in a process similar to bidding. State auditors checked a sample of payments to 10 professionals ranging from architects to medical providers, and found that five were paid a total of $81,093 without the use of RFPs.

Because of the lack of competition, district officials “cannot assure taxpayers that they are procuring the most economically beneficial and qualified service providers and that these procurements were not influenced by favoritism,” said the report issued by the comptroller’s Division of Local Government and School Accountability in Albany.

The state’s review of East Rockaway’s financial practices covered the 2014-15 school year, which began July 1, 2014.

East Rockaway’s school board president, Kristin Ochtera, agreed with the report’s recommendations that local administrators comply with the district’s purchasing and contractual policies. Ochtera further pledged that administrators would require professional consultants to sign formal agreements with the district before providing services and would keep records of such agreements.

“The Board of Education and the current district administration continually strive to implement best practices and procedures to safeguard the financial integrity of the district on behalf of our students and taxpayers,” the board president stated in a letter to the comptroller’s office.

Ochtera added that the district had made particular progress “in the past few years” under a new superintendent, Lisa Ruiz. The schools chief took over East Rockaway’s administration in August 2013.

Other findings by the comptroller’s office:

  • East Rockaway administrators did not always enforce district policy of documenting verbal or written quotes before purchasing goods or services above a certain set price. State auditors reviewed payments totaling $140,479 made to 25 vendors, and found $37,333 was paid to nine vendors without required competition.
  • For nine other vendors paid a total of $46,793, district staffers were able to provide only one verbal quote from each vendor, rather than three written quotes as required by district policy.
  • The district overpaid an accounting firm $6,000, beyond a contractual agreement set at $15,000. Administrators were unable to provide state auditors with any written agreement justifying the extra payment.

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