DISD Doesn't Deserve to Win Its Bond Election Because of Its Fiscal Incompetence

Look at this way: I'm not trying to get you to vote against the school bond in the May 10 election. And even if I were, so what? I'm against everything, right? I'd hate to be on a jury deciding my own fate.

But I do have issues. Like that audit. The district is now four months late with its comprehensive external audit. In the May 10 Dallas Independent School District bond election, we are being asked to give the district $1.35 billion in tax money over and above the $1.5 billion it already spends every year. But the district can't produce an audit to show us what they're doing with the money they've already got.

The overall financial audit for DISD was supposed to be complete and presented to the school board at the first of the year. Now it's May. All we get is they're working on it. The check is in the mail.

So many people complained about the missing audit—even The Dallas Morning News, which never complains about anything—that the district finally had to pony up an interim report. On April 23, the auditing company, Deloitte & Touche, released a four-page summary of the kinds of areas where they are finding "significant deficiencies."

I'm going to list some of those areas below, along with an English translation:

"Control environment." (Books.)

"Financial Accounting and Reporting." (Receipts and books.)

"Policies and Procedures." (Please keep books.)

"Anti-fraud programs and controls." (Please don't cook books.)

"Capital Assets Accounting and Reporting." (Can you at least count the buildings?)

"Debt Accounting and Reporting." (If you don't have the money, who does?)

"Grant Compliance, Accounting, and Reporting." (Grants are not birthday presents.)

Deloitte did not provide details. They told the board they couldn't provide details, because the district was not providing Deloitte with the kind of details Deloitte would need in order to provide the district with details back.

Great. To me, that's two guys with their hands in their pockets. First guy says, "Ask him." Second guy says, "No, ask HIM."

A Deloitte spokesperson told the school board at its April 23 meeting that the details were not available because, "The district has not developed an effective internal control environment."

Call me unfair. I can take it. But fair or not, I'm still going to interpret the phrase, "effective internal control environment" as books.

School board president Jack Lowe says I'm unfair. "We got books," he said. "We just got things that need reconciliation."

Lowe gave me this analogy: "Let's say I haven't balanced my checkbook in two years, but the bank and I agree on what my balance should be. I'm trying to figure out where I spent it, so I'm going back trying to get things in the right column."

You see what he means. The money's all there. It's just a matter of bookkeeping. My problem? How do you know the money's all there if you haven't done the bookkeeping?

If you haven't balanced your checkbook in two years, I don't believe you have any idea what your balance should be. To put it crudely, how do you know anything, if you don't know nothing? In an April 24 Morning News story, Lowe was quoted as saying, "No one stole anything. There's no money missing. It's not dishonesty. It's a lack of competency."

That's good?

A guy has my 10 bucks. I ask for it back. The guy says, "Don't got it." I say, "Where is it?" He says, "Don't know." I say, "What did you do with it?" He says, "Don't know." I say, "Who is the President of the United States?" He says, "Don't know."

Oh, well, great, then. What a relief. I was afraid he stole it.

One of the positive defenses the district has offered is that there's nothing to worry about, because the district has more than $100 million in its fund balance or "savings account" as the Morning News called it in the same story.

In the first place, I don't believe the district has a "savings account." I seem to remember reading that they have hundreds of checking accounts and nobody quite knows how many other kinds of accounts. So maybe that was a figure of speech. But why should I be happy about the district having $100 million in its whatever account, when I don't know how much is supposed to be in the whatever account?

DISD has an annual budget of $1.5 billion. Let's do this on a percentage basis: A guy making $45,000 a year with the same percentage of his annual gross in savings (around 6.7 percent) would have $3,000.

And that's great. Unless he's supposed to have $30,000. How does anybody know there's no money missing, if nobody knows how much money there's supposed to be?

The audit that Deloitte is trying to do but is unable to complete is not even a fraud audit. It's what is called a "financial statement audit." I chatted a little last week with Urton Anderson, chairman of the Department of Accounting in the Red McCombs School of Business at UT-Austin. We talked about the difference between types of audits. He was very nice about pretending that I understood him.