by Ted Sherman and John Mooney/The Star-Ledger
New audits of New Jersey’s most troubled school systems question more than $83 million in spending by the heavily state-subsidized districts — from excessive travel expenses and legal fees to Christmas parties and food.
While 71 percent of all purchase orders examined were found to be “reasonable,” the auditors concluded more than 25 cents of every dollar spent by the districts was unnecessary, excessive or lacking documentation.
The audits looked at all 31 of the state’s neediest school districts — known as “Abbott districts” — which have been coming under increasing fiscal scrutiny in recent years. Overall, the Abbott districts — serving about 275,000 students — spent nearly $4 billion this school year, with about $3.1 billion funded by the state.
One school district, Pleasantville in Atlantic County, is the focus of an ongoing federal criminal investigation, while at least one other, Asbury Park, is being probed by the state Attorney General’s Office, officials confirmed.
Auditors reviewed more than 30,000 purchases totaling nearly $290 million in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years — everything from textbook contracts and teaching materials to cell phones and hotel bills — to determine whether amounts spent were excessive, benefited students and were properly approved.
The state Department of Education released the audits after The Star-Ledger and other newspapers requested them under the Open Public Records Act.
The audits of all 31 districts can be found at nj.gov/education/finance/kw/
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