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The final version of a state audit of the Buffalo School District released this morning confirms the findings of a draft report released in June: Poor management has cost the school district millions of dollars.

"Every student deserves every opportunity we can give them," State Comptroller H. Carl McCall said. "Buffalo schools have missed out on millions of dollars in state aid for some programs, and Buffalo students have missed out on countless opportunities because of that lost funding."

Specifically, the audit recommends 58 ways the district administration and the city School Board can improve communications, tighten financial controls and ensure the collection of all state aid for building projects and student programs.

The board has agreed with 56 of those 58 recommendations.

The district disagreed with the state's recommendations that district staff "advise the board on a timely basis of all significant matters affecting the district," and that the district should establish a process to make sure that information from the state Education Department is given to the responsible offices and staff members. The school district believes that both of those recommendations already are being met, according to the audit.

In response to the district's objections, the audit states that "continuous improvement in communication must be ongoing at all levels."

The audit was done by the state Education Department and the state comptroller's office in response to a debacle last winter when the School Board learned that the district had missed a filing deadline for $8.9 million in state aid reimbursements.

School Superintendent James Harris could not be reached to comment this morning, and most board members had not yet had time to read the report. However, Harris has recently said that the district has tightened its procedures for filing state aid reimbursements and is working aggressively to claim millions of dollars in back aid.

District spokesman Andrew Maddigan said this morning that the district considers the report "a positive opportunity to continue our progress. We've already taken a number of steps to make improvements."

One of those steps, he said, was this week's appointment of Rajni Shah as the district's new associate superintendent for finance. Shah is widely considered an expert on the fiscal management of major urban school districts and already serves on a policy advisory panel to the state Education Department.

Shah said earlier this week that he plans to have his staff meet with Education Department officials soon for training sessions on state-aid reimbursement procedures. The audit was especially critical of flaws in the district's systems for claiming state aid, following the flap over the filing error involving the $8.9 million reimbursement.

Ultimately, the responsibility for overseeing many of the audit's recommendations will fall on a different superintendent. Since the draft audit was released, a new School Board was seated, and in response to pressures from the board, Harris has decided not to seek a renewal of his four-year contract next July.

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