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Buffalo's new comptroller is asking state lawmakers to pass legislation that would give him audit authority over the city's public schools.

In a letter this week to state Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, Anthony R. Nanula stated: "It is crucial to get audit authority passed this year, given the recent financial problems experienced by the school district.

"Unfortunately, the problems are well-documented," beginning with revelations that the district failed to file for $8.9 million in state reimbursements last year, Nanula said Friday.

"That resulted in critical comments from state auditors regarding financial management of the district, and now we are faced with allegations of possible embezzlement from a federal grant," the comptroller said.

Sheila Johnson-Moore, a project administrator for the school district, has been suspended with pay in connection with possible irregularities in the handling of an $800,000 federal grant.

"The time has come for improved fiscal oversight of the schools to restore public confidence, and I believe the city comptroller's office should have the authority to audit the district and its nearly $500 million budget," Nanula wrote to state lawmakers.

In a related matter, he urged the School Board to take full advantage of the 93.7 percent state reimbursement rate for school renovation, "so that we can upgrade our schools without upgrading our capital debt." That rate drops to 84.3 percent on July 1.

"We must incorporate the current high rate into our five-year plan for the future and lock in the higher figure," Nanula said.

"Nothing is more important to the future growth and prosperity of our city than our educational system," Nanula said. "As the schools go, so goes our future. We must act now to keep and attract young families or we risk becoming a ghost town."

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