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State to audit city schools' contracts with consultants

State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi has authorized an audit of more than $8 million in contracts between the Buffalo School District and two educational support groups.

The audit will evaluate the school district's grant management, "specifically related to contracts with the Education Innovation Consortium and the Center for Applied Technologies in Education," said a letter to school officials from Robert E. Meller, Hevesi's chief examiner of local government services and economic development. "The reason we are conducting the audit is that we received a complaint," a spokeswoman for Hevesi said Tuesday, but she declined to identify who it was from.

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said the audit results from a request for an investigation made last June by the BTF and the union representing Buffalo principals. Rumore said the BTF has been "stonewalled" for nearly two years seeking information from the school district and the consulting groups.

"All we want to know is what the $6 million to $8 million they have sent to these organizations has been used for," Rumore said. "That's taxpayers' money. I think everyone has a right to know how it's spent."

The Education Innovation Consortium provided consulting services to the school district on licensing charter schools, establishing small schools, decentralizing decision-making and other issues. The Center for Applied Technologies, affiliated with the University at Buffalo, secured contracts to help the district use technology.

Both groups continue to work with the district.

Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Arthur Page, a spokesman for UB, said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the audit without knowing its outcome and said the review is focusing on the Buffalo Public Schools and not the Center for Applied Technologies in Education.

UB has provided valuable assistance and resources to the Buffalo schools and other local school systems, and will continue to do so, Page said.

Ralph Hernandez, the West District Board of Education member, welcomed the audit. "Checking and verifying documentation has become synonymous with responsible behavior," he said. The audit will examine the effectiveness of the district's grant management, he said, "detect any fraud or mismanagement" and shed light on how the money was spent.

Representatives of Hevesi's office are scheduled to meet with school district officials today to discuss details of the audit.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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