P R E S S R E L E A S E
For Immediate Release:
Contact: Marty O’Rourke
November 12, 2008
Butkovitz Finds Inadequate Safeguards In School
District’s SEPTA TransPass Program
Lack of uniformity in distribution and accountability for $28.9 million program
(Philadelphia) – City Controller Alan Butkovitz today released an audit of the School District of Philadelphia’s TransPass program that provides eligible students with free transportation to and from school.
Butkovitz’s audit found a number of deficiencies that resulted in inadequate safeguards and weak controls at both the central administrative office and individual schools.
According to Butkovitz, “The School District’s Transportation Division did not establish comprehensive procedures designed to control and report TransPass activity at individual schools.”
“We found evidence that District officials provided general training and guidance, but failed to adequately address distribution procedures, records retention and reporting requirements. As a result, each school was left to determine its own procedures for distribution and accountability,” Butkovitz said.
In conjunction with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority), the School District of Philadelphia began issuing TransPasses to provide free transportation to eligible Philadelphia public and non-public students in September of 2007.
Approximately 57,000 students participate in the TransPass program, 60 percent of which attend public schools and the remainder attending non-public and charter schools. The District pays SEPTA $15.65 for each weekly TransPass.
The total cost for the TransPass program for the 2007/2008 school year was approximately $28.9 million. The Commonwealth provided a $9.1 million subsidy and SEPTA added $3 million for administrative costs.
Butkovitz questioned “the District not knowing the actual number of students who take advantage of the free TransPass.” He said, “while the District incurred the cost for every student who picked up a TransPasses, because there was no way to determine actual usage by each student, the School District could be overpaying SEPTA for transit rides never taken by these students.”
According to the audit, “School District officials informed the Controller’s office that SEPTA has no way of determining the exact number of rides that the District’s students actually took. In an attempt to adjust the District’s cost for actual usage, a student survey was conducted to determine the number of individuals riding buses and those riding the non-surface routes. This number was applied by SEPTA to the actual number of TransPass swipes on its surface lines, and the result – approximately $1.5 million – was credited against the District’s costs. However, without actual ridership data, it is still possible that the District is paying for services not actually received.”
Butkovitz’s audit found little uniformity in procedures and numerous inconsistencies between schools, as well as a general lack of controls, safeguards, and accountability. Some of the findings included:
• Operations officers distributed and accounted for TransPass activity at some schools, while at others these functions were performed by teachers and non-teaching aides. This practice fails to assure that only personnel with appropriate training are performing these duties.
• Some schools used the District’s centralized database to produce eligibility distribution listings, while others inappropriately used home room rosters and other manually prepared lists. We found 22 students who received TransPasses that were not on the School District’s computer eligibility lists.
• Some schools required students to sign or initial the distribution list when given a TransPass, while other schools simply checked-off or crossed-off the student’s name. This practice does not provide adequate evidence that a TransPass was issued.
• Not all schools retained TransPass-related documentation. We identified two schools which could not document that 912 passes were issued to eligible students.
• Some schools prepared a summary of weekly TransPass activity (i.e. number received, number issued and number returned), while other schools maintained no records. Our one-week test at the 13 schools that retained distribution records identified 360 passes that could not be accounted for. The cost of these passes was $5,634.
According to Butkovitz, “The lack of controls and accountability over TransPass activity at individual schools increases the risk of theft and abuse. Such risk is heightened b ecause for a small additional fee, student Transpasses can be upgraded to a SEPTA TrailPasses. TrailPasses provide unrestricted and unlimited travel to both students and adults. During the 2007/2008 school year, over 19,000 student TransPasses were upgraded to TrailPasses.”