An audit report by the Office of the Inspector General points to failures in reporting in the public system that provides nutrition to school children in the territory’s public and private schools.
Details of those failures are contained in a 42-page audit report issued at the end of June.
Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt said the audit of the National School Lunch Program, as administered in the Virgin Islands, and the School Breakfast program was conducted to find out how well the programs measured up to federal reporting standards.
The audit findings were accepted by Education Commissioner Sharon McCollomb in a letter dated June 2. Among the steps taken by the commissioner was the removal of the state director for the school lunch program and the assignment of the DOE chief of staff to address deficiencies.
She referred to a corrective action plan developed in 2016. One of the first steps showed top Education officials how little they knew about the School Food Program.
The audit also examined the management of inventories of food and non-food items used by the program in the districts of St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John.
Investigators checked the records with the two audited programs for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014. Inventory management systems were examined from 2009 through 2014.
A current check of inventory management also was conducted for the yer 2016.
In his summary, van Beverhoudt decribed a faulty system of accountability that allows deficiencies to go unchecked to the detriment of the end users, the students.
“The continued failure of the Insular Superintndent’s offices and the State Ofice to enforce proper accounting and record keeping makes it difficult for Education to provide reasonable assurances that the School Lunch Program inventories are being used for their intended purposes,” van Beverhoudt said.
Included in the finalized report were five recommendations. Improvements to inventory management topped the list with detailed examples of areas where failures appeared. One of the chief deficits was failure by the Department of Education to follow federal requirements to use a book record system to keep track of inventories.
The IG called for changes in the way food and materials are ordered and for a better system of menu planning.
Inventory management differed between the districts, the report said.
One of the more egregious faults, according to investigators, was the adoption of an electronic food service software from a contractor. The audit said that system could never be used by food service managers in the school system because of persistent problems with DOE network servers.
Finally, the report cited a disconnect between the School Lunch Program and the Offices of the Insular Superintendents, leaving the program vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse over a period of years.
In her response McCollomb said her department seeks to create a modern school lunch program administration “compliant with federal and local policies and managed, using best practices.”
The commissioner also told van Beverhoudt she had tasked DOE Chief of Staff Anthony Thomas to present “a full accounting” of school lunch program personnel, technology, operations, processes and financial management.
The initial findings, she said, pointed to an unresponsive culture in the Office of the State Director. The other led Thomas to travel with the superintendents to Puerto Rico for an introduction to federal school lunch program administrators.
The audit report can be downloaded from the Inspector General’s website.