After the thrashing it received from the state Auditor's Office for mismanaged finances last year, a new audit released Monday (.pdf) says the Seattle Public Schools needs stronger oversight over its school construction projects.

The audit found that although the district had proper policies and procedures in place to manage its capital construction projects, there were times when more rigorous monitoring would have resulted in less tax dollars being wasted. For example, the audit found that district staff sometimes bypassed required approvals, didn't adequately justify change orders, overpaid invoices, and kept incomplete records. Consequently, the audit says, the district ended up spending $1.2 million more than it should have for seven different projects out of the $38 million that was audited.

Surprise discoveries like a glacial erratic (referred to as bedrock in the audit report) under a construction site at Cleveland High School didn't help either. Dismantling and removing this rather large chunk of rock cost over a million dollars and delayed construction by months, said School Board Director Michael DeBell.

Principal Auditor Lou Adams said that it was difficult to pinpoint what the lack of oversight might have cost the school district because of the effect of inflation on construction budget and timeline. The audit recommended that the superintendent provide the school board with contract modifications and change orders and inform them about major project changes in a timely manner. In its response to the audit, the school district said that it had already taken some steps to address the audit's concerns. "We still have more work to do," Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson said at a meeting with staff from the State Auditor's Office yesterday, adding that it was unacceptable that district staff had failed to follow district practices.

The audit, which spanned three years (2005 to 2008) is the first construction-management audit carried out by the Auditor's Office. Community members will get a chance to comment on it Feb. 16. The school district is expected to report on the status of the audit's recommendations by July.