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News / Clark County News

State auditor dings Battle Ground Public Schools

Audit: District failed to maintain proper records for use of some COVID funds

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 28, 2023, 6:08am

Battle Ground Public Schools failed to maintain proper records of how it allocated funds from the federal Emergency Connectivity Fund, according to findings in a routine audit released Monday by the Washington State Auditor’s Office.

In the 2022 fiscal year, the district spent $968,430 in Emergency Connectivity funds to purchase Chromebooks and broadband services for students. Per program regulations, the funds were only to be used to fulfill “unmet needs” amid the COVID-19 pandemic and could not be used to purchase goods or services for future use.

The audit, which spans Sept. 1, 2021, to Aug. 31, 2022, found that when Battle Ground Public Schools requested reimbursement for the funds, it had not maintained adequate documentation of how Chromebooks and other services allowed within the program were distributed to students with unmet needs.

The findings determined the misstep was a result of some district staff being unaware of all that was necessary to fulfill the requirements of the grant program as opposed to intentional malfeasance.

“Given the nature of the program and circumstances, it is likely that at least some of the equipment the district charged to the award addressed unmet needs. However, the lack of a documented assessment of students’ actual unmet need means that most costs are unsupported,” the audit reads. “Since we do not have a reasonable basis for estimating how much of the district’s expenditures are allowable, we are questioning all unsupported costs.”

In this case, the unsupported costs amount to $827,737. The corrective action states Battle Ground Public Schools will need to review all grant requirements to confirm it has met them and then seek reimbursement for the funds used.

In response to the findings, Battle Ground Public Schools argued the misstep could be attributed to: the need to obtain devices for both in-school and remote learning amid pandemic-era confusion, a broad definition of the term unmet need, and a perception that the standards for the grant set by the Federal Communications Commission allowed for some flexibility.

Some of the funds received through the Emergency Connectivity Fund, the district said, were used to replace aging or broken devices. Other funds were used for Chromebooks allocated to libraries and classrooms to be provided on site if needed.

“We appreciate the complexity and difficulty of the auditor’s job and are grateful for the federal funding to sustain learning throughout the pandemic,” a district spokesperson said Tuesday. “Our hope is that the requirements for any future Emergency Connectivity Fund grants will be clarified and communicated with districts going forward.”

According to the findings, the auditor’s office expressed sympathy for the district’s challenges in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Seattle Times opinion piece published earlier this month, state Auditor Pat McCarthy expressed concern with the size and complexity of the Emergency Connectivity Fund and other federal pandemic-era programs, as well as how the FCC’s instructions perhaps lacked detail.

The audit found no other issues of noncompliance or material weaknesses regarding any other federal grant program during the audit period. The full findings of the audit can be found online at https://portal.sao.wa.gov/ReportSearch/Home/ViewReportFile?arn=1032813&sp=false&isFinding=false#page=6.