Comptroller: Shuttered schools still had water & electricity
By John McPhaul
Apparently somebody at Education forgot to turn the lights off.
The Puerto Rico Comptroller’s Office on Wednesday issued a qualified opinion on the fiscal operations of the Caguas Regional Educational Office of the Department of Education that reveals deviations from the law and regulations related to the process of closing or consolidating schools.
The examination found that four of the 10 schools visited had water and electricity services despite the fact that more than three years had elapsed since their closure.
In four other schools, the suspension of water service was processed up to five months after closure and energy service up to 10 months after closure. As of March 31, 2021, the Education Department had a debt of $26,637 with the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority. In addition to the debt, the situation allows outsiders to benefit from the use of water and electricity from the closed schools, the comptroller noted.
The audit of a finding indicates that three schools had been vandalized and horses and caged animals were observed on the grounds. On one campus, the locks had been changed by a neighbor who kept her vehicle at the school.
Abandoned and deteriorated equipment such as electronic whiteboards, computers and video equipment, as well as educational materials and documents with sensitive information such as names, dates and places of birth of students, were observed in three schools.
As of Oct. 9, 2020, the inventory of one of the closed schools, which had 371 property units valued at $204,051, had not been updated in the Education Department’s Financial Information System. This situation means that the property inventory of the Treasury and Education departments is overvalued and lacks reliable information, the comptroller found.
Meanwhile, the equipment storage area of the Caguas Regional Educational Office does not have water or electricity services, lacks windows and physical plant maintenance, and equipment to be disposed of and in disuse was not separated.
The report notes that one of the facilities is in disuse and is occupied by a private nonprofit corporation whose contract ended on Dec. 12, 2018. The facility was being used for storage of equipment and materials.
Sixty-four schools under the Caguas Regional Educational Office were closed from 2017 to 2021.
This first comptroller’s report covers the period from Jan. 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2021, and is available at www.ocpr.gov.pr.