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April 26, 2004

Md. School For The Deaf Challenges Audit

From: WBAL - Baltimore,MD,USA - Apr 26, 2004

FREDERICK, Md. -- Maryland School for the Deaf officials are challenging a state audit that found several improprieties at the Frederick campus last year.

The problems at the taxpayer-funded school included employees using extended lunch breaks to work on supervisor's private properties and lax controls over purchasing in the maintenance department.

The Office of Legislative Audits was prompted by a call to its fraud hotline from a former school employee in March 2003.

It also found that several maintenance department employees used state vehicles for private purposes, borrowed other state equipment and made thousands of dollars in questionable and poorly documented purchases.

The report found that the school failed to account adequately for the June 2000 purchase of a $9,490 tire-changing device. Auditors were initially told that the school needed the machine for a vocational program for its students, but learned later that the vocational program had been discontinued before the school acquired the commercial-grade machine.

James Tucker, the school's superintendent, played down some of the findings and disputed others.

He said that auditors failed to take into account existing controls on purchasing at the school and that the irregularities were isolated incidents that have been handled by school officials.

Tucker said they are not indicative of broader problems, as the report suggests.

The school took punitive action against several employees, including the maintenance supervisor, and created a managerial position to oversee the department.

The attorney general's criminal division was notified of the allegations.

None of the employees was named in the audit report.

School officials declined to identify them or relate specifics about the abuses, saying they could not comment in detail on personnel issues.

"The school is still in discussion with the Office of Legislative Audits on the accuracy of their Special Review last year, and the School has challenged many of their findings," Tucker, who is deaf, said in an e-mail interview.

Barbara Raimondo, president of the school's board of trustees, also characterized the improprieties as isolated events.

Jamie St. Onge, spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., declined to comment on the findings.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.