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Originally published Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 3:56 PM

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Editorial: Seattle Public Schools must address rental-policy failings

Seattle Public Schools must respond quickly to the state auditor’s critical report about the collection of rent from outside users.

Seattle Times Editorial

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ONCE again the Seattle Public Schools has come out of a state audit looking poorly. Previous audits flailed the district for letting laptop computers get stolen and for not monitoring the use of district vehicles. The June 18 audit dings it for failing to collect rent for the use of its buildings.

District officials say they have accepted the findings and are moving to correct them, which is a good start.

The rental policy is a recent one. Under it, outside users of school buildings — community volleyball and basketball teams, for example — are supposed to pay hourly rates and other fees, such as utility costs.

From Sept. 1 to April 30, the Building Rentals Office sent out 261 invoices totaling $223,213. Of that, $102,913 — 46 cents on the dollar — was past due by an average of 115 days. “The rental office is not monitoring these past due accounts,” reads the audit.

Duggan Harman, district assistant superintendent for finance, says he has directed the rentals office to send past-due accounts to the accounting department for collection.

Under the policy, invoices for another 2,432 events should have been sent out but were not. Many of these were for PTSA and other school-related events that principals believed should not be billable.

That’s reasonable. The School Board, albeit a year late, is working on a policy that will dictate which groups should be charged and which should not.

The audit also found that in three cases, district staff disguised outside events as internal, resulting in a loss of about $45,000. Those matters have been referred to Human Resources, Harman said, “for potential disciplinary action.”

This was an audit that got the district’s attention.

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