A state audit released Monday raised questions about whether Tacoma Public Schools is adequately checking student eligibility for its free and reduced-price student meal program.
The audit covers the 2010-11 school year.
Auditors randomly sampled 32 applications for free or lower cost meals, which are provided to students whose families meet federally established income guidelines.
Auditors found mistakes in two of the sampled applications:
• One student was receiving free meals who should have been in the reduced-price category.
• Another child’s family income was calculated as monthly when it was clearly stated on the application as income received every two weeks. That student was not eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
The audit report noted that the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction recently reviewed Tacoma’s nutrition program and found similar concerns.
The school district received nearly $9.3 million in federal funds for its school lunch and breakfast programs in fiscal year 2011. Auditors projected that if similar errors occurred at the same rate districtwide, the district could have received more than $334,000 by mistake. In the 2010-11 school year, the district provided an average of about 14,000 free and reduced lunches daily.
Auditors urged the district to contact OSPI about paying money back.
But school district Chief Financial Officer Ron Hack questioned the auditors’ extrapolation of erroneous costs. He said that if OSPI asks that the estimated $334,000 be returned, the district will review every application before paying.
He said the mistakes appeared to stem from a combination of human and machine errors.
According to the audit report, school employees scan applications into a computer system, and software determines student eligibility. Employees are supposed to manually verify the accuracy of scanned information. Auditors said errors occurred in both the scanning and verification process, resulting in the two mistakes they discovered.
School officials stated in the audit that they do have adequate procedures in place, but acknowledged that in the two instances cited by auditors, employees didn’t follow the procedures.
The head of the district’s food service program has met with staff to reinforce the importance of following procedures and plans to review those guidelines with staff members again prior to the start of each school year, the audit report states.
State auditors did not issue any other findings against the firstname.lastname@example.org