NEWSFLASH! School Board Delays Release of ADA Audit (Again)

Once again, the Richmond School Board is delaying the release of an internal audit concerning how the district has managed -- and may have mismanaged portions of more than $13.5 million taxpayer dollars received from city taxpayers since 2006. 

The money was specifically allocated to satisfy the terms of a 2006 U.S. District Court order that RPS fix the buildings and bring the district's schools into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Virginia Disability Act (VDA). As of July 1, Richmond City Council allocated an additional $3.1 million, bringing the grand total received by RPS since 2006 to nearly $17 million tax dollars.

Never mind that one of the conditions of the settlement agreement was that all monies allocated for ADA compliance would be kept separate and distinct from other funds.  Had they provided this promised transparency and done so with proper due diligence, such an audit would be unnecessary. 

Never mind that the auditors have been talking about an ADA audit since as early as last March and as recently as the June 22nd School Board meeting when Internal Auditor Debora Johns assured board members that it would be finished by June 30 and presented at the board's first meeting in July.  But, then the board eliminated the "first" meeting in July, thus making July 19th not only the first, but the only July meeting.

Comes now the news that the audit won't be presented this Monday, but it will be at the August 2, 2010 meeting.  Exactly who or what made the decision is unclear.  I recall from my tenure on the board that such a decision requires a vote of the board, but according to legally required notices posted on the RPS website, no such meeting has taken place. 

Despite plenty of public relations huff and puffery that no one out of diapers would take seriously, the reality is that the board virtually ignored both the ADA (for 20 years) and the VDA (for 25 years) until forced to do something by the lawsuit filed in 2005 by parents and students with disabilities and a grass-roots organization, Citizens for Full Access In Richmond (C-FAIR).  Therefore, a last-minute change resulting in an additional two-week delay ought not to matter much in the big picture. 

Since this issue was especially important to me during my tenure on the board, I continue to monitor RPS' so-called ADA "best efforts."  I became concerned last February when I checked the online data here and here and saw architectural design fees completely out-of-kilter with the actual construction costs.

After exhaustively checking with architects, former and current k-12 public education and government construction project experts, construction law attorneys and attorneys familiar with Commonwealth of Virginia regulations, I was repeatedly told that the industry standard is that design fees are usually between 6 to 10 percent of the total construction project. 

In many cases, the design fees listed on the RPS online spreadsheets are upwards of 39 percent or more of the final construction costs. In some cases, the design fees are greater than the entire cost of a project.
Since the board clearly doesn't care if the administration submits their "homework" late, I offer the following concerns in the hope that Superintendent Yvonne Brandon will address them when -- and if -- she ever permits a credible audit to be released:
  •  Does the work comply with ADA standards as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)?  Chris Dovi's story in Richmond Magazine last April makes the case that at least some of the work misses the mark and will need to be redone. 
  • Why are we spending absurd amounts of money for architects to supposedly "design" handicapped parking places that in many instances do not comply with DOJ guidelines?  For a full discussion of this issue, see John Butcher's report,"The Disabled Parking Money Fountain" at 
  • Why does RPS continue to issue "Blanket Purchase Orders" for big-ticket expenses, a practice that City Auditor Umesh Dalal criticized and recommended that they cease in his 2007 Audit City Report of "Division Efficiencies and Funding," pages 54-59.  Dalal stated unequivocally that "... this tool, however, is not effective if an organization uses it to procure large dollar value purchases in any given year. This is because blanket purchase orders are not negotiated for volume discount." Dalal further noted that "City Auditors found that RPS is using blanket purchase orders for purchases that may be more beneficially consolidated and negotiated as contract purchases." 
  • So, what does RPS do when seeking architects to handle what will be $25 million-plus of ADA remediation work?  They ignore the City Auditor's findings and issue what are essentially renewable blanket purchase orders for the following architectural firms: Ballou Justice Upton Architects, Worley Associate Architects, Rawlings Wilson & Associates, Kelso &Easter, Inc., Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, Moseley Architects and BCHW Architects.  The contracts with each firm state that "the dollars spent to the Contractor for each individual project must not exceed $200,000 and the maximum dollar amount annually must not exceed $1,000,000."
  • Data provided by RPS on June 14, 2010 raises more questions than it provides answers.  The Freedom of Information request Butcher and I submitted on April 29, 2010 asked for the total amount of monies paid to date to the above named firms for ADA work.  After repeated e-mail exchanges concerning the lack of responsiveness to the request, it wasn't until June 14, 2010 that we received anything remotely responsive.  
  • John Butcher was able to extrapolate from that data the  chart below. 

  • Despite knowing that RPS has received money since 2006 for ADA work, the district inexplicably failed to provide complete and accurate information concerning  payments it made from 2006 through 2010.  Worse, the accuracy of the numbers they did provide is questionable at best.  For example, a March 2, 2009 Richmond Times Dispatch article by Zachary Reid, stated that Worley & Associates was to receive the contract and that Worley estimated that the entire cost for design and construction would be at least $630,000 for the William Fox Elementary School elevator.

"Worley offered a nonbinding, all-inclusive cost of $630,000 for the construction of a three-story, 4,050-square-foot addition at Fox that would house an elevator -- a necessity to bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act -- and a stairwell," Reid wrote.  His report also noted that:  "Ronald Worley cautioned that his company's figure is speculative until a bid is accepted from a contractor but said the price probably will not exceed $700,000. "You just don't know until the bids are in."

And, according to the latest ADA Project Progress Report posted July 16, 2010 on the RPS website, the elevator project at Fox cost $1,147,791 with $56,215 of that amount listed as construction change order costs and $4,739 listed as pending design change order costs -- even though the project was completed nearly a year ago in August 2009.

Even more confounding are the numbers RPS provides for the costs associated with McDonough, Bolyard & Peck.  MBP is a construction management company whose contract with the board states that it will provide "at a minimum" a variety of services including, but not limited to, supervising "contractor performance" and monitoring "project completion dates, to "review project progress on-site with architects/engineers and make recommendations for corrective measures when necessary," "perform field inspections and attend construction meetings during all phases of construction, including mechanical and electrical installations," and " drawings and specifications of various trades to assure both appropriateness of detail and that products specified meet required needs and performance standards."

When asked why the costs for MBP work do not appear on the RPS website that is supposed to include all payments made with the tax dollars allocated by City Council for ADA remediation and renovation work, RPS officials said that the money used came from the district's general CIP budget and NOT the ADA money.

However, look for yourself and you will be able to see that RPS' June 14, 2010 document response clearly shows that the MBP money is drawn from three distinctly different fund lines -- 450, 411 and 111.  ALL are clearly labeled ADA.

So, perhaps in the next two weeks, RPS officials will be able to determine just what they have done with the money and if they will ever get it together and have our schools comply with federal and state law.  Stay tuned.