Iowa legislators said they will consider tougher rules for spending millions in state technology money after an audit found that school district officials paid for food, trips, and computers that ended up in teachers’ homes, the Des Moines Register reported March 2.
State Auditor Richard Johnson said a review of the 4-year-old School Improvement Technology Program identified several questionable expenditures, including $329,000 in computer equipment that was awarded to teachers in Waterloo as payment for completing a training program.
Waterloo school officials defended the computers-for-training deal, saying it had the approval of the state Department of Education. The department’s director, Ted Stilwill, said lawmakers intended to give districts maximum flexibility in how the money$50 million per yearis spent.
Districts used the flexibility to pay cellular telephone bills, send employees on trips to technology conferences, buy food for crews that connected classrooms to the state’s fiber optics network, and purchase high-tech equipment such as binocular microscopes and digital pianos, according to the audit. Superintendents said they thought the expenditures met state guidelines.
“I don’t know how anybody could jump to that conclusion at all,” Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson, a Dows Republican, told the Register. “These were dollars that we appropriated for use of technology in the classroom, with the students. There’s clearly been some abuse. They should have known better.”
The School Improvement Technology Program was established in 1996 with $150 million for school districts, special schools, and the state’s 15 Area Education Agencies (AEAs). The law says schools can spend the money for the “acquisition, lease, lease-purchase, installation, and maintenance of technology equipment, including hardware and software, materials and supplies related to instructional technology, and staff development and training.”
Expenditures the audit questioned included $15,202 as partial payment for a telephone system by the Oskaloosa school district; $160 in cellular telephone bills by the Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls; $2,270 for food and beverages at various training sessions sponsored by five AEAs; and $3,000 for seven digital pianos by Des Moines schools.
Toy Kerr, the Heartland Area Education Agency’s instructional technology consultant, said she was surprised by the audit’s questions about the electronic keyboards. Kerr, who had been a technology specialist with Des Moines schools, said the keyboards are “an innovative and wonderful use of technology.”