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Credit card abuse at Niagara Falls schools

   A state Education Department audit whacked the Niagara Falls School District in 2004, warning its leaders they needed to tighten spending controls.

   But that apparently wasn't enough.

   State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli's office released a scathing audit of the district last month. It pointed out questionable financial controls by school officials.

   The Buffalo News recently reviewed some district credit card records, which revealed, among other things:

   --Superintendent Carmen A. Granto used his card to pay an average tip of 25 percent on meals, as well as $250 for a car ride to and from John F. Kennedy Airport.

   --Three school officials ate at Lewiston's Water Street Landing in July 2004 for $226.56 -- which included a $50 tip.

   --Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Bianco, Granto's sister, cashed in 10,000 frequent flier miles earned on school district and personal trips to pay for tickets for her mother and husband.

   Read the full story here.

   Granto recently announced he will be leaving the district on Dec. 22, six months earlier than he had previously said.

   He needs to spend more time working for his private consulting firm, he said.

   For a glimpse into what the state said in its most recent financial review, here's an excerpt taken from page 12 of the comptroller's audit:

   "The control environment, which is the foundation of any entity's internal control structure, sums up management's attitude about internal controls and creates an appropriate 'tone at the top.' It includes the integrity, ethical values and competence of the organization's people, and management's philosophy and operating style. When the control environment is strong, there is an expectation that everyone, including top management, will conform to established controls and avoid violating the public trust. At the District, however, the Board [of Education] assumed a more passive role in District governance, yielding much of its rightful decision-making duties and authority to the Superintendent and other District officials. The Board's lack of involvement in some cases, and lack of information and ineffectual monitoring in other cases, allowed District officials to overpay salary and benefits to themselves and various employees and to circumvent the controls that did exist. As a result, the Board and District officials have overspent or wasted District resources."

   What do you think about how the district spent its money?

   What about how things have unfolded in terms of Granto's future?

   Do you see things improving or regressing for the school district after Granto leaves?

Aaron Besecker


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