Consultant: APS failed miserably in oversight of North Atlanta HS

by: Richard Belcher Updated:

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ATLANTA - A financial consultant who analyzes spending by the Atlanta school system said the Atlanta Public Schools board failed miserably in the oversight of an expensive new high school.

Bob Stockwell told Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher the Atlanta Schools Board of Education was asleep at the wheel as the cost of North Atlanta High School's buildings and athletic fields rose from $42 million to $70 million, and finally $91 million.

Stockwell also charges that school administrators buried critical details in masses of data, making it hard for board members -- or the public -- to track spending.

"Was the board of education given sufficient information to be able to make a decision? My answer to that is absolutely not," Stockwell said.

He criticizes the APS administration headed by Erroll Davis, but he's even harder on the school board.

"In this case, it's my sense that the board of education failed miserably in providing that oversight," Stockwell said.

This case is the new North Atlanta High School which is going cost a total of nearly $148 million, the most ever for a Georgia public school.

Stockwell said one can make an argument the price is not excessive because the massive school will accommodate future growth.

But he said oversight was lousy.

"A cost had changed significantly, and the administration didn't disclose it to the board," Stockwell said.

"There's no record the board demanded an answer?" Belcher asked.

"No, that's absolutely right," Stockwell said.

Stockwell said board records reveal a critical change early last year. APS had been saying the cost of North Atlanta's buildings and athletic fields would be $42 million.

Suddenly, he said, the estimate jumped to $70 million, an increase of 70 percent.

"There is not a single word of discussion anywhere in the documents from November of 2011 until April 10, 2012 when it was approved," Stockwell said.

Stockwell writes about APS spending and budget issues on his blog called Financial Deconstruction.

He said the absence of a serious public discussion of the rising price of North Atlanta is an indictment of the school board.

"What we're talking about is an astonishing lack of oversight over a change, almost a 70 percent change in the cost of a project.

Stockwell speculates the North Atlanta costs may have gotten lost among other major issues such as school closures.

He's sharply critical of the information school administrators provide the board, but ultimately, he said oversight is the board's responsibility.

So far, APS has declined to provide anyone to speak on camera about the cost of North Atlanta.



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