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Records of costs, budgets hard to come by

Miami-Dade Public Schools tracks the cost of field trips and pizza storage, but the school district has failed to keep tabs on the final costs of construction projects worth billions.The district, particularly in recent years, has never kept an organized accounting of such basics as architect fees, original project budgets, and overall costs for hundreds of major construction projects.

"If project costs exceeded the budget, staff would amend the budget upwards, " said the district's longtime chief financial officer, Richard Hinds.The School Board paid millions to architects for planning and design of schools, but payment information is buried in a haphazard collection of files. It took the better part of several days for district staffers to find basic architectural costs for about 10 construction projects.Records were hard to find. Dates were wrong. Files were incomplete.The Herald last September requested final costs for about 60 schools. The district's new capital budget director, Shari Lee, said it would cost an estimated $33,000 in staff overtime to track the information because it's scattered and databases are incomplete."You don't know what you're spending your money on when you can't get a fix on costs, " said Ralph Lewis, a Florida International University faculty member and administrator who was hired by Superintendent Merrett Stierheim to help restructure the system.

"We have got to reestablish credibility."

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