The Park City School District failed to comply with environmental laws and local ordinances when contaminated soil was discovered behind one of its middle schools last month, according to findings released Monday by state auditors.
Auditors found that the district also failed to comply with school construction regulations – for example, because it did not have the appropriate local permits.
The findings come as the district considers an estimated $3 million in soil remediation behind Treasure Mountain Junior High School, which teaches eighth- and ninth-graders. The audit itself began in December 2022 after the district was selected to participate by the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor General.
Auditors found five areas in which they recommended the district improve: environmental compliance; Compliance with school building regulations; help “empower” low-performing student groups; his strategic plans to help him “make informed decisions and set meaningful goals”; and make better use of the student analytics tool.
The district, along with the Park City Board of Education, welcomes the opportunity to further study the report and implement measures that increase compliance, efficiency and accountability, district spokeswoman Heidi Matthews wrote in a statement Monday.
“The district is not a waste disposal facility”
The Ministry of Environmental Quality announced this in August found Lead and arsenic levels in the dirt piles behind Treasure Mountain were considered higher than permitted by state and local levels, a DEQ spokesman said at the time.
The ground was first excavated from a hill that was leveled behind one of the district’s elementary schools in 2018. In 2022, more soil and waste was added to the pile when this elementary school was expanded.
According to reports, the soil was partially relocated there because the district “did not have adequate resources for proper disposal,” administrators told the state.
Auditors found that the county’s actions likely did not comply with Park City’s local land ordinance or the state’s waste laws. The audit says this exposed the district to “potential enforcement” not only by Park City, but also by the DEQ.
“The county is not a solid waste facility and therefore appears to have been unaware of these regulations when it constructed the landfills and has been operating solid waste landfills without appropriate permits since their construction in 2018 and 2022,” the report said State waste laws. “DEQ sent a letter to the county in December 2022 informing them that the piles of dirt and other materials were considered solid waste and did not comply with state waste laws.”
The The county could face fines of up to $13,000 per violation per day, but the DEQ does not any penalties imposed the district for its mountains of garbage.
Inspectors made several recommendations to the district regarding the piles, This includes developing internal controls to effectively plan and budget capital projects on properties affected by environmental regulations and developing internal controls to effectively manage those projects.
Auditors also found that the Park City Board of Education should provide “appropriate oversight” of the district’s internal environmental controls.
The district lacked certain permits for school construction projects
In addition to environmental oversight issues, auditors also found that the district “needs to improve its compliance with school construction codes.”
Certain school construction projects were delayed or cost more because the district failed to comply with state and local requirements, the audit said. These included failing to coordinate construction with Summit County, failing to comply with county permitting and land use requirements, and failing to comply with state education agency requirements during the planning process.
These violations and instances of noncompliance arose from construction projects that began in January 2021 and extended to construction pauses enforced by the Utah State Board of Education and Summit County in July and August 2022. The district did not build a new school but expanded six of its seven schools.
Although the county adequately informed Summit County about the projects, it did not discuss “relevant zoning issues” with the county. Inspectors also found there was a lack of approvals before construction began, including a master plan development and a conditional use permit. an approval of a stormwater pollution prevention plan; a building permit for excavating, grading and placing fill material; and an approved construction mitigation plan.
Because the district also failed to meet the state school board’s preconstruction checklist before beginning work and did not receive state approval from the school board, the school board was forced to request the district to stop the nonconforming construction, thereby halting ongoing work at McPolin Elementary School were hired and Park City High School.
The enforcement also caused delays in construction of Jeremy Ranch Elementary School.
“PCSD’s inexperience in school construction increases the risk of noncompliance,” the audit states. “It is the responsibility of the district and its school board to implement appropriate controls and oversight to ensure adequate assurance of compliance.”
Going forward, the State has recommended that the District thoroughly review compliance risks and ensure that all related internal controls meet federal, state and local requirements.
The report accused USBE of failing to effectively enforce building regulations and auditors recommended the governing body “consider changes to the bylaws to clarify local government authority over land use in connection with school construction by local education authorities.”
The auditors also noted that a nationwide audit of school construction could be useful as it was seen as “potential opportunities” for better USBE monitoring of the process.
Improving student performance
Other findings and recommendations included ways the district can better serve its low-performing student populations despite overall proficiency rates and do more to oversee those groups that may need additional, targeted support. Auditors found the district’s 2023 school year plan did not meet federal requirements.
The audit recommended the district use state programs like Elevate, which help schools that are not making progress with such groups of students and “provide professional development and collaborative opportunities for schools to align instructional practices within and across grade levels.”
As for improving the district’s strategic planning, auditors made some recommendations, but mainly concluded that the district should adopt “best practices” that could help better target low-performing student groups.
“Making the strategic plan more accessible can increase awareness of the plan among district employees and increase the impact of the plan on employees’ daily activities,” the report says.
The district’s student performance tracking tool has been praised for its innovative use of student data to predict student growth. However, auditors noted that the tool’s data could also be used to make decisions about the district’s resources.
“The Park City School District recognizes that there is always work to be done and improvements to be made to advance our mission of providing the best educational opportunities and outcomes for ALL students.” said the district’s Matthews in a statement Monday. “As we work to implement the recommendations moving forward, we look forward to positive outcomes for our schools and community.”
Read the full report below: