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Lawmakers call for more oversight of state school construction program

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Konstantinos Diamantis, a former state deputy budget director, allegedly issued a “directive” to city leaders in Bristol to hire a company that was pre-selected by the state.

Connecticut lawmakers expressed concern during a public hearing Monday about the lack of oversight for the state’s school construction program that reimburses school districts. The hearing followed allegations against Kosta Diamantis, the former state budget office worker who handled school construction projects, who is accused of interfering with the bidding process.

Officials from the Department of Administrative Services, who oversees the Office of School Construction Grants and Review, testified before members of the legislature’s committees on state finances and education.

Acting Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services Michelle Gilman said they are in the process of hiring an outside auditing firm to conduct a review of the school construction program, including projects done under Diamantis.

She said she hopes to have a firm in place this week and have initial reports done by the end of April. The department is also continuing to review all policies and procedures, refining statutes, and increasing more ethics training for staff.

“We’ll continue to work on uncovering any improprieties or any processes that needs to be changed whether it’s through our own internal actions or through legislation over the coming weeks,” she said.

Under Gilman’s leadership, the auditing process for the department continues to remain internal.

There is an auditing team from the Office of School Construction Grants and Review that’s now a part of DAS’s business office. And DAS works with state auditors to review all departmental transactions.

All findings will be made public, said Gilman.

But Republican State Rep. Holly Cheeseman (East Lyme) said internal audits within government agencies aren't transparent enough.

Cheeseman said taxpayers need more reassurance. “If I’m someone watching from the outside, the idea that all of a sudden, you know, an audit is going to be done of an audit," she said. The process "is not exactly filling me with a great deal of confidence."

Democratic State Rep. Dorinda Borer (West Haven) raised concerns that audits also do not happen until a project is completed, which can last as long as a year.

“So I think that’s important for us to know how far behind we are in the audits," she said. "We as a legislative body needs to understand if we need to help support your team [DAS] in making sure we catch up with those audits,” she said.

Noel Petra, deputy commissioner who took over the school construction program following Diamantis’ dismissal, said he found many problems with the program, including errors in authorized costs and reimbursement costs.

Some issues are easily rectified while some are still ongoing, he said.

A recruitment process for a new school construction program director is under way.

Catherine Shen is a Connecticut Public’s education reporter. The Los Angeles native comes to CT Public after a decade of print and digital reporting across the country.