Audit of El Dorado Springs school district doesn't end controversy

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill released an audit of the El Dorado Springs R-2 School District, requested by patrons of the district, that found numerous problems of varying degrees. The district will have to pick up the tab for the $16,209 cost of the audit. Glenn Campbell, director of communications and policy with the state auditor's office, emphasized that an audit by the state auditor was much more than a financial accounting. "This type of audit goes beyond what a financial audit would look at. We look at whether the district is handling its meetings correctly, only closing the meeting under allowed circumstances and even looking at personnel issues and operational policies," Campbell said. "We look at the whole picture and after getting a response from those being audited put out a report." Problems cited in the report ranged from not requiring bids for services and contracts to going too long without renegotiating for services and not having contracts with service providers. The audit also found the district had more custodial workers than a facility the size of El Dorado Springs's required. It also found that board members had violated policies on nepotism, conflicts of interest and financial disclosures and that funds were disbursed without necessary oversight and review. The audit disclosed that minutes of board meetings sometimes did not reflect all the business conducted during them and did not disclose the correct reason for going into closed session or the results of the closed session. Methods of handling petty cash and student activity fees were found lacking as were accounting procedures and financial statements. The audit found timecards and payroll records to be inadequate and some benefits paid to the superintendent weren't reported on his W-2 forms. The district paid bonuses to some employees with perfect attendance which the auditor claims is a violation of the state constitution. Superintendent Greg Koetting took issue with McCaskill's report and said the audit was unnecessary and expensive. "It's a big waste of time and taxpayers money. I think the auditor was very unprofessional. The people conducting the audit were accountants and know nothing about running a school." Campbell said the office handles about 30 such audits a year and noted that the point of the audit isn't to punish anyone but to help them better account for the money entrusted to them. "We just stand there and reflect what is happening. We don't have any enforcement powers. Our job is to show what is going on so people can have a better grasp of the situation. The board was a bit confrontational, and that's unfortunate since we were there at the request of patrons of the school district. We try to make the audits a constructive exercise, to help the organizations." Koetting also asserted that he felt politics may be the reason for the severity of the audit. "McCaskill is probably going to run for governor and she wants to show how tough she can be. She made no mention in the report that we more than doubled the reserves so that we're not facing the problems some of the other districts are." Koetting also had harsh words for the petitioners and characterized their opposition as troublemaking and questioning the validity of some of the signatures. "There is a group of people here just trying to stir up trouble, including some at the newspaper." When the audit was first announced by McCaskill's office, Robert Allen, chief petitioner, said that 518 R-2 district voters signed the petition. "As chief petitioner I can say that I think the audit is long overdue and now it has been brought to the public's attention. A lot of people have wanted this for a long time. That's about all I can say." Allen was reticent speaking about the audit while it was under way but recently spoke candidly about the audit. "It pretty well bore out what I thought. There has been mishandling of funds, mishandling of contracts, and there are problems with personnel." Campbell said that the fact that someone collected enough signatures to call for the audit shows a lack of trust in the district. "When someone contacts us and takes the trouble to collect the signatures, it shows there is a problem that needs to be addressed." While Allen thinks the audit was necessary he expressed doubts that serious changes will follow, because he believes, "it's too much of a good old boys network and it's going to take more than a slap on the wrist to make them stop." Allen pointed to the purchase of a wreath by someone whose name was blacked-out on the invoice. The audit revealed that the invoice was presented by the middle school principal who indicated that the wreath was purchased for his office by a personal friend. "The invoice got paid anyway. We're not getting our value back out of our money they're spending," Allen said. Allen said the audit raised fresh questions about the districts spending as well. Koetting disagreed with Allen's assertion and said that while the school district had problems, they were minor in nature and that many districts were faced with the same kind of problems. "It's all very minor, none of it is serious. A lot of what is noted we did bid out, we just didn't document it or the documentation got thrown out. Probably 90 percent of what was found would be found in any other district." Koetting said. "They did find some things but we will take care of it." Campbell agreed that many of the problems pointed out by the audit were encountered at different school districts, but the attitude and actions of the board and employees in the district was unlike most others. "There seemed to be an adversarial relationship, and that is unfortunate. We found things in this district that are similar to other districts we've audited, some of them are fairly standard. But the attitudes displayed weren't conducive to doing our job quickly and relatively inexpensively. When we encounter as much opposition as we did here, it sends up a real red flag." Campbell pointed out that the economic downturn could affect how much money districts receive in the future. "While other areas of the state's budget are staying flat education spending has been increasing at 15 percent a year. Educators need to understand that and try to make sure that they spend the money they get as wisely as possible." School board members Darrel Eason and Denny Whitesell could not be reached for comment. Messages were left for John Koger, Eric McPeak and Wayne Yakel but they did not return calls.

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