OKLAHOMA CITY – Taxpayers should be able to rest easier when their public school districts are audited.
If there’s any funny business going on with school funds, auditors should be counted on catch it and highlight the problem.
But what happens when an auditing firm identifies financial irregularities, but fails to share the information with anyone but school officials?
Can taxpayers feel certain that the school officials will share the information with state authorities and the public, in the interest of full disclosure and transparency?
Apparently not, at least in two Oklahoma school districts.
In the Swink, Oklahoma district, the treasurer and clerk have been accused of improperly receiving $235,000 in school funds by claiming travel reimbursement for trips that were not taken and altering checks, according to The Oklahoman.
The financial irregularities had been ongoing since about 2010 – yet the Swink district reported a series of clean audits to state officials, according to the newspaper.
In the McAlester, Oklahoma school district, former Superintendent Marsha Gore and her husband, also a former district supervisor, have been accused of making “tens of thousands of dollars in improper purchases with school funds” over the course of a year, the Oklahoman reported.
“The pair reportedly used school money for everything from Hillary Clinton campaign materials to a $129 hourglass to a $2,048 treadmill,” The Oklahoman reported.
Both Gores have been fired by the McAlester school board, and both have been charged with criminal embezzlement, according to SWTimes.com.
Yet state officials never heard about the alleged embezzlement until recently, because “as with Swink, McAlester had received a clean audit,” The Oklahoman wrote.
How can this occur?
It seems that the Swink and McAlester districts are just two of 114 Oklahoma school districts that retain a firm called Sanders, Bledsoe and Hewett for financial auditing services.
And it seems that Sanders, Bledsoe and Hewett has a curious habit of reporting financial irregularities to school officials in private letters that are not released to the public.
“The districts then report a ‘clean’ audit to state officials, effectively reducing financial scrutiny,” The Oklahoman reported. “Intentionally or not, this practice may have aided embezzlers.
“A representative of the auditing firm said it often reports irregularities at schools through letters sent to the district rather than in the actual audit. A Department of Education official says those documents should be filed with the state along with the formal audit. It appears few districts do so.
“Some are angry at the firm, but school district officials are also to blame. It’s hard to believe this lack of transparency isn’t driven by impure motives in at least some instances, especially given the findings of those school audits that are reported.”
How many more financial nightmares are brewing – undetected – in Oklahoma school districts?