DOVER, Del. – School boards should probably be more careful when they hire top financial administrators – particularly if they want voters to trust them and approve tax increases.
In the late 1990s Patrick Miller served as business manager of the Brandywine School District in Delaware. He resigned in 1998 and “later pleaded no contest to tampering with public records,” according to a news report from the Associated Press.
But a few years down the road he re-emerged, this time as chief financial officer for the Indian River School District in Dover, Delaware.
A state audit of the district, covering the time period from July 2011 to June 2016, accused Miller of various types of questionable spending totaling thousands of dollars. A report of the audit was released in November, 2016.
It accused Miller of using school dollars to make payments of more than $50,000 to the Indian River Volunteer Fire Company and local Boys and Girls Clubs, while he served as the board president for both organizations, according to the Associated Press.
The money went to the volunteer fire company to purchase an all-terrain vehicle that was then sold to another school district at a $4,565 profit, the AP report said.
The money that went to the Boys and Girls Clubs was taken from a federal grant that was supposed to benefit special education students in the Indiana River district++, the AP report said.
The audit report also accused Miller of arranging a Teacher of the Year ceremony that cost the district $7,000, approving the purchase of bracelets costing a total of $352 for district staff members, and the purchase of a $380 bracket for the district superintendent, according to WBOC.com.
It also revealed a meal at a place called Ruth’s Steak House for Miller and three other district employees totaling $358.87 (about $89.72 per person) while the district’s travel meal policy only allowed $46 per person per day.
Finally, the Associated Press reported that “auditors also found that Miller requested state accounting system login information from his subordinates so he could begin financial transactions using their credentials and then approve those transactions using his own credentials.”
“For the entire period of our investigation, the district lacked formal policies and procedures for any of their financial processes,” the audit report said, according to WOBC.com.
“Not only did the district lack appropriate oversight and internal controls to prevent and detect financial improprieties, the blind faith placed in the CFO allowed him to create an environment ripe with intimidation tactics, favoritism, and nepotism.”
Just a few days after the audit report was released, Indian River residents went to the polls to vote on a district request to raise property taxes to increase the district budget by $7.4 million.
The referendum failed, reportedly leaving the district in a financial bind.
Some voters told local reporters that the lack of financial accountability in the district caused them to vote no.
“I voted against it,” a voter named Anthony Chiffolo told DelMarVaNow.com. “I don’t feel like we should be raising taxes when the administration of the school district is in such disarray.”
“Somebody in here doesn’t know how to spend their money, and it shouldn’t be up to the taxpayers to cover it,” said a voter named Linda Engh.