Carnahan Orders District Audited State to Scrutinize Special Schools' Management, Handling of Money

Article excerpt

Gov. Mel Carnahan has ordered immediate audits to scrutinize the money and management of the financially strapped Special School District of St. Louis County.

Carnahan took the action Thursday based on a nine-page report he got this week from state officials who had reviewed the district's operations at the governor's request. Chris Sifford, a spokesman for Carnahan, said the report had raised "very significant issues" that merited audits.

One key finding: The district violated state law when employees got paid before they performed work. The report offered no other details on that issue.

Other findings:

Political in-fighting and administrative reshuffling cause extensive confusion and conflict.

Accounting methods and deficit spending don't meet acceptable business practices for public agencies.

Administrators lack a detailed strategic-planning process and plan.

Board members have overlooked a potential conflict of interest involving a board member marketing financial services to district employees.

Administration hired staff without board approval and overspent the budget for personnel.

Transportation runs inefficiently, food costs tally too high, and a leased warehouse wastes space.

Interim Superintendent Ronald W. Rebore said he welcomed the audits.

"I believe . . . they will address and resolve the issues, controversies and political fragmentation surrounding Special School District," Rebore said.

He said the district would open records to auditors and offer cooperation from staff.

The audits will be done independently and on separate timetables. State Auditor Margaret Kelly will take responsibility for going over the district's finances, including its accounting methods. A private firm yet to be hired by the state will look at management, including how the district runs its operations and organizes its administration.

An hour after being notified Thursday, Kelly sent Carnahan a letter agreeing to start the financial audit as soon as possible.

Frank Ybarra, a spokesman for Kelly, said it was impossible to predict other details about the audit, including cost, time frame or scope. "You don't know yet the issues involved, " said Ybarra.

The state will advertise next week for bids from private firms that want to audit the district's management. Carnahan sought an outside firm on the review team's recommendation that an independent organization do the management audit.

The team also urged that any recommendations from the audit be implemented as soon as possible. In addition, they said recommendations that are rejected should still be made public and that reasons should be given in open session as to why they were rejected. …