Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Audit: Rockwood Misspent $1.2 Million

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Audit: Rockwood Misspent $1.2 Million

Article excerpt

The Rockwood School District overpaid its longtime construction management company by more than $1.2 million over the last 10 years, essentially paying the firm twice for some work related to bond projects, a state audit has found.

The audit also concludes that some of those additional payments were approved, at least indirectly, by a Rockwood School Board member, Steve Smith, who was employed by that firm, Glenn Construction Co.

The Post-Dispatch reported in 2011 on Rockwoods exclusive and expensive relationship with Glenn Construction, which for years has been the sole winner of district bond issue construction management contracts. A taxpayer group then pushed for a state audit of district operations.

State Auditor Tom Schweich said in an interview Wednesday that double charges, along with a district bidding process that seemed stacked in Glenns favor, are problematic. Hes recommending that the district attempt to collect any overpaid fees.

The district lost out on $1.2 million that could have gone to educating children. Think what those teachers could do with $1.2 million with budgets the way they are right now, Schweich said.

Schweich presented the audit at a meeting Wednesday evening at Lafayette High School. About 100 people attended and many applauded when Schweich talked about recommendations aimed at making the districts construction bidding processes more competitive.

Rob Thoele, a parent in the district who said he had served on several committees, asked Schweich how the district would be held accountable for the recommendations in the report. He said the mentality of Rockwood was this is the way its always done and he wonders what will change.

The auditor will plan a follow-up with the district in 90 days.

Rockwood Board President Janet Strate had a prepared statement ready with an apology on behalf of the board, but neither she nor other district leaders addressed the crowd. The letter was posted on the district website shortly after the meeting and signed by the board members.

We realize we have made some mistakes in the past, the letter read, and we want to apologize to our community for those. We take responsibility for our actions and genuinely regret the problems caused by them.

She said the statement referred to construction management and the boards approval of Superintendent Bruce Borchers hiring of consultants an issue also cited in the audit.

The Boards formal response to the audit, however, does not wholly agree with the audits findings.

The School Board acknowledges that contract language with Glenn Construction could have been clearer. And the board has agreed to some of the recommendations in the audit. But the board contends the terms with Glenn did allow for additional fees not initially identified. The board also said it was updating its construction management policies, and that future contracts would be clear about fees.

The district will review the documentation surrounding each specific additional payment to Glenn Construction and determine whether in fact any overpayments did exist, the board wrote in its response to the audit findings.

The $1.2 million in overpayments listed in the audit is based on bond issues from 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2010. Glenn Construction has been working with the district since the mid-1990s.

The taxpayer group, Rockwood Stakeholders for Real Solutions, said their concerns were validated by the audit.

Weve taken a lot of heat, said the groups spokeswoman Eileen Tyrell.

Tyrrell said she would push for a recovery of the $1.2 million outlined in the report. But both Strate and Borchers were unsure whether the district could collect the money.

Smith, named in the audit for what Schweich says was a failure to abstain on votes that would benefit Glenn Construction, says he doesnt believe voting on change orders for construction projects presented a conflict. He stopped working for Glenn in June. …

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