Waxahachie ISD calls for state audit
By 10/16/2003 00:00:00
Charges pending over finances
The Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - The school district's worsening financial situation will be submitted to the state comptroller's office for review, a process that could result in charges being brought against some district officials.
School board trustees, angry over the delay in getting answers to their finance questions from administration officials, voted Monday, Sept. 13 to be placed on the state comptroller's performance review list.
'We've been delaying, delaying, delaying,' said trustee Mark Price. 'We've delayed for too long. This [review] would give taxpayers a comfort level in knowing that we care [about how their money is spent]. This situation didn't happen overnight.'
Trustees allege current and past administrations used a series of $5 million loans and school bond election money to pay for district needs knowing those loans were only supposed to be used for specific things.
The state attorney general's office was called in regards to the financial dealings, according to Price, and ruled the conduct was improper.
'The more open [government is], the better,' Price said, a former county treasurer and county judge candidate.
The comptroller's office, an independent state agency charged with keeping a check on state and local government's financial records, however, could soon see its duties switched to an agency under the legislature because of new laws lawmakers passed last weekend.
Those new laws could cause a performance review to take longer as a result.
'They [governor, legislature] have taken that power from her for speaking her mind and standing up for a majority of Texans, and so now I don't have the same confidence that I did yesterday that this would be the same kind of audit even,' Price said.
Of the performance review audits, a fraud and forensic inquiry both involve possible criminal conduct, which means if state investigators find criminal malfeasance, charges can be filed and possible arrests can follow.
The forensic audit is used because state officials are looking for something specific, whereas a fraud investigation covers a more broad area.
However, the audit would not come without a price. An estimate audit for a district Waxahachie's size was projected at $31,000.
And trustees still haven't ruled out asking for the Ellis County District and County Attorney's Office to conduct an investigation.
'I'm not willing to pay $31,000 for cost of financial integrity at the cost of the teachers,' said trustee Jim Phillips, who ended up voting for the review later in the meeting.
'We have to ask ourselves what good an audit would do. Where are we going to get this money?'
Griggs DeHay, trustee, wondered also what an audit would be needed for.
'I would like to know what we need to find, and establish why,' he said.
The WISD, currently $300,000 in the red, has been hit with scrutiny over its finances before, most notably during this year's $48 million bond election, a measure eventually defeated, and a budget deficit that was originally projected at $2.5 million.
Before the bond election was defeated, district officials kept quiet the budget deficit, and it was later revealed by accounting errors admitted by the superintendent and finance director that the shortfall was actually lower than thought.
Trustee Bill Kelley called for the state audit after him and other school board members could not get answers.
'Someone isn't answering our questions, someone isn't being honest with the taxpayers. I wanted that audit.'