Audit shows financial mismanagement in Oklahoma school district

OKLAHOMA CITY - State inspectors found tens of thousands of dollars in financial mismanagement at a small local school district, following an audit requested by the district's citizens.

State Auditor Gary Jones looked into financials from Crooked Oak Public Schools between July 1, 2011 and November 30, 2014, discovering unauthorized salary increases and unapproved expenses.

"I think it's just a total and complete lack of internal controls or safeguards," Jones told NewsChannel 4. "There are people concerned about teachers not getting raises. I think it's really important that they follow the rules and do things in such a manner that people feel their money is well spent and there's greater oversight."

The state's findings range from careless clerical errors to apparent disregard for the rules.

Overpaid employee

Auditors found maintenance employee Michael Robinson routinely made more money in overtime than regular pay, taking in $105,000 in roughly two years.

The district regularly paid Robinson extra for transportation trips made during regular school hours.

The superintendent acknowledges he and Robinson agreed to four hours of overtime pay a day for working around campus, driving the bus for special needs students and responding to alarms.

The audit also found Robinson signed off on time cards he didn't fill out, which regularly listed 115 hours of overtime.

Sometimes, the timesheets listed overtime on days when he was on paid vacation or holiday.

An administrative support staffer told the state "Crooked Oak's former Director of Finance, Kathy Hamilton, changed some of the timesheets and indicated that the timesheets should document a total of 115 overtime hours each month."

Reached by phone, Robinson told NewsChannel 4 no one ever told him he had to fill in his hours.

"I felt I didn't need to, because there was an agreement that was given to me," he said. "I'm not going to question any of it. It was put in front of me to sign, I'm going to sign it, as stupid as it may sound. I didn't have a reason to question any of that."

Robinson is no longer employed by the district.

Superintendent pay raise

The state found Superintendent Bradley Richards received a $19,220.92 salary increase in March 2013 that was not in his contract.

The board approved the increase at its Feb. 21, 2013 board meeting, but Jones said board members went about it the wrong way.

"What they should have done is adjusted his contract and voted on that contract," he said. "Whatever the reason was, it wasn't done in the proper manner."

Richards said he needed more time to study the specifics of the audit and his contracts but suspects the raise may have to do with changes to his health benefits.

"Instead of the district paying for my healthcare, I had to pay for it," he said.

Substitute teacher overpaid

In Fiscal Year 2015, the state reported a substitute teacher was overpaid by about $3,000.

The district paid teacher Lisa Hibbert, who was the daughter of a school board member, at the certified substitute rate though she was not certified.

It also allowed her to work 93.5 days though the district limits substitutes to 70 working school days.

Other findings from the state auditor include:

  • The superintendent incurred a $25,500 debt against the district the board did not approve and was not repaid for more than a year.
  • The clerk destroyed credit card statements and logs, which were essential to documenting expenditure activity.
  • The district provided a school board member with cell phone service for 18 months after the individual stopped serving on the board.
  • The district paid $2,513 for a superintendent's cell phone that was not used (and which the superintendent said he has never seen).
  • The district sold surplus property, without approval from the school board, and did not maintain records.
  • The district used cash collected from concessions and athletic tickets to pay event workers.
  • The clerk distributed $7,000 of activity revenue to subaccounts without approval from the board.
  • Instead of entering $1,000 for extra-duty assignment compensation for a teacher, an employee entered $10,000, accounting for an overpayment of $9,000 that was never corrected.

"Yes, there are some numbers that are alarming, there are some problems without a doubt," Richards said. "But, you should look, are these things being corrected? Are they being fixed?"

Richards said they are.

He has taken steps to dismiss personnel and hire tougher auditors to check the district's books.

"I know, for myself, absolutely, without a doubt, no, there is not turning a blind eye," he said. "Were there mistakes made? Absolutely. When you're dealing with roughly 150 people, things do happen, unfortunately."

Richards said the district is consulting with its attorneys and should have a lengthier reaction soon.

In the meantime, Richards wants parents to do their own research and ask questions.