Broken Arrow School Board Members Meeting Again With State Auditor's Office

Monday, August 30th 2010, 4:18 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

BROKEN ARROW, OK -- Members of the Broken Arrow School board are scheduled to meet in a closed door session with the state auditor's office throughout the day on Tuesday.

This comes after the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office requested another audit into Broken Arrow Public Schools to investigate the possibility of criminal misconduct.

Tuesday's meetings, like ones on August 18, 2010 are behind closed doors.

The AG's office sent a letter to the auditor Friday that says it received a complaint of possible illegal conduct at the school district between July of 2006 and March of 2009. The letter says the Attorney General's office has reviewed the complaint, conducted an interview, "and have concluded that an investigative audit for criminal and other types of misconduct should be conducted."

8/27/2010  Related Story: Attorney General's Office Launches Criminal Probe into Broken Arrow Schools

School board members got their first glimpse of the state's first investigative audit two weeks ago, but parents will still have to wait another two days.

Some of the accusations detailed in a rough draft of the audit into Broken Arrow Public Schools include missing records, violating competitive bidding laws, and overspending taxpayer money.

The News On 6 obtained a copy of the 80-page report, which details how the district allegedly split projects to avoid the competitive bidding act.

By law, the school district is supposed to get bids from several companies for projects costing more than $25,000 dollars.

The audit rough draft says Broken Arrow schools ducked the law by breaking the projects down into pieces: taking a $34,000 dollar job to replace a heating and air conditioning unit in a school gym and splitting it into four different invoices for installation, supplies and parts.

The school district has been accused of giving heating and cooling vendor Air Assurance, preferential treatment; a claim Air Assurance has repeatedly denied.

The company's owner Mike Rampey said in a news conference in January of 2009 that Air Assurance won the business fair and square.

"We did it the old fashioned way, by being the low bidder, in fact $88,000 dollars less," Rampey said.

The rough draft of the audit addresses this 2007 bidding war, confirming the Air Assurance bid was substantially lower for a year's worth of maintenance work.

But the report goes on to say that Air Assurance was awarded the contract based on that low bid, but the district ended up paying three times that amount for the 2007-2008 school year.  It says by the end of May of 2008, Broken Arrow Schools had paid Air Assurance more than $560,000.

State Auditor Steve Burrage has blasted this leaked copy of the audit as irresponsible and unprofessional. And he emphasizes it's only a draft.

The official version will be released on Thursday, September 2, 2010.

Broken Arrow Public Schools issued a news release Monday in response to the State Auditor's report. Read the release:

The State Auditor's office will be returning to Broken Arrow Public Schools to review the final draft of the findings in the state audit report on Tuesday, August 31st. As statute allows, previews of the report are a common practice for a board-requested audit.

On Tuesday, August 31st, Dr. Jarod Mendenhall, along with Board Members will be meeting with representatives from the State Auditor's office. The meetings will begin at 9:00 a.m. and will conclude at 4:00 p.m. The board will be meeting with the state auditor in groups of two so there is not quorum.

Neither Dr. Mendenhall nor the Board Members will receive a copy of the report in these meetings. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for anyone to provide information or feedback on the findings of the report on Tuesday.

A special meeting of the School Board is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 2nd, at Central on Main. The agenda for the evening will have two items which include the State Auditor's report and the Superintendent's update.

The release of the audit on September 2nd will coincide with the original timeframe established by the State Auditor's office.

"We have several goals as we officially receive this audit," Broken Arrow Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall said. "This has been a great start to the school year. One goal is to continue to invest the majority of our effort, time and resources in the area of teaching and learning in the classroom."

"A second goal is to review the official audit, once we receive it, with our district leadership team. We will identify specific issues of concern and systematically identify procedures and practices that need to continue or be amended."

The corrective plan of action will be shared in two community Forums. The first Forum will be held on Thursday, September 9th at 7:00 p.m. at Centennial Middle School. The second Forum will be held on Monday, September 13th at 7:00 p.m. at Childers Middle School.

The District organizational plan that Dr. Mendenhall created intentionally included a system of checks and balances among various divisions. "Many of the processes and procedures that are included in our organizational design were put into place from the beginning of my tenure. These structures, based on my training and experience, are reflective of general practices that lead to efficient operations of a school district."

Dr. Mendenhall met with the Education Service Center staff at 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning to share information regarding the district's response to the audit.

"The teachers, staff, and administrators have remained focused throughout the audit process. It is important to me that those individuals – whether at the Education Service Center, school sites, or other areas in our district – are informed from my office of the intentions of the district." Dr. Mendenhall has shared the information in this press release simultaneously as a district-wide email to further that effort.

"We look forward to the time when the audit is behind us. I believe that everyone is ready to move on and refocus our attention on the kids of this district. That is why, as the Superintendent of Broken Arrow Public Schools, I must work diligently to keep the education of our students at the forefront of everything that we do."