UPDATE (Nov 24, 2015, 5pm): The State Auditor’s Office reports that 351 signatures were collected on petitions, and only 285 valid signatures are needed. It’s expected to take a week to verify that signatories are registered voters in the Luther School District.
A day early, those who organized the petition drive to call for an audit of the Luther Public Schools delivered a stack of signatures to the Capitol. The State Auditor & Inspector’s Office received the stack before making copies to disperse to the three county election boards that can verify that signatories are valid voters in the school district.
The SAI office said they will send those signatures for verification to the election boards of Logan, Oklahoma and Lincoln Counties. The process usually takes a week, but it might be longer with the Thanksgiving holiday. However, State Auditor & Inspector Gary Jones said the audit is not expected to even begin for four to six months due to other stacks of petitions and audit requests from municipalities, school districts and other government entities across the state.
The petition drive began 30 days ago to “request the SAI to examine the books of LPS for the period including, but not limited to, July 1, 2013 through October 21, 2015.”
The petition requested an investigation into the following four areas (at a minimum):
- Review possible mishandling of 2012 and 2013 bond project funds including but not limited to determining if any bond proceeds were expended on non-bond-related projects.
- Review of board policies, procedures and custodial recordkeeping for possible irregularities in school activity accounts.
- Review of personnel contracts and certification to determine that all personnel requiring certification are certified in the area in which they are employed and review the creation of Dean of Students for possible violation of Oklahoma nepotism statutes and district hiring procedures.
- Review expenditure and possible misuse of federal, state, and private grant funds including almost $90,000 in questioned costs identified in FY14 financial statement audit report.
One of the more controversial aspects of the call for the audit for the financially strapped school district has been the cost, between $20,000 – $40,000 which will be paid by LPS, according to state law. The bill on the audit would be due before the final audit is released, however, the SAI Office said it would entertain payment options for financially strapped entities.
Jones, a CPA, is serving his second term as the State Auditor. A Republican from southwest Oklahoma, Jones said he had no experience in politics but wanted to serve when he ran for statewide office. He said his office manages the work as methodically and quickly as possible.
“We’re very cautious to ensure we can fully support everything included in the final report. We are the fact gatherers. If it can’t be supported, it doesn’t make the report unless to point out that a particular concern/allegation could not be substantiated. The audit undergoes multiple reviews prior to its publication. These specific reviews may result in the auditors conducting additional interviews or requesting additional documentation on any given matter relevant to the report. Unfortunately, this can further delay an audit’s release but it’s critical to the process,” said Jones.
Jones said although the audit was requested by petition of school district patrons, the school district will be the client and it is with its government board that his office will engage to conduct the audit.
“As such, the report goes to the client. Regardless, the final report will be available to everyone at the time it is published because it will be posted on our website. Everyone who wants it will be able to view the final report at the same time,” he said.