State Department of Education’s Fiscal Watch Determination

State Department of Education’s Fiscal Watch Determination

The State Department of Education’s Audit and Findings

Yesterday, the State Department of Education notified Richland One that it was being placed on “fiscal watch” status because of numerous and significant deficiencies around our use and oversight of P-cards. This notice came after the State Department conducted a lengthy audit, culminating in this October 27, 2022, SDE Audit Report. Click here for the district’s response.

First of all, I want to make clear that I was never informed about the existence of the audit or the October 27th report. Yesterday, I learned of this report and its findings along with everyone else. The full board should have received the October 27th report as soon as the superintendent received it. I believe that this fact alone provides grounds for terminating the superintendent’s contract. And if the Chairwoman knew about this and did not inform the entire board, she should resign. The board cannot conduct its oversight responsibilities if it is kept in the dark.

Our Oversight Responsibilities

Now, about the board’s oversight responsibilities. At every turn, we have abdicated our role of ensuring that the district is operating appropriately. In 2013, the board created an Audit Committee. Indeed, some of the current board members signed the Audit Committee Charter. The role of the Audit Committee was to “represent[] the Board in overseeing the establishment of appropriate accounting principles and internal controls to ensure accurate and reliable financial and operational reporting. The Audit Committee also monitors the role of the Administration and the internal and external auditors to ensure good governance.”

This committee has not held a meeting in years despite our policy that envisions a functioning Audit Committee. It was shocking to me that we would not use such an essential committee. When I raised concerns about this, I was told that some board members felt that the entire board should have this role. That would be fine except that the board has ignored this role entirely, as evidenced by the current situation.

Our P-Card Problems

After the administration accused a former employee of defrauding the district, people inside and outside the administration raised valid concerns about our use and oversight of P-Cards. We ignored these concerns at every turn. For example, the internal auditor — the person we brag about employing — consistently raised concerns in his internal audit reports. These concerns — which are now echoed by the State Department — were ignored. Had we simply listened to him and followed his recommendations, we would likely not be in this situation.

Moreover, I tried to convince the board that we needed to do more. At a February 1st Administration Committee meeting, I attempted to address the district’s obvious P-Card problem. Chairwoman Harris indicated that committee members were prohibited from setting or adding any items to the agenda. I followed up with this email:

My concerns boil down to an internal audit report that found numerous and substantial failures to comply with the Purchase Card policies. Some of the problems found by Mr. Washington were issues he had previously alerted the district to. Moreover, according to Dr. Witherspoon someone in procurement has been referred to law enforcement. I would like us to get a better sense of whether the current policies are being followed adequately. If not, then that raises questions about supervision. If so, that raises questions about whether we need different policies.

The board ignored my concerns which I repeated several more times, and some members continued to repeat the demonstrably untrue statement that “there is no fraud in this district,” leaning on the “control-the-narrative” approach to this issue rather than performing our most basic oversight responsibility.

Richland One Deserves Better

I have repeatedly said that there seem to be two standards: one for our teachers and staff in our schools and one for the administration. We have high expectations for the former and virtually none for the latter. The board has chosen to defend the administration at all costs. We have accepted mediocrity, and it is harming our district. Our students, teachers, staff and R1 families deserve exceptional leadership that exemplifies integrity. It is time for a change. We cannot continue down this path.