Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Across-the-board pay hikes don't make sense

"Paying the most effective teachers enough to keep them in the classroom makes sense," Jason Richwine writes. "An across-the-board increase for the profession does not."

The teacher shortage crisis is overblown, but challenges remain

"There's no epic shortage of public school teachers," Nat Malkus writes, "but where and whom schools hire is often problematic."

Tulsa school bus doing 70 mph, tailgating, weaving in traffic

FOX 23 has the story.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Doesn't fit the narrative

Mike Antonucci points us to a new NCES brief "that won’t get anywhere near the volume of headlines devoted to nationwide teacher shortages."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Oklahoma's proficiency gap

Why doesn't Oklahoma recognize the importance of honestly measuring student performance?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hey, it's only money

"It seems an auditing firm used by more than 100 Oklahoma school districts typically records irregularities not in the audit, but in separate letters," The Oklahoman notes today in an editorial. "The districts then report a 'clean' audit to state officials, effectively reducing financial scrutiny."
In McAlester, Superintendent Marsha Gore and her husband (the district's plant operations director) are accused of making tens of thousands of dollars in improper purchases with school funds over a 12-month period. The pair reportedly used school money for everything from Hillary Clinton campaign materials to a $129 hourglass to a $2,048 treadmill. ... 
Some are angry at the firm, but school district officials are also to blame. It's hard to believe this lack of transparency isn't driven by impure motives in at least some instances, especially given the findings of those school audits that are reported. 
At Tannehill, the school paid over $1,000 for Internet service at the superintendent's home. 
At Whitefield, the school paid travel reimbursement to the superintendent for driving from his home to school. 
In Timberlake, the superintendent's salary was increased without any amendment to his contract or board approval. 
In Alex, an employee was reimbursed for personal expenses and district equipment was used by school employees for personal use. 
At Whitesboro, the superintendent was reimbursed for travel-related meals and lodging without adequate invoice/receipt documentation. 
At Canadian, travel reimbursements were provided even when employees did not provide a school-related reason for the travel, a destination, or description of the trip. 
In Paoli, the school was carrying outstanding checks from as far back as 2002. 
In Crooked Oak, the district was still paying an absent, sick employee who had exhausted all medical leave. The superintendent tried to explain that one away by saying the employee's life insurance had lapsed due to the school district's negligence and officials were trying to make it up to him. 
The list goes on. If the aforementioned items are examples of what has occurred at districts that report their audits, there's reason to wonder what's going on at districts with 'clean' audits that fail to report 'supplemental' documents.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Questionable expenses from McAlester superintendent, husband

The MiddleGround News has the story.

Alleged fraud in Swink draws scrutiny

[Below is the text of a news release yesterday from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.]

In the wake of alleged misappropriation of funds at Swink Public Schools, the State Board of Education approved establishment of a task force to create an action plan for the school district in southeastern Oklahoma. In reviewing an audit of the small district, board members and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister also expressed concerns that a Broken Arrow-based auditing firm hired by the district had found no financial problems over the previous five years.

A review by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) showed that the firm of Sanders, Bledsoe, and Hewett had failed to uncover alleged embezzlement in the district that totaled nearly $235,000. Eventually, a June 30, 2015, audit by the firm outlines several instances of alleged fraud by the district treasurer and encumbrance clerk, including:

  • Altered school district checks payable to the treasurer and her relatives;
  • Travel reimbursement for trips not taken;
  • Unapproved fuel charge cards; and
  • Unauthorized purchases, including alcohol and tobacco.

The FBI and U.S. Department of Education are investigating the allegations. Prosecutors are expected to file criminal charges against the pair.

The board questioned Swink Superintendent Mark Bush and officials of Sanders, Bledsoe and Hewett as to why the firm — which has been performing annual audits for the district since at least 2011 — did not find any suspicious activity in the district’s books until this year. Alleged instances of fraud have increased each year, with $7,200 misappropriated in 2010-2011, to $89,600 misappropriated in 2014-2015, according to the audit.

Of 114 school district audits conducted last year by Sanders, Bledsoe and Hewett, all but seven were “clean” and absent of findings. Representatives of the firm told the State Board that irregularities they find are often conveyed in letters to the district instead of in actual audits.

“I have a real problem with audit findings that don’t make their way into the audit,” Hofmeister said. “This is a cautionary tale for other districts around the state. If an audit looks too good to be true, it might be. It is important for administrators and board members to maintain tight controls and ask questions, especially given the fiscal challenges facing our schools.”

In the June 30, 2015, audit, the auditing firm highlights a number of incidents of alleged fraud and makes 10 recommendations for the 164-student district to strengthen internal controls.

Board members voted unanimously to establish a task force comprised of OSDE officials and chaired by board member William Flanagan, a retired certified public accountant and personal financial specialist. The panel will work with officials in the Choctaw County district to strengthen financial oversight. In turn, these recommendations might be worth consideration by school districts across the state.

“Misappropriations of funds is a charge we take very seriously, and we are holding the Swink school district and board members accountable for both the actions of its employees and the auditing firm they hire. We will not sit by and watch tax dollars being stolen from our schoolchildren,” Hofmeister said.

OSDE General Counsel David Kinney, who is also a CPA, consulted with State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and the Oklahoma Accountancy Board in the department’s review.

McAlester superintendent bought Hillary 2016 gear on school credit card

The Daily Caller has the story.