Broken Arrow school audit meetings August 18, public release September 2

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 11-Aug-2010
The widely-anticipated investigative audit of the Broken Arrow public schools is nearing final stages, CapitolBeatOK has learned.

Trey Davis, spokesman for Auditor & Inspector Steve Burrage, told CapitolBeatOK that members of the auditor’s office will be “meeting with the Broken Arrow School Board members on August 18, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Education Service Center located in the Performing Arts Center of Broken Arrow Public Schools.”

Davis said the audit will be presented to “a couple of board members at a time. It is my understanding that Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall will sit in all three meetings along with the district’s legal counsel. The meetings will not be in open session and all copies of the audit will be collected at the conclusion of the meetings.”

Davis told CapitolBeatOK, “The audit will be released to the public on Thursday, September 2.”  The two-week gap between “exit interviews” and public disclosure of such audits is customary.

The Broken Arrow public school district’s legal counsel comes from Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold, Oklahoma’s dominant education law firm, with hundreds of school districts as clients. The firm’s counsel to the district has, itself, been a source of some controversy in the unfolding investigations by local, state, and federal authorities. Legal fees paid to the cadre of attorneys have been among spending practices coming under critical scrutiny.

The firm is also a frequent player in state legislative deliberations and in local school board politics. This spring, a Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold attorney circulated information opposed to House Bill 3393, which developed into the recently enacted Lindsey Nicole Henry special needs scholarship.

At the local level, citizens monitoring the Broken Arrow district’s board deliberations and internal financial decision making process have in some cases been discouraged directly or indirectly from seeking answers to questions about district policies, practices and personnel.

Former interim district superintendent Dr. Gary Gerber had imposed on local resident Beth Snellgrove a $90 fee for redacting itemized legal bills and information touching the Rosenstein firm. Snellgrove is a former Broken Arrow school parent and taxpayer who has closely monitored school board meetings and district expenditures over the past three years. Earlier this summer, she had decided not to retrieve the materials because of the fee Gerber had imposed.

In one of his first moves after becoming the new district superintendent, Dr. Mendenhall waived the unusual fee, which had been widely criticized by the local newspaper and by OSU Professor Joey Senat, a state Freedom of Information activist.

A grand jury has subpoened school district records, is reportedly planning to subpoena witnesses and is apparently preparing to resume deliberations after the state audit is released. Broken Arrow is one of several school districts now weathering finance-related scandals. As one of the state’s largest districts, the Broken Arrow investigations are complex, with, as CapitolBeatOK reported previously, “lots of moving parts.”