Broken Arrow school district facing criminal investigation?

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 26-Apr-2010

The Broken Arrow public school district may be under criminal investigation, although the exact status of any probe remains murky in the wake of a request by the state attorney general’s office.

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK this morning, state Rep. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City, known as a fiscal “watch dog” at the state Capitol, said: “I was informed today that the state audit of the Broken Arrow school district’s finances has been completed and turned over the Office of the Attorney General for possible criminal prosecution. It is unfortunate that lawmakers are not being provided the details of the audit during this year’s session. If there has been misuse of taxpayer dollars, it would be best if lawmakers were given that information before they finalize a state budget.”

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, the office of the auditor and inspector disclosed it had received a request from the attorney general’s office to “refrain” from issuing a final report to allow more time to review findings and consider further action.

In an e-mail to Ricky Branch, director of the local government and special services division at the auditor’s office, Assistant Attorney General Tom Bates, director of the multicounty grand jury unit, wrote last Thursday: “Pursuant to our meeting earlier today on the above referenced audit, I am requesting that your office refrain from issuing a final report at this time so that this office can review your findings and determine what additional investigation needs to be done.”

Broken Arrow is one of several school districts where investigations by Oklahoma Auditor & Inspector Steve Burrage’s office have been or are under way. Earlier this year, Burrage detailed results of his probe of Skiatook public schools. He found several hundred thousand dollars worth of what he characterized as “fraud, waste and abuse” that angered him.

The Broken Arrow district is much larger than Skiatook, making the potential financial impact of any wrongdoing more significant.

In his statement today, Rep. Reynolds observed that the Broken Arrow district has “been a source of controversy since 2007, when the board of education fired School Superintendent Jim Sisney. Sisney has said he was dismissed after finding wrongful business practices involving a contractor and the district.

Reynolds has questioned the legality of $242,000 paid out for unused sick leave at the district. Reynolds pointed to a Feb. 26, 2004 document written by Broken Arrow school attorney J. Douglas Mann advising that payment for unused sick leave is illegal. Mann noted at that time that Broken Arrow’s policy allowed teachers to be paid for any unused sick leave greater than 120 days of accumulated leave.

Mann concluded that such payments to teachers are only permitted upon “termination of employment.” Reynolds has concluded the district was apparently paying teachers for all unused sick leave while individuals remained employed.

Reynolds has sent information to Burrage and to Tim Harris, district attorney for Tulsa County, to assist any investigation of the school district.