Lawmakers back improved school audit oversight

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 24-Mar-2010

A state House committee unanimously voted Wednesday (March 24) to improve oversight of school audits.

Senate Bill 2034, by Rep. Dan Sullivan, would place the Office of the State Auditor and Inspector in charge of reviewing school district audits.

“More accountability and oversight is clearly needed to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent in the classroom, not padding someone’s pockets,” said House Speaker Chris Benge. “This legislation would simply put in place additional accountability so Oklahoma taxpayers can have confidence in school expenditures in the future.” Benge and Sullivan are both Tulsa Republicans.

All Oklahoma school districts are required to have their financial records independently audited each year. Currently, those audits are forwarded to the Department of Education.

“In light of recent events, it’s become clear that we need better review of school audits – one wasted dollar is too much when it comes to the education of our children,” said Sullivan. “The auditor’s office has a recent track record of catching corruption and waste in our schools and is the logical entity to put in charge of financial oversight.”

After years of scandal wracked the office under former Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahon, who eventually went to prison, Gov. Brad Henry appointed Steve Burrage to the post. A Democrat like Gov. Henry, Burrage has announced he will seek reelection this year.

Auditor and Inspector Burrage is presently investigating at least six instances of waste, fraud and abuse in public schools.

A recent audit of Skiatook Public Schools, conducted by Burrage’s office, found the school wasted $570,000 on over-priced supplies during a five-year period. Excess purchases included spending up to $60 apiece for $8 trash cans and $1,500 for a $500 vacuum, among other things.

Although the Skiatook district had been audited each year and that audit sent to the Department of Education, the wasteful spending was not identified until the Office of the State Auditor and Inspector became involved.

Under Senate Bill 2034, both the Department of Education and Office of the State Auditor and Inspector would receive copies of school audits for review.

“This legislation will increase trained scrutiny of school audits, which should deter embezzlers and help catch mismanagement in its early stages,” Sullivan said. “It’s not right that this kind of waste can go on for five years before it’s caught.”

The legislation also requires that independent auditors hired by school districts complete a minimum of eight hours of continuing education credit in school district accountancy.

Senate Bill 2034 passed out of the House Common Education Committee with a vote of 13-0 and now proceeds to the full House for consideration.

NOTE: CapitolBeatOK Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.