Skiatook scandal yields summer indictment as school scandals simmer
By Patrick B. McGuigan
While investigators continue to probe spending patterns in the Broken Arrow public school district this week, former Skiatook Superintendent Gary Johnson has been arrested after being indicted by the Tulsa County Grand Jury. He has been charged with embezzlement and bribery.
The indictment and arrest came more than four months after a state investigative audit of the Skiatook public school system began.
Concerning the Skiatook developments, Oklahoma Auditor & Inspector Steve Burrage on Tuesday (June 29) sent to CapitolBeatOK his statement praising the work of a Tulsa County grand jury investigating that school district.
Burrage said, “I’m impressed by the dedication and apparent thoroughness of the Tulsa County Grand Jury to accomplish its work in the short time allotted and I want to offer my appreciation to the Skiatook school patrons who were determined to get the grand jury empaneled. The people of Oklahoma deserve to know why almost 800,000 of their tax dollars were squandered and whether anyone besides Rick Enos may have benefited from this blatant abuse of taxpayer funds.”
Enos ran E&E Sales and Austin Security, which did not maintain inventory records while overcharging the Skiatook public school district as much as 500 percent over retail.
Burrage also said, “I’m especially grateful the grand jury echoed the message I’ve been delivering across the state to school board members and others in positions of governance. Elected and appointed officials are responsible for the financial health of the institution they serve. They should read the annual financial audit and ask questions. It’s the Board that’s responsible for ensuring adequate systems of checks and balances are in place to process and protect financial transactions.
“Look, for me it’s simple, know what you’re authorizing, document every step, reconcile the books, report errors, put your policies into practice, and segregate the authority in the process. We know how to keep fraud, waste and abuse from getting out of hand and a board’s first act should be to eliminate the opportunity for it to happen.”
State auditors revealed in February their Skiatook audit had found that in a 4 ½ year period the district purchased janitorial supplies and security systems from a vendor who marked up costs more than $500,000. The school paid $60 for $11 trash cans, $540 for three mopheads valued at $23.50, and had an average “commission” of 63 cents for every dollars spent on janitorial supplies.
In an editorial published yesterday (Wed., June 30), Oklahoma’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, said the Tulsa grand jury report on the Skiatook scandal “should be required reading for every school board member in the state.”
Brian Downs, executive director of Oklahomans for Responsible Government, told CapitolBeatOK today (Thursday, July 1), “Recent cases of improper spending in school districts shows why it was vital that the legislature passed the School District Transparency Act and reformed the school audit process. Technology allows districts to be more open to taxpayers and they need to take advantage of that.”
State Rep. Dan Sullivan of Tulsa drove the effort to intensify school district audits, while state Sen. Randy Brogdon of Owasso (also a Republican candidate for governor, led the bi-partisan effort to pass the transparency legislation.
Downs concluded, “At the same time, it’s important for school board members to make sure they’re educated on issues of school finance and ask their superintendents the right questions. And those living in a school district need to be more involved, acting as another check and balance on the district’s finances.”
The auditor’s reports on Wagoner, and Butner involved relatively small sums, but still demonstrated problems in school finance and oversight.
Still pending release are state audit findings concerning the Broken Arrow and Boynton public school districts, although many important facts are already known in the Broken Arrow controversy.