Jay Chilton | August 29, 2016
In Districts with Recent Misconduct, Transparency Compliance Is Mixed
[Part two in a series]
By Jay Chilton, CIJ
Most Oklahoma school districts are not in compliance with the statutory requirement to publish credit-card statements on the school district’s website—including some districts with recent high-profile instances of financial misconduct.
Swink Public Schools remains in noncompliance with the credit-card expenditure report requirement, even though allegations of financial misconduct by Swink officials are still fresh on the minds of many Oklahomans.
Swink Public Schools allegedly suffered theft at the hands of district officials when then-treasurer, Lori Baskin, and encumbrance clerk, Tiffany Davidson, allegedly embezzled more than $235,000 over a five-year period using, in part, district checks and signature stamps in a forgery scam. Further alleged theft of public funds came in the form of district fuel card purchases of fuel for personal vehicles.
The improper spending came to light in late 2015 following five years of failing to publish spending data online—which is required by law—during the same time that the embezzlement allegedly occurred.
Grant-Goodland Public Schools suffered the loss of $200,000 in 2015 during the same time period that its neighboring school district, Swink Public Schools, was seeing fund losses and improper spending. Although the Grant-Goodland school district has been dissolved and absorbed into Hugo Public Schools, a review of Hugo’s website also failed to produce the required data.
Another district with recent misconduct, McAlester Public Schools, is now in compliance with the credit-card publication requirement. When checked, a link to “MPS Credit Card Statements FY16-17” was found in less than one minute with a featured placement in the center of the “Business & Finance” page.
But that was not always the case. Former McAlester Public Schools Superintendent Marsha Gore, along with her husband, Skip Gore, who served as Director of Plant Operations, was fired in February of 2016 following a year of lavish spending by the couple at school district expense.
The McAlester News-Capital newspaper obtained the purchase records revealing more than $48,000 in credit card purchases by Dr. Gore and the improper use of the district’s fuel card by Mr. Gore through an open records request. However, the credit card purchase records were required by law to be published on the district’s website for public review five years prior to the request.
In the same year that Swink, Grant-Goodland, and McAlester were embroiled in abuse and fraud scandals, the Broken Arrow accounting firm Sanders, Bledsoe and Hewett, issued “clean” audits for those and other school districts.
“I have real concern when I look at this report and it shows empty lines with this particular auditing firm,” Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said of the controversy. “(The report) just says ‘clean audit,’ ‘clean audit,’ ‘clean audit.’ That’s a problem. There’s got to be a change. There’s got to be responsibility borne by board members.”
Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.