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Central Board ponders audit of bond

INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District leaders are divided over the need to audit spending on the nearly $50 million Central High reconstruction project.



INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District leaders are divided over the need to audit spending on the nearly $50 million Central High reconstruction project.

Three of six members of the Central School Board expressed concerns about the price tag for analysis, estimated at between $20,000 and $30,000.

The others said they're trying to address constant calls for oversight of the 2008 bond by residents of Monmouth and Independence.

"Do I want to spend that kind of money? No," board member Paul Evans said. "Do I think it's necessary for the public trust, especially at this point because of all the political and policy reasons? Absolutely."

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Central will wrap up work by June on the reconstruction of the high school and associated work on other buildings.

Since 2009, there have been almost monthly requests from locals at board meetings for analysis on efficient bond spending.

This intensified late last fall after a citizen-group began circulating a petition scrutinizing Superintendent Joseph Hunter's leadership.

One complaint centered on the bond and the district taking out a $2 million loan to expand the scope of the reconstruction project, which included athletic facility enhancements.

Salem-accounting firm Boldt, Carlisle & Smith, LCC, conducted a regular financial audit on Central's 2009-10 budget. That study differs from a performance audit; the latter determines whether money has been spent to the greatest possible benefit.

The financial report, approved by the board on Jan. 3, found the district generally in compliance with bookkeeping standards. And while there were no major material problems, "significant deficiencies" were present, the report said.

One related to lack of documentation on competitive bids on bond purchases. The state requires at least three quotes be sought on items that cost between $5,000 and $150,000.

Four out of the 35 random items that auditors sampled were missing documents that proved multiple bids took place.

"In one case, they said we just went ahead and took the catalog price," said Brad Bingenheimer, a BCS accountant. "You have to try and solicit three quotes, and if you're unable to you must document why you were unable to."

At that same board meeting, Kathleen Stanley, a former school board member, made a formal complaint that Central overpaid for some furniture, fixtures and equipment.

As an example, Stanley said Central paid $131 through a catalog for each of 50 music chairs; a direct purchase on the same items could have been done for $76 per chair.

"This is not a good use of taxpayer resources," she said.

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Last week, board members officially considered signing off on an oft-proposed performance audit.

Evans, Mary Shellenbarger and Kathy Zehner favored the study. Traci Hamilton, Susan Meikle-Stoops and Sarah Ramirez opposed it.

A quote for such a report that the district had received thus far totaled between $20,000 and $30,000, Hunter said.

The cost was too great in light of the economy, Ramirez said, adding she feared it could come out of the general fund and teaching salaries.

"You don't know that," Zehner countered. "We could say that we could take it out of an administrator's account."

Meikle-Stoops said she had "no faith" that a bond audit would alleviate public distrust.

"I think there are people who are paying attention and there are people who've already made up their minds," she said. "We've put out information over and over again, we've just heard a good audit."

Meikle-Stoops said she wanted another way to get bond clarification without spending a large sum.

"I think it's beyond that if we're the ones putting out the information," Evans said.

The board ultimately requested other means of paying for an audit -- such as contingency funds and using the 2008 bond itself -- for a discussion and vote on the matter in February.



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