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Project Audit Raises Eyes Over Wording

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District officials recently approved a performance audit of the $47.3 million reconstruction to alleviate public concerns about how that money was spent and man

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Central School District officials recently approved a performance audit of the $47.3 million reconstruction to alleviate public concerns about how that money was spent and managed.

A proposal of what that study entails, however, contains wording that may end up causing more questions.

That includes an indication that the district's bond manager, Mike Maloney, may select individuals for auditors to interview during their investigation; some residents have complained it's his management that has forced the need for an analysis.

The district has received pressure from community members for an independent audit of the bond for almost two years. On Feb. 7, the school board unanimously voted for a proposal by Washington-based FCS Group, a management consulting firm.

A work plan to review the Central High reconstruction project was created based on input by Superintendent Joseph Hunter and other key administrators.

The analysis will cost about $16,600, half of what was originally envisioned. That led board members to caution that the quality of the work shouldn't suffer as a result.

To cut down on travel expenses and the overall audit price, the firm would examine some of the paper trail electronically, Hunter said.

Whether the bond projects were completed within the original budget and if they were completed as envisioned are some questions that will guide the audit, according to the proposal.

What's missing is an explicit mention of how it will tackle cost effectiveness, said Kathleen Stanley, a former board member who runs a district watchdog blog, The Central Advocate.

"The stuff people are concerned about is did we spend the money wisely and did we get the best bang for our buck?" Stanley said. "If you've inflated the budget, of course the project is under budget."

"Do (the audit) right," she continued. "Otherwise, you're just spending money and you still won't have answered whether money has been wasted."

The plan also mentions that there would be no more than 10 interviews with the superintendent, board members and individuals selected by Maloney.

Asked about a conflict of interest, Traci Hamilton, board vice chairwoman, said Maloney is a logical starting point as bond manager to derive interviews from.

"He's not the final step ... I don't have an issue with that," she said. "If the interviews lead to red flags, an auditor will follow up on it."

The proposal mentions examining money that went into the high school's artificial turf field. It doesn't mention the $2 million loan the district borrowed to pay for a scope-of-work increase, or potential overpayment on some furniture, fixtures and equipment.

Central received in January a regular financial audit which showed some significant deficiencies regarding record keeping of documentation on competitive bids for those furniture and equipment purchases.

Some board members specifically asked for the latter on Feb. 7. "We were told it is implied that it will be in the audit," Hamilton said.

While the board has already approved the audit take place, there will be a review of the language before the contract is signed at the Monday, March 7, board meeting.

"I'm sure the community will come and reiterate things they want touched on," Hamilton said. "And I'm sure the board will want to make sure those are recognized.

"The community did us a service by approving the bond," Hamilton continued. "We want them to feel good about the way it was spent."

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