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Missouri State Senator Calls For Prosecutions After Audit Of St. Joseph School District

Missour Senate

The fallout following ascathing reporton the St. Joseph, Mo., School District from the state auditor has been swift and severe.

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican from St. Joseph, called for the state attorney general to prosecute those responsible for mishandling district funds.

The audit uncovered up to $40 million in stipends for administrators over the past 14 years that were unknown and unapproved by the St. Joseph Board of Education.

“I would like to call on the attorney general to closely examine the documents the auditor has complied and bring charges against those responsible for the mishandling of the funds within the St. Joseph Public Schools,” Schaaf said in a news release Thursday. 

"These actions are illegal and greatly disturbing.”

Any state prosecutions may have to wait for the FBI and a federal grand jury in Kansas City to finish their investigations. The FBI has been interviewing people and examining the bank and travel records of some district administrators since last spring.

Schaaf also filed legislation yesterday that would allow St. Joseph voters to recall the school board and shorten board terms from six years to three years. He says those longer terms foster a cozy relationship between board members and administrators and that leads to a lack of oversight.

"I think that it's pretty obvious that our school board is dysfunctional," he says.

In addition, Schaaf says he's asked the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to demand that the district repay DESE for summer school programs the state disallowed.

The state audit says St. Joseph schools received about $3.5 million in state aid over the past two school years for classes the state considers non-academic such as band and sports camps and some day care programs.

After DESE uncovered the disallowed classes it said that it was not going to seek reimbursement from the district. It also said state aid for some of these disallowed classes may have reached back five years.

The audit, released Tuesday in front of a packed room at Oak Grove Elementary School, also uncovered  numerous instances of administrators, many of who made six-figure salaries, receiving thousands of dollars in extra pay for going to night events, driving around the district and attending high level manager meetings. There was even one mysterious stipend, the auditors found, simply labeled "additional".

The audit also found that the district had too many no-bid contracts, did a poor job of tracking overtime and had numerous violations of the Missouri Sunshine Act.

Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR
St. Joseph School District HR director Doug Flowers at a recent school board meeting.

The report also took the district's human resources department to task for poor record keeping and not having adequate nepotism policies. The HR department is lead by Doug Flowers who, according to the state audit, had a direct impact on personnel decisions related to his wife Tammy, who runs the district's preschool programs.

After the school board reviewed the draft audit report three weeks ago it placed Superintendent Fred Czerwonka and COO Rick Hartigan onpaid administrative leave.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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