Missouri auditor says he recused himself from education department review out of ‘an abundance of caution’

01/29/2014 12:07 AM

01/29/2014 12:07 AM

Missouri school board president Peter Herschend has been a longtime supporter of Missouri auditor Tom Schweich, but the auditor anticipated that Herschend’s latest, and largest, contribution might cause concern.

Herschend, the co-owner of Herschend Family Entertainment in Branson, gave Schweich’s re-election campaign $25,000 on Friday — less than 10 days after the auditor’s office announced it would be scrutinizing the contract that the state’s education department made with CEE-Trust to develop a plan to remake Kansas City Public Schools.

Schweich on Tuesday told The Star that he recused himself from the start from any involvement in the review of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The announcement Jan. 15 of the decision to review the contract was made by deputy state auditor Harry Otto. It was Otto’s decision to conduct the audit, Schweich said, and it will be Otto who leads the review.

Schweich said state law would have allowed him to lead the audit, “but out of an abundance of caution I recused myself from the start before a decision was made (to perform the review).”

Herschend did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Records with the Missouri Ethics Commission show that Herschend previously contributed $10,000 to Schweich’s campaign in 2010 and 2011, and $12,500 in 2013.

Schweich said his decision to step aside from the education department audit was the fourth time he recused himself out of some 400 audits.

The auditor’s office is looking at the process that granted a $385,000 state contract to CEE-Trust in August that is being funded by the Kauffman and Hall Family foundations in Kansas City.

The Star reported in early December that records showed that Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and the foundations initially hoped the state could assign the contract to CEE-Trust. But the state school board told the department in June that the contract should be put up for bid.

Education department officials who had worked with CEE-Trust in developing the scope of the original project plan were among the judges who scored the proposals in the bidding process, ultimately won by CEE-Trust.

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