The St. Joseph School District has handed out at least $25 million in unapproved stipends to administrators since 2001, according to a scathing audit listing 17 areas of concern that led to the district receiving the first “poor” ranking given to a Missouri school district in more than a decade.
State Auditor Tom Schweich, who released the report Tuesday, said other problems his office found include the district promoting some employees without proper degrees, using school funds for unreasonable purchases, holding improper closed meetings and mismanaging bond investments, the St. Joseph News-Press reported.
The amount of stipends could have reached $40 million had the audit studied the years before 2001, Schweich said.
“I have to say with all the money paid in stipends, I would say the district would not be in the (financial condition) it’s in had those stipends been under control,” Schweich said.
Some of the questionable expenditures included $1,500 for a painting and $7,650 in free Internet service for 16 individuals, including one district officials claimed not to know, according to the audit.
Schweich said improperly closed meetings are a common problem in school districts, though he didn’t know if St. Joseph’s lack of compliance was intentional.
“We ask people to be very careful because when you deny the public and the media access to a meeting, it has to be for a very specifically defined purpose,” Schweich said. “We found there was some looseness with that aspect.”
School districts are usually given 90 days to fix problems found in audits, but because the district’s problems are so extensive, it will be given additional time, he said.
Board member Chris Danford, who first raised the issue of questionable stipends last March, said she felt somewhat vindicated by the audit.
“I have felt like I have been the crazy red-haired board member that was making a big deal about things,” she said. “I’m glad it’s out there because the only way we can clean it up is to know the truth.”
Board President Brad Haggard said board members were shocked by the audit and were committed to fixing the problems.
Todd Brockett, president of the local National Education Association chapter and a middle school teacher, said he wanted changes on the school board, including some members stepping down or being removed from office.
“Clearly if you’re losing that kind of money, you’re not doing your job,” he said.