As jaded as I like to think I am about the school board, and the senior administration of our district, I have to say, there are times when they still manage to shock me. Last night was just such a night.
As I mentioned in my last post, I had asked Dr. Robinson for an explanation of a few of the recent actions (or lack of actions) on the part of the board.
Specifically, I wanted to know:
- When did the board approve the contract with Mr. Headrick and LEAN Frog to conduct the audit that was completed with a reporting of his findings on February 16th?
- How much did the audit cost?
- Why is the company that conducted the audit now being hired to recommend changes to the business practices of the district based upon the findings of the audit?
- Was this contract with LEAN Frog executed in accordance with the bid law?
Interestingly enough, LEAN Frog was specifically hired (at some undetermined point, but probably around October) to review the business practices of the district.
One significant part of the findings that Mr. Headrick presented to the board on February 16th had to do with the Procurement Department. This department is responsible for overseeing the “Bid Invitation/Analysis Process,” “Purchase Orders,” and “Inventory Control.”
As I pointed out, I had no recollection of the board actually approving the hiring of Mr. Headrick and LEAN Frog Consulting. A subsequent review of the minutes of the meetings since that time confirmed my recollection as correct. Since through January the district has paid Mr. Headrick, $26,270, I was surprised that I could not find any record of the board approving his contract for those services conducted from October 2011 through February 16, 2012.
Yesterday at 9:31:48 PM CST, Dr. Robinson responded to my questions with the following email:
As necessary to ensure the integrity of district financial and business activities, and to ensure to their conformity to statute, and regulation, the CFO engages auditors and other experts to review transactions, policies, and regulatory guidance and to render opinions. In audit functions, discretion in the use of external auditors is particularly important when fraud or abuse are suspected as was the case in the present situation. Therefore, in such cases public BOE (Board of Education) discussion is inappropriate.
Funds expended for Leanfrog we disbursed from the board approved budget and the CFO has authority for certain budgeted expenditures.
Also note that Lean Frog has moved beyond an audit function to the creation of processes and operating procedures and thus their services have been engaged via BOE action.
Jennie Robinson, PhD.
Lets unpack this response just a bit.
It’s Not the CFO’s Job
First, Dr. Robinson seems to be quoting a specific policy statement in her opening comment. I’ve asked her where that policy can be found, but she hasn’t responded yet. Since I’ve never been good at waiting, I went online to review the policies myself.
Guess what, that is not a Huntsville City Schools policy. In fact, nearly the only comment that the Policy Manual makes on audits is found in Procedure 100-1P “Functions of the Board of Education” Paragraph C, on page 2 of that procedure entitled Audit states:
The accounts of the Huntsville City Schools shall be audited annually by a certified public accountant selected by the Board of Education. Reports of such audits shall be delivered to the Board of Education, the superintendent of schools, and others as the Board may direct. (Emphasis Added)
So you see, it is not the job of the CFO to “engage auditors and other experts to review transactions, policies, and regulatory guidance and to render opinions” as Dr. Robinson claimed. It is instead the job of the Board of Education to select the auditor to be used.
This kinda makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean if an audit is going to be conducted of the business practices of the district, the Chief School Financial Officer also needs to be audited, doesn’t he?
Who Is The Discretion For?
Second, Dr. Robinson claims that, “In audit functions, discretion in the use of external auditors is particularly important when fraud or abuse are suspected as was the case in the present situation. Therefore, in such cases public BOE discussion is inappropriate.”
Who is the discretion necessary for? Should we keep the audit quiet from the public? If so, then why did Dr. Wardynski, in one of his first meetings with the public on July 25, 2011 tell a group of Special Education parents that he would soon be conducting a full audit of the Special Education and other Departments in the central office.
Discretion wasn’t necessary for the public.
How about the people being audited? Well, we certainly don’t want them to know they’re being audited. But, of course, the first people in the district to know that they were being audited were the directors and their directorships. Mr. Headrick stated that he began the audit by “conducting interviews” with the directors.
It’s kinda hard to conduct an audit interview without the person being interviewed knowing that an audit is going on, isn’t it? I began hearing from multiple district personnel that LEAN Frog was conducting an audit beginning in November 2011.
Discretion wasn’t necessary for the district personnel.
So, who exactly was the discretion for? Perhaps the discretion was for the board as they seemed to be the only group in the city who didn’t know it was happening.
CFO Has Authority For Certain Expenditures
The next second of her response contains the true kickers. Dr. Robinson stated that, “Funds expended for Leanfrog we disbursed from the board approved budget and the CFO has authority for certain budgeted expenditures.”
Dr. Robinson seems to be claiming that Mr. Frank Spinelli has the authority to expend district funds, accepting of bids, and contracting with vendors all without any board or public oversight. As I mentioned on Saturday, through January, the district has paid LEAN Frog $26,270.00. As the report to the board did not take place until February, once the check register is published for that month, I’m sure we’ll find that the $26,270.00 has increased to nearly $30,000.
So, according to Dr. Robinson, Mr. Spinelli, has the authority to commit and expend $30,000 in public funds without any oversight.
You’ll note, as I did, that there was no discussion of the questions concerning the bid law. While there are perhaps hundreds of Lean Six Sigma consultants in the country, and surely dozens of them in Huntsville (as this is a standard evaluation for military contractors), did Mr. Spinelli issue a call for bids?
I have no idea.
Significant Opportunity For Fraud
Mr. Headrick stated in his presentation on February 16th that the current business practices and System-Wide Issues/Opportunities for Huntsville City Schools presented:
Significant opportunity for fraud, waste and abuse and legal liabilities associated with non-compliance to state and federal law.
It’s a shame that Mr. Headrick wasn’t tasked to audit the means and methods that were used to actually hire him. Perhaps then his findings wouldn’t be tainted by the superintendent having refused to bring a recommendation to the board to hire him as is required by board policy and state law.
As it stands, the audit that will be used on Thursday night, March 1st to fire up to one hundred directors, coordinators, principals and teachers, and staff should itself be considered in non-compliance. Thus every single one of the district employees who are fired tomorrow night should challenge their dismissal in a court of law.
Wardynski’s going to be known as the best friend to lawyers in this town as he’ll not have doubled legal fees but rather quadrupled them.
Is it possible that there were some legal violations found by Mr. Headrick? Yes, there are. Three of the five board members who are allowing Mr. Spinelli to expend district funds without oversight likely did the same thing five years ago. And anyone found breaking the law should be punished.
If this contract was not approved by the board, and it doesn’t appear that it was, the money should be refunded, the findings should be dismissed, and those violating standard practices should be fired.
However, Dr. Robinson, the ends never justify the means.
Since Mr. King has been advertising positions for the district on his Facebook wall since January 2nd, he can just add a few more positions to his list.
Tomorrow night’s board meeting is the culmination of a witch hunt that is being used to cover up current violations. It’s time that we the public take back our school system.