Saturday, July 22, 2006

District 158 investigates $10,000 theft

Jeffery Gaunt of the Daily Herald
is the best education reporter in Northern Illinois. Once again he hits it out of the ballpark with the article below. The article below should make it clear to all readers that Larry Snow is the only District 158 board member who has the interests of the taxpayers and taxpayers' dollars in mind. But will anything change? Will apathy allow the other board members to remain seated and continue to be reckless with taxpayer dollars?

As school spending increases so does the number of people who benefit from the school spending gravy train. Administrators, teachers, janitors, busdrivers, support staff, legislators, retirees on the education pension dole, architects, realtors, contractors, newspaper owners, lawyers, accountants, public relation firms, auditors, consultants, suppliers of everything from milk to bleachers to school furniture, etc., etc., etc. We will reach a point where more people's pockets will be filled with school dollars than those that don't receive school spending dollars. This monster will be so big that referenda pushers and tax eaters will be able to easily pass any tax increase unless everyone from students, parents, retirees and voters get involved. It is time to stop re-electing legislators who except teachers union, union and money from anyone involved in benefiting from public school monies.

What do we get from all this spending? Poor graduation rates, poor performance on standardized tests, billions of dollars being spent on remedial education because the K-12 system failed to prepare students for college, America falling behind second and third world countries in science and math, students who have been through the K-12 system who are functionally illiterate, etc, etc.

District 158 investigates $10,000 theft
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Saturday, July 22, 2006

A former Huntley District 158 financial employee is under investigation for bilking the district out of as much as $10,000.

District officials contacted Algonquin and Huntley police on July 10, after an internal investigation revealed a staff member might have stolen money from the district.

Officials also said they were strongly advised by police not to discuss the details of the case during the investigation.

"This is a really sensitive issue," Superintendent John Burkey said. "We will be forthcoming. But we also have to protect the investigation."

Burkey said the employee is not now working in the district.

He said he couldn't comment on how much money might have been stolen, but a source close to the investigation said the amount likely is between $8,000 and $10,000.

Once the investigation is complete, police said they will turn all of the information over to the McHenry County state's attorney's office.

"I would expect in a few weeks," Algonquin Deputy Police Chief Ed Urban said. "I wouldn't expect it to take longer than that."

The investigation is the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the district's fiscal office in the past
several years.

The department's top two officers stepped down last year after the office came under fire for releasing false and misleading information regarding a 55-cent tax-rate increase.

When new chief financial officer Stan Hall came on board later last year, he discovered a series of missteps under the previous administration, including a $13 million loan that went largely unused and which cost the district $230,000 in interest.

State auditors later determined district officials falsely filled out several state aid claim forms. One led to the collection of an extra $666,000 in transportation aid, which the district is repaying. Another over-reported the number of students attending class and brought in as much as $325,000, which the district also must return.

The audits found the district owed the state $2.1 million.

Earlier this year, an independent auditor said the district lacked internal financial controls that would prevent employees from mishandling money - intentionally or unintentionally.

Completion of that audit was delayed because of problems with the district's accounting practices. The auditor and district officials still are unable to account for a difference of $16,000 to $20,000 between the district's ledgers and bank statements.

"The fiscal office had serious problems over a year ago," said Burkey, who started as superintendent July 1. "We all know that. I believe there has been significant progress in the last 12 months. However, I do believe there is still progress that has to be made."

The school board has balked at repeated calls from board member Larry Snow to hire a forensic auditor to investigate whether district employees have engaged in illegal activity.

School board President Mike Skala said Friday that despite news of the latest criminal investigation, he wasn't sure whether the board would change its tune - or even broach the topic in public.

"I don't think it's a dead issue by any means," Skala said. "I would like to bring it up in the future, and if it gets shot down again, it gets shot down."

But he said he would likely ask board members what they thought individually, rather than waste time discussing the matter in public, or asking administrators to work on it, if the majority of the board didn't support the idea.

Skala said that, like Snow, he supports an audit. But he prefers a special audit over a forensic audit, meaning the focus would be on where the money was spent, rather than possible impropriety.

In the meantime, he said the district's fiscal office is improving.

"There are checks and balances in place now where they might not have been previously," he said. "Not that it's going to be perfect right now. It's going to take awhile. You can't just do everything overnight."

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