Officials from the State Department of Education and State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd’s office began an on-site needs assessment and investigative audit this afternoon at Western Heights Public Schools.
Byrd said she expects the audit report will take six months to complete.
“The State Auditor’s Office was here today just to engage in the audit, to let the school district know what to expect as we move forward and to get started to get answers for the community,” Byrd said. “We did talk about what records we will need, and the administration assured us that the records that we have asked for, so far, are available to us. We’re going to go forward and just take this one piece at a time to make sure that we have what we need.”
A request for an investigative audit of the district was approved by the State Board of Education at its June meeting. In March, the Western Heights Education Association and Western Heights community also collected 998 signatures on a citizen’s petition to request an investigative audit of their own.
Byrd said her office will release one comprehensive audit report for efficiency. She said the citizens’ petition asks questions about:
- credit card expenditures;
- whether bond proceeds had been spent as directed by ballot language;
- overtime payments to administrative officials;
- the expenditure of activity funds;
- the expense of private donation funds.
“This is an important audit,” Byrd said. “We need to get answers to the community, and we will be working as quickly as possible to do that.”
Byrd said her offices would take control of the shredded documents found in trash bags behind the district administration building by Western Heights community member Brianna Dodd on Monday night. Byrd said if her staff determine any records are unavailable, they will examine the shredded documents.
“We’re always concerned when we see a large amount of records shredded, especially in the midst of asking for a special investigative audit,” Byrd said. “But, we also should remember that there are real reasons to shred documents. So at this time, until there’s a document I’m asking for that they cannot produce, I’m not going to be extremely concerned.”
Byrd said the district seems to be cooperating with the audit.
“There was a very good spirit of cooperation in the room,” Byrd said. “We had been assured that we will get everything that we need, and the administrative officials have said that they will work to get us the information we need so we don’t waste time.”
‘We’re going to work to build positive relationships’
Underscoring the administrative drama at the southwest Oklahoma City school district, two interim superintendents were technically at Western Heights to meet with Byrd on Friday.
On Monday, the State Board of Education voted to take over governance of Western Heights for a year, which includes the power to appoint an interim superintendent to replace Mannix Barnes, who had his educator certificate suspended by the state board in June.
On Tuesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister assigned Monty Guthrie, deputy superintendent of finance and federal programs at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as interim superintendent of the district.
On Thursday, however, the Western Heights Board voted to appoint the district’s assistant superintendent, Kim Race, as their interim superintendent, against the state’s orders.
The district’s attorney, Jerry Colclazier, argued that the state board does not have the legal authority to appoint an interim superintendent.
“What if they voted that they wanted to take my car and destroy it? Am I going to let them do that?” Colclazier said after Thursday’s meeting. “They can vote to do anything. The issue is whether or not they have the legal authority to do what they did and they don’t.”
Western Heights appoints interim superintendent despite state orders by Megan Prather
Both Race and Guthrie were at the district Friday as Guthrie began the on-site needs assessment, which is part of the state’s intervention plan for the troubled district.
“I’m not worried about the titles right now. I only know how to run a school one way and that’s with everybody involved,” Guthrie said. “Everyone working together. Everyone keeping your focus on the students that are here and working with the community and the families that are around you. As I come in, I’m going to work with everyone. I’m going to be respectful of community leaders. I’m going to be respectful of school employees. I’m going to be respectful of board members and we’re going to work to build positive relationships.”
While Guthrie did not meet with the entire Western Heights Board of Education, he did meet with board member Linda Farley.
“We had an initial meeting of a very small group of people today that was very positive,” Guthrie said. “I have another one waiting for me. In the second one, I’m glad to say that all the attorneys are leaving the room and we’re going to get down to school business. To this point everything has been very positive and everyone has been very cooperative.”