Western Heights audit
Dawrenda Cooper, center in shorts, shouts at Western Heights School Board members at the conclusion of their meeting Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. (Bennett Brinkman)

At the conclusion of Monday night’s Western Heights Public Schools Board meeting, parents frustrated by the presentation of a controversial audit shouted that board members are a “disgrace” and should be “going to jail.”

Moments before the meeting ended, the accountant presenting the audit walked out of the room while board President Robert Everman and legal counsel Jerry Colclazier attempted to argue that the audit’s findings were invalid and “disingenuous.”

“I’ll leave,” Kerry Patten, the CPA who had been contracted by the district to audit its finances, said as he interrupted Colclazier. “I’m not going to sit there and listen to him.”

Patten had just presented the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Western Heights Public Schools audit, which has been publicly available since media obtained it in June. Community members and state education officials had criticized the Western Heights board for not already having presented the audit, which found 19 deficiencies that Patten explained during Monday night’s meeting.

Perhaps the most egregious finding in the audit was a $25,000 unauthorized bonus paid to former Superintendent Mannix Barnes, a longtime business partner and confidant of Everman. The bonus was supposed to be contingent on meeting certain criteria.

“We went all over the place asking for the summative evaluation and were not able to be provided with it or any other document stating that the criteria [were] met for the stipend to be paid,” Patten said.

Additionally, the audit found numerous payroll discrepancies in the district, including 10 employees who were overpaid thousands of dollars and two employees who were underpaid the same.

For many of these issues, Patten cited “deficiency in internal controls” within the district.

The district’s formal response to the audit, which the board made available at the start of Monday’s meeting, contains responses to each of the findings from Barnes, who has been suspended since July 2021.

Barnes included the following phrase in his responses to all but one finding: “I cannot properly respond to this finding without reviewing the auditor’s documentation, which he has refused to divulge.”

In addition, Barnes argued in each response that the respective finding was inaccurate and could have been avoided if the auditor had worked with him and the board to address the issues.

Everman, the board’s president, joined Colclazier in using similar language during the question and answer period after Patten presented the audit. Rather than ask questions, both men made comments suggesting that the audit findings were invalid because of the audit’s timing and what they called a lack of communication between Patten and the board.

“You didn’t contact me, you didn’t contact Mannix, you didn’t contact any of the people that were around,” Everman said. “You know good and well that you can contact me anytime since you’ve done it in the past.”

Patten has performed multiple audits for Western Heights Public Schools.

“First of all, I’d like to tell you that this was a little different of an audit this year,” Patten said in response. “It was sometimes difficult to find out who was even in charge. I know the Board of Education is ultimately in charge. (…) Typically we don’t go to the Board of Education to ask for documents or ask where those documents are — it’s because the school (district) should have a plan in place where the documents are going to be. And we asked several people.”

Colclazier seemed to imply that the audit was underhanded because of its timing, referring to state guidelines on performing audits.

“The fact is this year, you don’t submit a draft (audit), you wait until the very last minute to submit the final audit, which you’ve repeatedly referred to as the completed audit, which does not have any views of responsible officials,” Colclazier said.

At that point, Patten interrupted him, asking: “Does the school board have any more questions on the audit?”

When Colclazier continued talking, Patten tried to talk over him, saying: “I will assure you that I followed all generally accepted auditing guidelines.”

Patten then walked out of the Western Heights High School commons. As he did so, the audience cheered, and one woman shouted, “Thank you for your service to our district!”

Soon after, while Colclazier continued to comment about the audit, retired teacher Paul McCracken shouted, “Get a real lawyer! I’m out of here, I can’t listen to that crap!” He also walked out of the room.

After the meeting, McCracken had more to say about Colclazier.

“I’m fed up that the school board can hide behind what he considers to be the law,” McCracken said.

Background on Western Heights Public Schools

Western Heights has endured years of alleged mismanagement.

Currently, State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd is conducting her own investigative audit at the request of the State Department of Education.

In July 2021, the State Board of Education took control of the district after it refused to take corrective action regarding finances, school nutritional services and allegations of incompetence. One month prior, the State Board of Education suspended Barnes’ educator certificate and told the Western Heights School Board to suspend his employment.

When the Western Heights Board refused to take action regarding Barnes, the state board took over the district and installed a new superintendent.

Monday night, parents of Western Heights students said they fear the 2022-2023 school year will continue to feature drama and dysfunction at the 2,700-student district in far southwest Oklahoma City. Despite Patten’s audit highlighting deficiencies, some parents said they worry that their only form of recourse for the district is to make their voices heard.

After Monday night’s meeting adjourned, one parent used her voice to shout at board members and Colclazier for about two minutes until they left the room.

“If I got an audit like that at my job, I would be fired right now,” Dawrenda Cooper said. “And going to jail, which I hope all of y’all get to enjoy. You guys are a disgrace and should not be board members anymore!”