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IC parents, residents call for transparency following School Board audit

BY LUKE VOELZ | SEPTEMBER 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City School District parents and residents are calling for better School Board transparency and financial management following the release of an external audit by board member Tuyet Dorau in August.

Some district residents said the sheer number of accounting errors — alongside the board’s lack of public explanation upon the audit’s release — over seven years is reason enough to hope for improved policy and transparency by new members elected to the School Board this Tuesday.

The errors range from improper segregation of duties over cash receipts, bank-transfer functions, and student-activity funds to not obtaining certification for employees funded by federal programs.

Approximately three-quarters of the errors were addressed by 2009 at the latest, while the other seven — including the aforementioned — were listed as problems in the audit of 2010.

Board member Toni Cilek said she had no concerns with the audit’s content but found its presentation, which makes no immediate distinctions that errors in past years were amended, misleading.

“We want to be open and transparent with information, but we also want to be consistent with that so that [the School Board can] work as a whole,” she said, noting that the audit was compiled independently by a past board member rather than a paid committee.

Hills parent and board candidate Julie Van Dyke said the cash-receipt mismanagement likely contributed to the district’s July $25,000 IRS fee for late payroll-tax payment, alongside an announcement early last month that more than $2 million in district expenditures had been budgeted twice.

“It is ludicrous that [the School Board] is not concerned about this,” she said. “Those findings are linked to the reason we had the $2.5 million mistake. Why last spring 22 teachers were threatened with their jobs — this is why, and that it doesn’t concern her or the board?”

Though she was critical of the board, Van Dyke said she did not find Superintendent Steve Murley at fault for the errors.

“Murley, I find no responsibility for this whatsoever,” she said. “This is [former Iowa City School District Superintendent Lane] Plugge’s and the current board’s legacy. [Murley] walked in after this was ongoing, and I perceive him as proactive to fix things.”

University of Iowa Professor Ed Stone compared the audit’s long-hidden status with his current pursuit of financial records regarding a 2009 Garner Elementary parking-lot installation, in which improper preparation of the soil required the parking lot to be torn out and installed a second time.

Stone, who sued the district in April for not complying with his and other district resident’s open-records requests, first requested the Garner records in 2009. He then asked Superintendent Murley directly this February. Though the board voted to allow Murley to pursue the records during its April 26 meeting, Stone said, he has yet to receive any information about the Garner parking-lot mistake.

“This is a pitiful, ridiculously opaque response that doesn’t come anywhere near the spirit of the open-records law,” he said about the district’s actions. “The notion that the citizenry has been forced to resort to a lawsuit to get data, and what’s the evidence? I’ve been writing about Garner for two years, and they won’t respond.”

Murley said acquiring the Garner information has been made difficult through a settlement surrounding the parking lot, the number of parties involved, and the number of open-records requests the district receives. Stone said he had still not received a response when he was contact by the DI Sunday night.

“It just has not been done, that’s the simple answer to that,” Murley said. “We have numerous requests for information that come through open-records request or an informal request such as Dr. Stone has made, and we work those around the work of the district as required on an ongoing basis, to the extent we can, we answer questions as soon as possible.”


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