Audits led to rare state takeover of schools

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Associated Press

Posted on December 9, 2012 at 1:01 PM

JACKSON, Ky. (AP) — The results of two audits led state education officials to take over day-to-day management of an eastern Kentucky school district.

A financial audit that found improper spending led to a management audit that found such disarray that it was hindering efforts to improve student achievement. The findings led the Kentucky Board of Education to approve a state takeover of a school district for the first time in 15 years.

The decision this week means all decisions on spending, administration, personnel and instruction in the district will be made by Education Commissioner Terry Holliday or his designee.

David Karem, chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education, told the Lexington Herald-leader (http://bit.ly/11YwV97) on Friday that the findings were frustrating, in part because the state offers so much assistance to districts.

"It escapes any logic that there should ever be any district where we have to come in" and vote on taking over, Karem said.

Circumstances in Breathitt County were atypical, though. The district's superintendent, Arch Turner, resigned in May after pleading guilty in a federal vote-buying conspiracy. A few months later an interim superintendent was suspended and an "interim substitute" named.

State officials interviewed more than 70 people for the management audit in early November and found problems in every area of the district, from central office to the cafeteria.

A few of the significant findings included that the county didn't have a director of pupil personnel despite a state law requiring the position; the district had "inconsistent to unethical" procedures to determine dropout rates, counting some dropouts as being homeschooled; there were problems posting and filling personnel vacancies; and the district had inadequate procedures to promote rigorous, engaging teaching in classrooms.

Those findings were in addition to a financial audit that found Turner gave selected employees $193,000 in extra pay over three years, paid teachers a total of $526,350 for 10 days of classes that he canceled and had a direct contribution from the school board added to his pension without counting it as a taxable benefit.

Breathitt County school board members and school employees have welcomed help from the state.

Education Department spokeswoman Lisa Gross said on Friday that procedures were being put in place to allow Holliday's office to sign off on decisions such as purchasing. Other decisions, such as those dealing with personnel, were put on hold.

Karem said it's an example of why good leaders are needed.

"Unquestionably, it's only as good as its leadership," Karem said of a school district.

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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