By Sarah Howard
"We are getting on thin ice, we can talk hypothetical here, but discussing individual salaries could be a tricky thing," said Cameron Gulley, the CPA hired to conduct the district's audit, in response to questions regarding specific staff salaries.
During an open forum at the Strawn Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting Monday, attendees spoke out in an effort to address an unfavorable audit report and concerns regarding past actions of the board and staff including a declining fund balance.
As the budget concerns were brought up, so were questions about individual staff salaries, particularly that of Coach Dwaine Lee. Lee was designated in March as the lone candidate to fill the interim superintendant spot and has since withdrawn from consideration. Discussion among board members turned to whether it was necessary to close a portion of the meeting, but decided against and individual salaries were not discussed further.
Rumors around the community have centered around possible wrong doing on the part of the board and staff members. Spurred by the need to address these concerns, the audit was placed on the agenda for the meeting. Gulley, who drafted the report, addressed questions and concerns regarding his assessment of the 2011-12 fiscal year at Strawn ISD.
"The school district has not had continuity of leadership," said Gulley. "There was no one directing the school board."
His report stressed the need for a permanent superintendant.
Over the last two years, Strawn has had three different part-time interim superintendents with none of them serving more than two days a week. This, according to Gully, has contributed to a loss in leadership and direction of the school.
The audit also found significant deficiencies and weaknesses in internal controls over financial reporting. He cited several instances in his original report. The district failed to properly bid a construction manager project, as required by law. In addition, purchase orders were not routinely used and receipts or invoices did not support expenditures.
"Everyone seemed to be covering for everyone else," he said. "Staff were functioning beyond their assigned duties, and things just mushroomed out of control."
According to Gulley, the board is moving in the right direction. Since receipt of the audit, the school board has undergone one training session and new policies regarding purchase orders and invoices are in place. During the meeting, the board voted unanimously to hire Brent Dawson, current principal, as the new long-term interim superintendant. Lane Jackson, the interim superintendent until Monday night, is expected to make his departure as early as next week. Jessica Mallory will fill the position of principal. This will leave the position of guidance counselor unfilled and, according to Gulley, help with some of the budget shortfall.