A state audit of the Hickman Mills School District released Tuesday depicts a district whose top leadership was feuding and making a series of missteps as its schools were about to fall from full accreditation in 2012.
Then-board President Breman Anderson Jr. was, according to the auditors, arranging contracts and moving to reassign top administrators mostly on his own while scrambling to contest some $150,000 in claims for unpaid vacation and sick leave by retired Superintendent Marge Williams.
The administration Williams left behind was exposed for many episodes of poor management, including loosely monitored use of purchase cards, numerous seemingly unnecessary or unreasonable expenditures and a weak capital asset accounting system that had lost track of dozens of iPad computer tablets.
The audit also indicates that Anderson did not fully cooperate with the state’s review team — as numerous auditor requests for information and contracts had to be obtained by court-issued subpoenas or by placing Anderson under oath for sworn testimony.
“It is unusual for our authority to be challenged that seriously,” Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said Tuesday night before a crowd of about 100 at Hickman Mills Junior High School.
The resistance was the main reason the audit dragged on for most of two years, he said.
Williams, reached at home Tuesday night, said the audit had just begun when she left the district in 2012 and she had not seen the document. Therefore, she could not speak to details.
In Hickman Mills’ favor is the fact that it changed its leadership in 2013.
A new superintendent — Dennis Carpenter — and new board leadership under Eric Lowe are guiding the south Kansas City district with an enrollment of some 6,000 students.
“The cooperation recently has been excellent,” Otto said. “Things have changed.”
Overall, the district received a “fair” rating from Auditor Tom Schweich — which means that the district needs to improve operations in several areas and that the audit contained several findings, some of which need immediate attention.
There was no evidence of theft or fraud, Otto said.