Wed, Jan 11, 2023 10:15 AM
By Cole Lauterbach, The Center Square
A western Arizona public school district was found by state auditors to have put children on dangerous buses, run illegitimate nonprofits for decades, and misappropriated funds to the point where teachers’ pay couldn’t be fulfilled.
According to the results of an investigation by the auditor general, Hyder Elementary School District #16 in Southwest Arizona failed basic protocols in four areas, “putting public monies, sensitive computerized data, and student safety at risk.”
Auditors found the district failed to follow purchasing rules, resulting in misspent taxpayer funds.
The district could not account for more than $12,000 in spending on credit cards, including groceries, alcohol, electronics, children’s toys, gift cards and tools. The cards in question were found in a safe with the code written down in a nearby drawer accessible to others. Auditors found poor credit card payment procedures resulted in $1,187 in late fees.
“One staff member had complete control over several bank accounts without oversight, there was no bank account reconciliation process until fiscal year 2019, and even that reconciliation process was not comprehensive,” the report said.
If a student in the district rode a bus to school, they were likely at risk. The rural district was said to have put students in harm’s way through its lax bus maintenance and failure to conduct annual drug testing of its drivers. In 2020, inspectors found 3-in-4 buses had major safety violations that should have seen them pulled out of service. In 2021, it got worse. Another review found 5-out-of-6 buses operating with major violations.
State law requires districts to randomly drug test drivers. Between 2020 and 2021, auditors found four out of the five drivers employed by Hyder to have gone more than a year without a test.
Because of the district’s poor bookkeeping, auditors found teachers who said they weren’t paid on occasion due to lack of funds. Of the four employees auditors interviewed, three listed times that the district couldn’t pay them what they were owed in wages.
The district was found to have been operating a nonprofit 4-H club for two decades, co-mingling funds with taxpayer dollars. Auditors said the pooling of funds exposed the district to waste, fraud and abuse.
In response, Superintendent Martha Yardley-Jones blamed the inefficiencies on their rural isolation and lack of state support.
“Our district is extremely isolated with no community services, facilities or programs,” she wrote. “The school is the center of the community, which makes it difficult to provide separation from school and community activities.”
The district accepted all of the audit recommendations.