By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — The indicted former superintendent of Breathitt County schools cost the district $191,000 in state funding by cutting 10 days from the school year in 2011, according to a state audit released Wednesday.
The inquiry by State Auditor Adam Edelen’s office found that former Superintendent Arch Turner ran the district without proper oversight from the Breathitt County school board.
The district paid teachers $526,350 for the 10 days they did not work in the 2011-2012 school year. In addition, the Kentucky Department of Education eliminated the district’s state funding for school days cancelled by Turner.
The audit also found that Turner gave some school district employees bonuses or additional pay totaling $195,000 without the school board’s approval.
“The loss of state funding in a district in which 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches is a travesty,” Edelen said in a statement. “Even worse, those students were deprived of important instructional time in the classroom.”
Turner pleaded guilty in July to charges related to vote buying and is scheduled to be sentenced later this month in federal court. He resigned from the district in May. Turner admitted taking money and distributing it to associates in an attempt to control the outcome of local primary elections in the Eastern Kentucky county in May 2010. Turner was one of 11 people indicted in the vote-buying conspiracy.
The audit flagged a host of other problems, including using more than $34,000 from the boy’s basketball activities fund over three years for hotel rooms and tickets for the superintendent, school board members, staff and members of the general public to attend the boy’s basketball Sweet 16 tournament. Those funds should only be used to benefit students, the audit found. Breathitt County was not playing in the tournament at the time.
The audit also noted that the school board did not approve a contract for Turner for three years. The contract was signed the day Turner resigned. That contract allowed Turner to receive a raise of $10,000 per year.
The school board sometimes only met for 10 minutes, auditors found. Most, if not all, of the items that needed approval by the board were placed on one consent calendar, which means all of the items were approved with no or little discussion, in one motion. That also meant that financial information regarding expenses — including details of how the school superintendent paid for Sweet 16 tickets — were not shared with the board. School officials said in their response to the audit that more detailed financial information will be provided to the elected school board members.
The school system, in its response to the audit, has either followed all over the state auditors’ recommendations or has already corrected some of the problems uncovered in the audit. Shirley Hudson, the current school board chairwoman, was not immediately available for comment. Melanie Stevens, the interim superintendent, was appointed to the interim position the week after Turner resigned. Stevens, a long-time Breathitt County resident, said the school system has been working hard to correct the problems uncovered in the audit.
“We’ve already made a lot of changes,” Stevens said. Money, however, is tight because of the questionable spending uncovered by Edelen’s audit, Stevens said.”We are trying to get our focus back and we will be a different place in a year.”
Edelen’s office conducted the audit after receiving complaints. The audit had 11 findings and made recommendations on how the school district could tighten financial controls.
Edelen’s office is also conducting reviews of the Mason County and Dayton Independent school districts. An audit of the Kenton County School District released last month showed excessive travel on the part of the school’s nutritional services staff. In one instance, the audit found that 40 members of the district’s food services staff attended a conference in Las Vegas at a cost of more than $40,000.