Representative Thatcher: School audit needed

School Auditing Legislation Called For in Light of WESD Controversy
By State Representative Kim Thacther,

(Salem) School auditing was the focus at today’s meeting of the House Interim Committee on Education. State Representative Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer, Newberg, St. Paul) asked the Committee to hold a hearing on the issue in the wake of the controversy surrounding the Willamette Education Service District (WESD). Thatcher wants to see legislative changes in the February 2010 special legislative session or the 2011 regular session. “WESD is learning and living through this”¦but also ESD’s in general all over the state. What do we need to do to help them to move toward accountability,” asked Thatcher during this morning’s meeting. Representatives from the WESD, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, and the Secretary of State Audits Division.

The WESD board recently called for Superintendent Maureen Casey to be terminated following an internal investigation into mismanagement and financial problems. 20 of the 21 school districts in Yamhill, Marion and Polk counties served by the WESD recently requested an outside audit of the agency. Thatcher and several other legislators wrote letters to the Audits Division, the Oregon Department of Education and the Department of Justice urging an investigation.

State Auditor, Gary Blackmer, told the panel his agency has agreed to audit the WESD, “looking at what issues might provide a better direct line from services to the board that is trying to make sure the public is better served.” He added his staff is currently conducting fact finding so they determine, “what are the lessons learned here that not only the WESD, but other ESDs around the state might consider in terms of oversight and transparency issues.”

State Representative Ron Maurer (R-Grants Pass) said, “clearly there are areas of improvement we can examine at the state level, but school boards can also do a better job of reviewing information generated by auditors.” Thatcher explained to the committee that her concerns go beyond ESDs and include all school districts, local governments and the auditing process.

Representative Thatcher presented the committee with a list of areas that should be changed in state law. For example, one section (ORS 326.133) limits audits to “only those districts that volunteer for the audit.” Another part of the law allows the Department of Education to audit school districts but not ESDs. (ORS 327.137). The Audits Division can conduct financial audits but not performance audits on school districts (ORS 297.405-555) and Thatcher would like to see that clarified.