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Kent School Board Says It Will Hire An Auditor To Examine Financial Transactions

The Kent School Board said it plans to hire an independent auditor to examine the district's financial transactions for the past six school years, a move the board announced in a letter to two parents who had filed complaints.

The school district has been trying to dig out of a financial hole. One of the complaints, filed by Michele Greenwood Bettinger, centered on that budget crisis and concerns about the district’s human resources department.

The other one was filed by Dana Rosenberg. Her complaint asked the board to examine whether Superintendent Calvin Watts has any potential conflicts of interest.

Rosenberg and other parents have raised concerns about a sole-source software purchase by the district that they say was a waste of tax dollars. Watts said the budgeting software was unique and that justified the lack of competitive bidding, but he has conceded the software didn't work out as expected.

Parents have also raised concerns about Watts’s participation in education-technology feedback sessions organized by Education Research and Development Institute, a Chicago company that pays superintendents honoraria of about $2,000 for their input on products in development.

Watts has said he received approval from the board prior to participating and disagreed that his participation in the product feedback panels presents a potential conflict of interest.

Rosenberg said it's good they're hiring an outside investigator, but she still has concerns.

“That is a great step in the right direction,” she said. “Why would they close my complaint before completing that process? That’s where I’m stuck.”

In the letter, the school board said it “has not discovered any violation of Board Policy related to conflict of interest,” but added that it has updated the superintendent’s contract to address outside consulting work and potential conflicts of interest and “will continue to monitor this area.”

The board said the suggestion to conduct an “independent forensic and performance management audit” came from the superintendent and that it will begin a competitive bid process for the services.

The request for proposal “will direct the auditor to address any financial irregularities, improprieties and/or misappropriation of funds,” the board said in the letter. “These audits will further address the District’s financial control systems to determine reliability, accuracy, and the strength of internal control systems and will specifically focus on contracts and vendor spending. The results of the audits will be presented to the Board directly.”

Bettinger said she's disappointed that the board sent the same letter to her and the other parent even though they raised different concerns in their complaints.

“It took months to resolve this. There were endless executive sessions and to just come up with this response that was sent to both complainants who had different complaints feels insulting,” Bettinger said.

School Board President Maya Vengadasalam said in an emailed statement that the complaints both alleged financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest by the superintendent and could be addressed with the same response.

“We feel the independent audits of finances and purchasing can address the multiple concerns brought forth by the complainants,” Vengadasalam said.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.