State agency pushes takeover of Beaumont district

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Associated Press

Posted on April 3, 2014 at 7:32 AM

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — The Texas Education Agency has recommended a board of managers take over the Beaumont Independent School District amid financial and leadership concerns.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams has the final say and is scheduled to be in Beaumont on Thursday to meet with the seven current trustees.

Results of the TEA financial review were released Tuesday. The report says the district in the past five years has lost the public's trust and acquired a reputation tainted by multiple incidents of fraud, waste and abuse.

The report cited a continuing lack of internal controls over finances and operations, despite 2013 reviews and recommendations for improvement.

In August 2013, the Legislative Budget Board issued a report that provided "clear and thorough recommendations." However, Tuesday's report says, the "district's continued denials and rejections of recommendations" resulted in a failure to implement internal control safeguards such as employing an internal auditor. A district employee that embezzled funds told TEA that an auditor would have prevented his wrongdoing.

Former district finance director Devin McCraney and former district employee Sharika Allison are charged in a 19-count federal indictment accusing them of unlawfully transferring more than $4 million to accounts they controlled. Both have pleaded not guilty, but court records show McCraney is scheduled to enter a change of plea April 14. Her trial is set for May 12.

The report also says the response by the district has been to dismiss the importance of the issue and disregard as speculation that hiring an auditor would have resulted in strengthened safeguards.

In a statement, district officials said they are reviewing the report and its recommendations and "will continue to work with the TEA toward the necessary improvements."

However, the TEA's report says the district has failed to cooperate with their investigation. It states that their report does not address all the complaints received by the agency because the district's executive management sent key staff members on leave when TEA's investigators arrived and interrogated other staffers "in a manner that inhibited cooperation." The district also failed to surrender financial records and other information and when it did, information was submitted late and incomplete, according to the report.

The president of the board of trustees, Gwen Ambres, says members are very unhappy and disappointed in that response but will comply with the TEA.

This report is the second issued by the state agency in a series of investigations into the Beaumont district. The agency already has installed a monitor as a result of their investigation into the district's special education program. There are also upcoming reports into attendance and governance, among other issues, said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.

On December 2012, Williams appointed a board of managers to take over the duties of the embattled board of trustees of the El Paso Independent School District in the wake of a cheating scandal that landed former Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia in prison.

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Online:

http://www.bmtisd.com/

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