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Audit clears California of misuse of funds

| Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001

CALIFORNIA - The preliminary results of an audit into alleged misuse of public funds caused a stir among board members at Wednesday's California Area School Board meeting.

The audit, which took six months to complete, came about because someone reported the district to the state auditor general's office for misuse of public funds in four areas. California Area Superintendent Dr. Marian Stephens said the resulting audit focused on four areas, including Pepsi machines, misuse of cell phones, misuse of equipment and conflict of interest.

Although the initial results showed the district was cleared of all allegations, sparks flew Wednesday night as directors Tom Russell and Budd Grebb disagreed over the audit and fellow director Michael Digon questioned the expense of the investigation.

'I was personally accused of doing something wrong and I take offense to that,' said Russell, who called the audit a 'skunk hunt.'

'We are in the business of educating children but we took money and wasted it on (the audit).'

Grebb said he supported the audit and added that 'it wasn't a skunk hunt.'

'If we spent $1,000 or $10,000 to correct a problem then it was worth it,' said Grebb. 'I was one of the people who complained about this.'

When Stephens said that the six-month audit included having an agent from the auditor general's office in the district an average of one day per week, Digon questioned its value.

After the meeting, Russell refused to comment on the allegation against him, saying only, 'It's best to just let it drop.'

However, he stood behind his feelings about the value of the audit.

'We wasted time and money,' Russell said. 'It's not really about the money. But we pay a superintendent to run the school district. When her time is taken away to do something else, then we're cheating the value of what the taxpayers pay for.'

Grebb, meanwhile, said that while he wouldn't comment because the final audit report has not been sent to the district, he does feel the investigation was warranted.

'There were some discrepancies and some funds that were not channeled the right way,' Grebb claimed. 'I won't be satisfied until I get the results and see where the money went.'

Stephens said auditors gave the district a good report.

'They said at the outset that there was no misuse of funds, no misuse of equipment and no misuse of cell phones and no conflict of interest,' she said. 'So we're pleased with the initial results.'

As for the amount of time she spent on the audit, Stephens said it was a necessary evil.

'I don't have anything to hide. I'm really careful about public funds,' she said. 'If they want to come in and check, I'm more than happy to have them do that. It does take away my time from education, but if we needed to do that, I'm OK with it.'.

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