The recent State Board of Accounts audit of Valparaiso Community Schools is very revealing, showing a number of administrative procedural issues must be dealt with.
Much of the criticism focused on the purchase of a $199,176 JumboTron -- installation was another $123,041 -- for the Valparaiso High School football field. The board did not approve the purchase.
Buying the electronic sign was probably a good idea and should pay for itself within a few years. In just its first football season last fall, the district generated $85,000 in advertising revenue for the athletic department, Superintendent Andrew Melin said. But anything that expensive should have gone to the School Board for approval.
Melin, along with School Board Vice President Brigid McLinn and member James Jorgensen, addressed the audit in a news conference Monday.
As soon as the report was given to school officials last year, Melin said, he has talked to all administrators and told them all purchases of at least $50,000 must be approved by the School Board. But the board has yet to put that policy in writing.
The agency had other criticism as well:
• Building principals didn't sign the student population forms for the average daily membership counts the state uses to determine state funding.
• There is no written policy on the use of district credit cards.
• Money set aside for capital projects was used for maintenance employee payments.
• The district used capital projects money and federal Title I funding to buy 35 $100 gift cards and one $340 gift card from Best Buy and failed to name the recipients or document the purpose.
The audit also said, "Uniform Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statements were not filed with the State Board of Accounts as required by statute. Such statements were not located for audit for at least two board members for which a pecuniary interest may exist. One board member's spouse is employed as a trust officer that administers the School Corporation's self-insurance and pension funds. Another board member owns a company that has done business with the corporation."
This audit provides further evidence that the Valparaiso School Board should be elected rather than appointed. With the current appointed board, accountability is diluted.
In November, the voters in East Chicago will elect school board members, leaving Valparaiso as the last school district in Northwest Indiana to have an appointed board.
Asking the appointing agencies to hold the board members accountable isn't good enough. Give that power directly to the voters.
Valparaiso residents should take their concerns to their state legislators. This being an election year for state lawmakers, if not for Valparaiso School Board members, it is a good time to ask all of the legislative candidates whether they would pursue legislation in favor of an elected board.
Considering public education is one of the most expensive government services, and one most people consider among the most important, the public should determine who oversees that unit of government.