WTVQ-36 in Lexington reports that former Franklin County school district finance employee Lesley Wade has now been sentenced to five years in federal prison for the embezzlement of $1.6 million over the period from 2011 to 2019.
The case raises several points that Kentucky’s legislators need to consider.
1) Wade was not tripped up by any of the standard annual audits required to be conducted by Franklin County Schools. Instead, she was identified to the FBI after she negotiated a suspiciously large check at a credit union. That launched a combined FBI and IRS investigation that led to today’s sentence. The point is that the regular audits required for Kentucky’s schools do not provide adequate protection from such criminal activity.
Wade is far from the first example of the inadequacy of the annual district audits, as well. The Bluegrass Institute has cited other examples such as in the Dayton Independent School District where former superintendent Gary Rye made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars over an eight-year period before getting caught in 2014. We also noted serious misappropriations in Mason County and in Shelby County. None of these other cases were discovered through the standard audits, either. All were only discovered following special, not standard, audits by the Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts.
So, it’s clear that taxpayer dollars in our school systems need more protection beyond what is currently offered by the standard audit process.
2) As we have discussed before, there is a serious lack of adequate public financial information about our schools. This is particularly noteworthy at the school level, where recent attempts to improve financial transparency in response to new requirements in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act have so far proved highly disappointing.
The initial attempts at school level reporting were dubious, as we have discussed before.
And, the current school-level financial reporting in the Kentucky School Report Cards system is even more problematic. Here is just one outrageous example taken from the Paris Middle School report card.
How this obviously incorrect school-level funding amount of over $1.3 million per student even got posted is beyond me. And, as we will shortly show in a forthcoming report, this is far from the only example of nonsense in the new school level data.
Also, this obvious mistake was pointed out to the Kentucky Department of Education over three months ago and it still hasn’t been corrected or at least removed from the report card as of the posting of this blog.
Certainly, if taxpayers can’t even determine with any confidence the total amounts of spending in each Kentucky school, the chance to catch inappropriate activities is that much further reduced.
So, it appears that the legislators need to get involved to make the reporting of school finances more transparent since after five years of legal requirements from Washington, it still isn’t happening.