For Immediate Release: Wednesday, June 3, 2020
(FRANKFORT, Ky) – The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s first and only free-market think tank, is calling for an independent Citizens’ Advisory Group on Public School Finance in light of a recent guilty plea in federal court by former Franklin County Schools’ (FCS) finance director Lesley Wade.
“The fact that a former finance director of a school district can embezzle $1.6 million from taxpayers during the better part of a decade before finally being stopped points to the dire need for greater financial accountability for Kentucky’s public education system,” said Bluegrass Institute President and CEO Jim Waters. “Clearly, current safeguards are woefully inadequate to protect the massive amounts of money taxpayers provide to the state’s public school system.”
To further compound matters, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), which Gov. Andy Beshear appointed after illegally removing former members in his first official act after taking office, in one of its first actions eliminated its own Finance Committee, which the previous board had specifically created to provide more attention to fiscal transparency and accounting.
“During my time on the board, one of our high priority initiatives was to more closely monitor the financial condition of schools and to present the data in ways easily understood by citizens, parents and taxpayers,” said former Bluegrass Institute chairwoman Kathy Gornik of Lexington, who was appointed to the now-removed KBE in April 2018.
Many unanswered questions exist about how Wade was able to grab money by stealing from the school district, including laundering funds through the account of a Frankfort church where she was treasurer:
- What financial controls were in place?
- Were two signatures required for signing checks?
- Why did the school district’s annual audits fail to identify Wade’s theft?
- Why, as acknowledged by FCS Superintendent Mark Kopp, don’t auditors of school-district finances review all checks issued and look for fraud?
The current, limited annual audits provide no protection for students and taxpayers from financial malfeasance committed by local school officials like Wade and others in recent years, including:
- Benita Anglin, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for stealing nearly $600,000 while payroll manager of Shelby County Schools;
- Former Superintendent William “Gary” Rye, who went to federal prison after State Auditor Adam Edelen found he embezzled nearly a half-million dollars from the Dayton Independent Schools;
- Former Warren County Schools’ Superintendent Randy Kimbrough, who received a two-year prison term for embezzling more than a half-million dollars as the Kentucky Department of Education’s top finance official;
- Kimbrough’s husband, Jesse Kimbrough, a former principal at a Bowling Green elementary school, was indicted for mail fraud related to charges that he received $175,000 for undocumented work from a local educational development cooperative; and
- Former Superintendent Tim Moore was given two years’ probation and ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution to Mason County Schools after pleading guilty to improper spending.
“If this level of fraudulent activity had occurred in a private school, the viability of that school would have been called into question,” Gornik said. “One should hope that such accountability is also applied to public schools since this isn’t only stealing from taxpayers but also robbing needed resources for the education of our children.”
The Bluegrass Institute is calling on the legislature to establish an independent body and give it access to education-spending data at the state and local level to improve fiscal transparency and implement safeguards making it more difficult for embezzlers to drain precious resources from local school districts.
“More than 40 cents of every tax dollar is spent on K-12 public education in Kentucky, yet you would never know it’s the largest single area of spending in our state budget by the lack of oversight and controls,” Waters said. “The institute will work with Ms. Gornik and other reform-minded leaders across the commonwealth to address the theft of our public dollars, increasing accountability for them and creating a higher priority regarding their oversight for our commonwealth’s education and political leadership.”
For more information, please contact Jim Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).