Nearly $4.2 Million Stolen from Cuyahoga Heights Schools
Nearly $4.2 million was stolen from the Cuyahoga Heights School District by a former IT director according to a special audit of the district released by Auditor of State Dave Yost.
In February 2011, a Cuyahoga Heights School Board member contacted the Auditor of State’s office to express concerns over district IT purchases. Auditor of State staff also met with the district’s treasurer, who expressed similar concerns. A preliminary examination of records was conducted and reviewed by the Auditor of State’s Special Audit Task Force. The special audit was launched on March 1, 2011.
A full copy of this special audit may be seen here
Probing Ohio School Board Member Says Concentrated Power, Secrecy Led to Massive Embezzlement in Cuyahoga Heights
Embezzlement doesn’t happen by accident, particularly in a small school district where many people have been working together for years. It’s fostered by a culture of concentrated power, secrecy and financial negligence, sometimes dating back years.
And it becomes more likely when concerned school board members are kept out of the loop and told to mind their own business, even though they are elected to help govern the school district.
“When I joined the board, the former superintendent suggested I join the dress code committee, but I asked for an appointment to the financial committee,” Dr. Holly Thacker, a school board member who continued to ask questions said. “I knew we were going to have to go for a (property tax) levy soon, and I was disappointed that there had not been regular finance committee meetings. “I felt I wasn’t getting the information pertaining to financial questions I had. I was told that schools don’t budget like businesses."
In January 2011 Thacker authored two new policies that were adopted by the school board. One required all expenditures over $5,000 to have prior approval of the board. The other required school personnel making purchases to disclose any personal connections they may have with vendors. IT director Palazzo responded by disclosing that two of the vendors receiving school district money were owned by his brother.
“I think there is a big, huge concern when nobody is looking at what’s going on,” Thacker said. “It’s ripe for problems. I remember sitting there in utter disbelief at the retirement party for our former superintendent. One board member was gushing about how wonderful it was to work for him. He didn’t work for him. The superintendent works for the board.
“Boards have to be involved. You can’t take things at face value, and you can’t be deterred when you’re accused of micromanaging. The board should be the boss. There has to be checks and balances.” full article here
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