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Letter: Failure at three distinct levels

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By Bill Norton

The finding of the State Auditor that Mora School District misspent some $64,000 is obviously appalling.  Worse yet, it indicates that the system of governance used by Mora must have failed three times simultaneously in order for this to have happened.

The first failure was of the district administration. From reports, at least three administrators variously requested and/or approved improper fund transfers, improper spending, and/or failed to expend specific purpose funds in a timely manner.  Professional educational administrators should simply know better.  A single occasional mistake is understandable, but such a wide-ranging series of errors?Criminal charges are apparently winding their way through the system. One would hope that parallel civil charges will be brought by taxpayers and parents to assure that those found guilty will also be held personally financially responsible for their malfeasance.  The district cannot afford the loss of $64,000 in diverted funds.

The second failure was of adequate board oversight. Since the board approves all expenditures, it is manifest that they did not do a proper job. There could have been several reasons. First, they might have detrimentally relied on the administration’s recommendations and assurances. Second, they might not have understood what they were approving. Either way, those who voted for these expenditures neglected their sworn fiduciary duties. While the district administration typically trains board members as to those duties, it is ultimately the responsibility of those elected to both research and understand their duties and to only vote on items that they fully understand and personally approve of.

 (Side note to all elected board members anywhere: Elected public service requires a major commitment of time and effort that is disproportional to any tangible benefits received. You take on this duty for which you can be held liable as a fiduciary as a public service. You may want to assure yourself that the organization provides you with directors’ liability insurance — but even this will not cover your personal financial exposure if you are negligent in your duties.)

The third failure was that of the state politicians. How could they ethically, in good conscious, and while complying with political contribution laws, take gifts from another public agency — particularly if that agency’s funding is under their auspices? Note that at least one of the named politicos did return the gift when he belatedly learned the source.

All of this may be complicated by a couple of other issues. Two or three years ago Mora School District (if my memory serves me) got caught funding questionable travel expenses of a since-departed administrator to attend weeks of state legislative sessions not specifically relating to district business. This should have heightened the awareness of both district administrators and the board as to the need of greater scrutiny. Moreover, it seems that at least some of the state legislators named as gift recipients were mentioned and/or involved in some Las Vegas school districts’ shenanigans.  Since these politicos are supposed to be advocating their constituents’ school districts needs simply as part of their elected duties, it leads one to wonder if there are pay-to-play or other unstated conditions that exist.  If not, if all that is happening is conveying the district’s needs, then why not simply invite the state representatives to an open, public board meeting?

Citizens of Mora, these are your elected representatives, or the administrators they hired. Get involved. Make sure they correctly and ethically do the job you elected them to do. Citizens elsewhere, can we learn from Mora before we find ourselves in similar situations?

Bill Norton

Las Vegas