Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway today detailed serious mismanagement by the former administration of the Fox School District in the St. Louis area. The district's school board requested a review of operations under former Superintendent Dr. Dianne Critchlow, after concerns were raised about administration spending and improper activities. The audit uncovered thousands of dollars in questionable expenses, including restaurant meals, groceries, gas and electronics, purchased with public dollars.
"We found that the former superintendent used taxpayer dollars to personally benefit herself and a select few individuals close to her," Auditor Galloway said. "With little board oversight, spending practices were irresponsible and, most importantly, undermined the district's focus on education."
Credit card records showed hundreds of purchases that appear to be personal in nature or otherwise inappropriate, without adequate board review and in violation of the district's credit card policy, which only allowed for purchases related to instructional materials, building needs and supplies. Purchases ranged from common items, like coffee, batteries and shampoo to more extravagant ones, like digital cameras, smartphones and logging equipment. Some of the items were ordered online and shipped directly to the superintendent's personal residence. Logging equipment was purchased the same month the superintendent's husband, also a school administrator, filed paperwork to open a land and timber company.
Thousands of dollars were spent on gift cards for places ranging from Buffalo Wild Wings to Best Buy. Dr. Critchlow indicated the gift cards were for needy families, although the district did not operate any formal gift card program, and Fox officials were unable to locate any documentation for card recipients.
Auditors identified other spending concerns, as well. The board received bids for and approved a $34,000 vehicle for the former superintendent to use on official business. However, a different car -- costing $9,000 more -- was purchased without board approval.
The audit also uncovered a series of adjusted contracts and administrator raises based on incorrect and inconsistent application of salary schedules. In some cases, base salaries were increased without board oversight and, too often, adjustments were made without explanation. A number of administrators, including Dr. Critchlow and the district administrator she later married, received inappropriate salary increases that were not approved by the board. Over a two-year period, Dr. Critchlow received approximately $20,000 in compensation not approved by the board. In 3 years, her husband received approximately $9,000 in unapproved compensation, along with $80,000 in additional salary and benefits based on a salary schedule never before used for his position and not approved by the board. Additionally, questionable benefits were bestowed upon other family members and close colleagues of the Critchlows.
"I appreciate that many of the corrective actions made in our audit report are being implemented by the district, but this situation serves as a reminder that the opportunity for abuse and mismanagement exists when there's a lack of oversight and appropriate policy, which is ultimately the responsibility of the board," Auditor Galloway said. "Board officials have a duty to institute policies and procedures to prevent this type of abuse from happening, and to ensure if it does happen, it's identified and corrected immediately."
Because the audit of the Fox School District received an overall performance rating of poor, Auditor Galloway and her team will return to conduct a follow-up review. The follow-up will focus on whether all appropriate actions have been taken to improve district policy, increase board oversight, and prevent or limit the opportunity for inappropriate activity and misconduct in order to better serve the students and families of the Fox School District.
A copy of the audit report is available here.