The leaders of a legislative committee that’s been investigating alleged financial misdeeds at the Iowa Association of School Boards are expressing frustration with the group.
“We have not seen critical changes made by the school board association that show Iowans this organization fully appreciates the mismanagement, misuse of taxpayer dollars and culture of ineptitude that allowed many of these practices to happen this past year and in prior years,” says Senator Rich Olive, a Democrat from Story City who is co-chair of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.
The oversight panel opening a hearing this morning at the statehouse to continue its probe of the Iowa Association of School Board. During an opening statement, Olive questioned why the man who’d been treasurer last year was recently reelected to that position by the association’s board of directors.
“This was the same person that was the school board treasurer last year when many of these problems started,” Olive said. “The school board association members gave testimony before the committee in March that they weren’t to blame for their lack of oversight because they weren’t getting financial statements last year, yet they reappoint the person who failed to do so.”
According to Olive, Iowans “deserve the truth” about how the association spent “every penny” of the tax dollars it received. And Olive said he’s “amazed at the gall” of association members who’ve complained about the inconvenience of publicly revealing the group’s finances.
“We are concerned that the board culture that contributed to the Iowa school board association’s problems over this last year persists,” Olive said. “…Iowa taxpayers deserve answers. They deserve accountability and, most of all, they deserve the truth.”
Representative Vicki Lensing, a Democrat from Iowa City — the other co-chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee, said she’s “equally frustrated” Iowa Association of School Boards officials are complaining about the inconveninence of testifying before the panel.
“Our hearings are about accountability,” Lensing said. “We have to be accountable to our citizens — financially, legislatively, policy-wise. And I would think the Iowa school board association would also feel that they need to be accountable because they need to remember where the dollars for their association comes from.”
Representative Ralph Watts, a Republican from Adel, said legislators have resolved to get to the bottom of the problem and will continue their probe of the Iowa Association of School Boards.
The group’s new executive director was fired nearly a year ago after revelations she had significantly increased her own salary without board approval. In addition, some of the association’s full-time staff were using association credit cards for personal use, like a trip to Bora Bora.
The interim leader of the Iowa Association of School Boards told legislators the organization will work as long as it takes to repair the group’s damaged reputation. Veronica Stalker, the recently-hired executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, defended the group’s response to the pay scandal and other questionable financial dealings.
“We are taking this extremely seriously,” she said. “Everything you are asking of us we are willing and ready to comply — not because you’re asking, but because the ethics and the integrity of our association have been called into question.”
Stalker said the organization’s 64-year history of “outstanding service” had been squandered by “one year” of questionable activities. According to Stalker, the association is trying to “go overboard” and make its operations public.
“So that’s my committment to you is that we’re open, we’re responsive,” she said. “That whatever you need is available to you.”
Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield, suggested the association’s auditors should have gone to the police or federal authorities nearly a year ago with information about the group’s previous managers.
“It’s apparent sitting here that Maxine Kilcrease and Kevin Schick has been running some type of a criminal enterprise, really” Baudler said during today’s hearing, “…including stone-walling, in-your-face and email threats, check kiting and forgery, in my opinion.”
Legislators also criticized some of the group’s board of directors for complaining about the time it has taken to compile information for the statehouse hearings about the Iowa Association of School Boards finances.
“I hope that everyone at this table understands that this is all taxpayer money — every red cent,” said Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington. “…If the organization or a former legislator on the board doesn’t like (our investigation)…I couldn’t care less…We’re going to keep trying until we get to the bottom of this.”
Another legislator questioned why the association’s board — made up of school board members — doesn’t seem to be “outraged” by the financial problems that have been disclosed in the past year.
(This story was updated at 1:45 p.m.)