Commentary: History shows fiscal deficiencies of V’ACTE come as no surprise

This past week’s damning draft audit of the fiscal practices of the Valley Academy of Career and Technical Education hardly come as a surprise.

The new audit firm that conducted the 2015-2016 financial audit for V’ACTE pointed out 47 negative findings. The draft audit by Heinfeld, Meech and Company reported V’ACTE “lacked adequate internal controls over processes for cash, capital assets, disbursements, payroll, and accounting records.”

It further noted that V’ACTE was in “substantial noncompliance” with the guidelines required by the Uniform System of Financial Records.

A lot of folks today no doubt will be saying, “I told you so.”

A look at the history of V’ACTE shows almost from its inception, there was a lack of trust between the tech-ed school district and its working partners.

In December 2005, superintendents and school board members from V’ACTE’s affiliate districts balked on an intergovernmental agreement with the tech-ed because of what they claimed were inflated administrative costs.

The sticking point was a 40-percent allocation of the total budget for administrative costs for V’ACTE as compared to an approximately 13-percent average for the Mingus, Camp Verde and Sedona-Red Rock districts. The three high schools argued there needs to be more emphasis on student needs and less administration for V’ACTE.

“Very few V’ACTE dollars are spent directly on CTE students,” a position paper compiled by the three high school districts stated. All three high school districts were in unanimous agreement that the 40-percent allocation of VACTE’s $1.4 million budget for administration was extravagant and an insult to the taxpayers who authorized formation of the district.

Fast forward to April of 2007: New Board Member Kerrie Bluff began her service with V’ACTE by questioning the need for a curriculum development specialist for the district when the current administration should be able to handle those duties.

Bluff described the V’ACTE administrative travel budget as “pretty cushy.” She chastised the all-men’s club that made up the rest of the V’ACTE board for not even questioning line items within the administration’s budget.

Then, jumping ahead to April 2016, new Camp Verde District Superintendent Dennis Goodwin echoed the message first voiced about V’ACTE 12 years earlier. He said at the time, “If V’ACTE does not begin to provide better support for our district, we will begin to evaluate asking the voters of our district to allow [Camp Verde Unified School District] to change our JTED from V’ACTE to Mountain Institute JTED.”

And let’s not forget the curious happenings within V’ACTE when former superintendent Lois Lamer abruptly resigned last year. Minutes and public records previously posted on the district web site suddenly disappeared.

At the time, Verde Valley education watchdog Linda Buchanan noted in a Letter to the Editor that “Per V’ACTE’s own policy (and state law), meeting agendas and minutes should be posted online. When this commitment isn’t honored, it’s challenging for the public to be informed … This is a good time for the Board to forensically examine V’ACTE reporting and accounting practices.”

It bears emphasis that the past week’s revelations about V’ACTE’s fiscal policies come after the organization brought in new leadership at both the administrative and elective levels.

V’ACTE has a capable new superintendent in Bob Weir. Board President Frank Vander Horst is in his first year of service as is Board Member Jeff Wassel, and Board Member Steve Pike has served for less than two years. The future of V’ACTE is in some very good hands.

The look back into V’ACTE’s rear-view mirror, though, is troubling. As Linda Buchanan wisely suggested, there needs to be a thorough forensic examination of the reporting and accounting practices of the organization.

There must be accountability.

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