The Catoosa School Board has called for an outside audit of the 2005-06 school year based on the recommendation of Superintendent Larry Cale.

“I think it’s important that we get a third party,” said Cale. “Things aren’t adding up.”

The Board approved a contract with William R. White, Ed.D., as a consultant “for the purpose of review of the district’s financial records.”

According to the contract, White will “review all current and historical financial records of the District... to 1) determine the current financial status of the District; 2) determine any procedures or practices that led to the current financial status; 3) determine if any actions of the district are in violation of any Oklahoma State Department of Education rules and regulations related to financial procedures; and 4) make any appropriate recommendations necessary for the District to return to stable financial status.”

School officials hope to have answers by the end of the month.

The recent departure of Financial Director Tom Pickens and the impending exit of Superintendent Larry Cale prompted questions about the handling of school funds.

Pickens said last week that he had known it would be a tight year, but when he left the district in December, Catoosa was operating in the black. Pickens currently works for Claremore Public Schools as financial director.

Assistant Vice Superintendent and Director of Curriculum Mitch McGehee said that Catoosa did not replace Pickens in order to save the district that salary. When Pickens left, McGehee was asked to share part of the load created by the financial director’s absence. McGehee and Cale arranged for a mid-year audit by Wilson Dotson in order to establish the school’s financial standing. The firm has worked with Catoosa schools for a number of years.

“We had a meeting with the auditor who showed us the numbers,” said McGehee. “We could see we probably were not going to make ends meet.”

People addressing the board had questions about various funds and where money had gone.

School Board President Jeff Conklin told the public, “We spent the money where we said we were going to spend the money.”

Conklin is a certified public accountant with an accounting firm in Tulsa, Conklin, Gilpin and Associates, PC.

Catoosa added all day kindergarten this year which meant employing five new teachers — an extra drain as state funding problems did not account for new teachers after the $3,000 pay raise.

“We were told we had the money,” said Conklin.

“The problem that Catoosa is facing is much greater than all day kindergarten and teacher pay raises,” said State House Representative David Derby (R). “The Catoosa school district depleted their fund balance that usually takes over in the case of shortfalls.”

Derby said that the legislature is currently “in negotiations” to fund state education shortfalls plaguing the recent teacher pay raise and benefits.

“There were problems at Catoosa schools a couple of years ago that should have thrown up red flags,” said Derby.

School officials are not pointing any fingers. McGehee said that three different superintendents and financial directors have met with money problems while at Catoosa despite being successful elsewhere. Like everyone else, he wants to know what created the problem and how it can be solved.