St. John president believes new issue is not serious

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE-A recent audit of the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board showed evidence of poor documentation of expenses on Superintendent Michael Coburn’s part, but no evidence of any intentional wrongdoing.

In the midst of a contract renegotiation for Coburn with the School Board, questions arose as to whether there was some connection between the two.

However school officials on Tuesday said the audit information, and the current matter trying to negotiate Coburn’s renewal, had nothing to do with each other.

The audit, done by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office came in response to an anonymous complaint, which some in the board believe may have come from a disgruntled employee within the school system.

The audit stated that Coburn did turn in documentation for over $40,000 in credit card charges, but officials were not able to locate them.

“The paperwork disappeared in the office, of which there is no explanation.”said Board President Gerald Keller.

Board Member Matthew Ory shares the same opinion on the tip, and said he is not “100%,” but that is what he believes.

Ory said he has even heard his own name as being the one who may have called for the audit.

“That is inaccurate, though,” said Ory, “If it were me, I would have said so.”

According to school board officials, the results of the audit, which also questioned some of the expenses as being inappropriate spending, came as a surprise. The board had been audited last year by the board’s independent accountant, where the results came to “appropriate spending.”

“We had requested our private auditors to look at the expenses when we thought there was a problem and were told everything was fine,” said Margaret Ann Laborde, director of personnel and legal services for the school board.

“The legislative auditor is just more strict and structured.”

According to the audit, the board is “performing most business operations correctly,” but there are areas that need improvement such as cash policy, policy on monthly financial statements,cell phones, and travel.

Corrective measures have already been taken, as the school board introduced new policies on cell phone use and travel expenses at the school board meeting held on Mar. 17.

Keller wrote, in response to the audit, that the school board expects all necessary revisions to be complete by the end of 2005.

“I’m not taking it lightly,” Keller said, “There are some problems to clean up, we’re going to clean them up.”

Though the audit says that two of the board members had not reimbursed $257 as of Jan 6, 2005, Keller believes that everyone has now turned their money in.

Ory said there were some things in the report that were inaccurate.

“They said I owed them $100, but they actually owed me $250 (for mileage),” Ory said, “but I do not submit reimbursement forms, because I don’t ever want it back.

“It’s upsetting to my family when they say I owe $100, and I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on things for the schools.”

Keller said that he does not think this audit relates in any way to Coburn’s recent contract negotiations controversy.

“It is coincidental and unfortunate that this has to be in the paper right now,” said Keller, “but it doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

Also according to the audit, Coburn used his school credit card to purchase over $2,000 in personal items, but Coburn reimbursed the District “in a timely manner.”