HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Michelle Watkins, a Huntsville City Schools Board of Education member, sent a letter to Eric Mackey, the State Superintendent of Education. She wants him to provide for a state audit of the district's financial situation.
This comes after news of a budget shortfall as the district approaches an important threshold. At its last meeting, Bob Hagood, the Deputy Superintendent of Finance, said the district was in danger of going under one month's operating budget reserve. It could mean disaster, board members learned.
Now, Watkins is asking Mackey to step in to "provide emergency insight on Huntsville City Schools financial status."
"Since the start of my term, I have publicly suggested, requested and demanded an independent forensic audit of all contracts and fiscal affairs. However, my reasonable, public and professional request (sic) have been ignored which has left me no other choice but to respectfully request your immediate support in a state audit of Huntsville City Schools finances," she wrote.
Watkins gives multiple reasons for her request for an audit:
- Revenue projections that were more than the money the district received
- Concerns that land transactions were not properly done
- "Potential violations" of bid laws on several contracts: Appleton, Information Technology Services, and Pinnacle Schools
- Increases in instructional support services
- Construction expenditures on new and improved schools
We talked to Watkins about why she decided to go to the state for the audit, which she has repeatedly asked for.
"It hadn't been addressed," she said of her requests, "and now it's time for it to be addressed." She added, "I just felt it's time for someone to step in and figure out what happened to our finances."
Watkins said the budget shortfall is disturbing to her.
"I'm concerned that taxpayers dollars were not utilized effectively," she said. "We knew the money wasn't there like we had been told it was there. I guess what really boggles my mind is the contracts. The contracts have me worried, the way they were awarded. Some of them were 'no bid,' which goes against our No Bid law in Alabama. So someone needs to come in and find out were things done correctly? If they were done correctly, why were the markups on some of these positions so high?"
Watkins said she wants to find out what was done incorrectly.
"If people owe us money, I want them to pay. I think the biggest issue is, we're in an education system and I want to make sure that those contracts touched instruction. Did the kids benefit from those contracts?" she asked. "There's too many unanswered questions."
Watkins said she is also concerned that some of the blame is about to be laid upon the current financial officer, Bob Hagood. She doesn't think that's right.
"Well, he inherited this. This happened before him. These contracts were handed out before him. A lot of these deals that were made, were done before him. So let's not try to blame the person who is currently on board. So let's find out: who did what, when did they do it and lie the blame there," she stated.
She sent the letter as an individual board member, and not on behalf of the entire board Watkins said. She wanted to be clear that she was not doing it to rock the boat or call anyone out. She believes all can benefit from having the right information about what's going on.
"If there's nothing wrong and everything has been done by the book, let's do a public audit and let the public know we did our finances correctly. If we didn't, let's understand what was done wrong and let's move forward," she stated.
Watkins added she is also forming a budget committee to watch the district's finances in the future. She said anyone who is interested in being a part of it can email her, but she plans to keep it small. Her plan is to fill it with "key players within the community" and parents.
"No one that has ulterior motives," she said. "Just want to come in and make sure the finances are sound and that we are addressing the needs of the students."