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Chickasha schools shortchanged $2.1 million by county treasurer

Superintendent Jack Herron
Superintendent Jack Herron

Chickasha Public Schools received a check for $2.1 million Monday after Grady County Treasurer Robin Burton acknowledged that a large portion of property tax revenues earmarked for the school district were misdirected into the Grady County General Fund.

“It’s astounding, absolutely astounding,” Superintendent Jack Herron said of the blunder. “You’d have thought someone down at the county would have been watching the county general fund and would have known that they had $2.1 million extra dollars in there.”

Grady County District Attorney Jason Hicks said it so far appears to have been an “inadvertent mistake.”

The superintendent said he’s not yet ready to assume it was just a mistake.

Deputy Treasurer Ruth Bingham has been a vocal critic of the school’s administration, Herron said.

Herron noted that Bingham was the person who signed a document last week acknowledging that more than $2.1 million had been placed in the wrong fund. The admission came after the school district’s chief financial officer went to the treasurer’s office to investigate why the school district’s revenues for November, December and January were so much lower than expected.

Bingham said the misplacement of funds and her criticism of the school administration were not connected.

“No, they’re not,” she said.

She declined to say whether she was involved in the actual misdirection of funds, referring those questions to the district attorney.

“How it happened is a little unclear,” the district attorney said, adding that state auditors have been called in to investigate.

Hicks said he is hopeful auditors will be able to determine why it happened and recommend internal controls to prevent a recurrence.

Herron said he would like auditors to examine the county treasurer’s handling of all Chickasha school district funds for several years to make sure no other funds were misdirected. Last June there was less money in the school district’s sinking fund than expected, he noted.

Interest that the school district could have earned on the misdirected money also is an issue, Herron said. The superintendent said he’s been told the district could have earned as much as $80,000.

“That would buy us a bus,” he said.

This is the second time in less than two months that major errors have been discovered in Grady County that resulted in large amounts of public funds being misdirected over lengthy periods of time.

In January, a state investigative audit revealed that Grady County elected officials had been paid more than $727,000 above the amount allowed by law over a 10-year period.

“This really looks bad,” Hicks said he told county officials.

“There’s nothing in statutes that requires those county officials to look at their books on a monthly basis, which just blows my mind,” Hicks said. “They ought to be looking at it every month, not every now and then. Maybe this is something that the Legislature and Gov. (Kevin) Stitt need to be looking at. If you want accountability, you can put some procedures in place so you have some accountability.”

Hicks said one thing lawmakers could do is require county financial records to be put online so they could be seen by anybody at any time.

Herron said the latest foul up was discovered after he and his staff became concerned about monthly revenues falling far short of the amount expected.

Normally November, December and January are big months for tax collections, because the first half of people’s property taxes are due by Dec. 31.

“If you’re a school superintendent, you’re constantly watching your collections,” Herron said. “In Oklahoma, you don’t know for sure whether all the money will come in or not. We watch the collections constantly to help us manage our cash flow.”

Hicks said as far as he knows, the Chickasha School District is the only district in the county that failed to receive the proper allotment of funds.

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<strong>Superintendent Jack Herron</strong>

Superintendent Jack Herron

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d7932d809390a2eb0e65143bd77123f9.jpg" alt="Photo - Superintendent Jack Herron " title=" Superintendent Jack Herron "><figcaption> Superintendent Jack Herron </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-66d91d1bdf891b5d97954a6283cd3c7c.jpg" alt="Photo - Superintendent Jack Herron " title=" Superintendent Jack Herron "><figcaption> Superintendent Jack Herron </figcaption></figure>
Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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