ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – The Missouri State Auditor announced that he is opening an audit of the Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County.
Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick said he heard from the public, as well as from a member of the Francis Howell school board and state legislators, asking him to investigate.
It all started when the construction of Francis Howell North High School, which was supposed to cost $86 million, instead cost $164 million.
The school district released an internal audit of its spending. It concluded that a lot of procedures were violated, and costly additions were made to the project without the proper approval of the school board.
“Well, just in general, when you have a member of the board of education that is interested in having the state come in, that’s a big step,” Fitzpatrick said. “We try to look at factors, and one of the ones we already know about is the amount over budget that the high school project went, and that can lead to other concerns about internal controls and management effectiveness and efficiency.”
He said the state audit has a lot of advantages for taxpayers.
“One big difference is that obviously, they were the client in that audit; they paid somebody to come and conduct that audit,” Fitzpatrick said. “Whereas, the audit that we’ll perform will be totally independent. They did not ask us to come; we’re coming on our own. We’re doing this on behalf of taxpayers as opposed to on behalf of the district being paid to do the audit.”
State Representative Phil Christofanelli is one of the lawmakers who wrote the auditor, asking him to investigate.
“I received a number of concerning messages from parents in the Francis Howell School District, particularly as it relates to funds that were spent in the passage of Proposition S,” Christofanelli said. “We want answers, we want to figure out where in the process things went wrong so that we can make sure that in the future these types of coverages of tax dollars don’t happen again.”
The Francis Howell Families group has been fighting the school administration over spending for years. This past election, they ran a slate of candidates for the school board, and all of them won. The head of the group, Ken Gontarz, said he was glad to see the state auditor coming in.
“We had a $79 million overrun; we could have built another school for that,” Gontarz said. “So for the $79 million, we still have a lot of things that will have to be done in the school district.”
The auditor’s office said it will pay the $60,000 to $70,000 cost of the audit. It will be finished later this year or next year.
A spokesperson from the Francis Howell School District released the following statement about the state auditor:
“We are aware of the state auditor’s intent, and as we’ve shared previously, we welcome this external review of district finances.”