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Audit uncovers financial troubles in Garfield County School District

Garfield County School District has been hand-writing checks, overpaying administrators and over-reporting travel, according to a state audit released last week.

The audit, which began after allegations of improper cash-disbursement transactions were brought to light, identified several financial concerns within the district, including $125,000 in potentially fraudulent payments made to the former business administrator and to the current superintendent, who has been on paid leave since July.

A portion of the payments, made over the past four years, have been reimbursed to the district. But the audit report pointed out that inadequate internal control procedures still exist, allowing for the possibility of further mistakes.

"The serious lack of internal control procedures including the lack of separation of duties, ineffective bank reconciliations, improper contracting procedures, inadequate accounting policies, lack of documentation and approval of expenditures, and expenditures not being entered in the accounting system, allowed these inappropriate disbursements to occur and go undetected," the report states.

Included in the findings is evidence that the district also violated Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act, while not recording all meetings and holding several closed meetings for improper reasons not associated with personnel.

Justin Baugh, former district administrator, who has only ever been charged with traffic violations, resigned from his position in Garfield County to take a job as assistant director of accounting, budgeting and auditing with the Canyons School District last spring. He no longer fills that position, as he resigned from the Canyons district in August. A copy of the recent audit was forwarded to the Garfield County Attorney's office, which was already investigating Baugh and had seized his computer's hard drive as evidence.

As of Friday, no criminal charges had been filed.

Garfield Superintendent George Park contests the allegations in a letter written in response to the audit. He claims his contract and pay schedule were negotiated and signed prior to when the "questionable" transactions were made. The audit report states a dearth of evidence for various contracts within the district, as well as for travel records and vacation requests.

Park claims he was unaware of changes made to Baugh's contract, involving extended health care coverage for Baugh, his wife and their special needs child, after termination of employment.

A district spokesman could not be reached for comment, but the audit follows an increasingly difficult time for the district, which has already cut five days from the school year in order to save money.

District officials agreed with all 15 material and significant weaknesses found in the audit and mentioned they may seek reimbursement of any questionable payments that they determine to be improper, as stated in the report.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com