Two Maywood school board members are targets of a recall petition drive by taxpayers who say the board has failed to control spending at the school.
The Maywood board came under scrutiny in early August by the Nebraska state auditor, who noted that the board did not approve nearly $25,000 that was spent to remodel Superintendent Mike Williams’ house.
Petitions are drawn for the recall of two board members, said Tim Wolfe of Wellfleet. Wolfe, a leading critic of the board, said the petitions would probably be circulated after the Labor Day weekend.
Not signing checks
That trouble started last fall, after the board authorized $12,000 to repair the basement of the superintendent’s house, which suffered water damage. But work on the house continued to the tune of another $24,000 on remodeling.
At the request of taxpayers, the Nebraska State Auditor took a look at the situation in July and found that the “board president is not signing all checks issued by the school, as required by state statute,” State Auditor Mike Foley said in a letter to board president Lyle Koester.
“Instead, various school officials – including the school’s superintendent, the board treasurer, and the administrative assistant – have been allowed to serve as the sole signatory authorities.” Foley said.
After the water damage was repaired and new sump pumps were installed, the project mushroomed in to a complete remodeling of the basement, with new carpets, new ceilings, new electrical and plumbing fixtures, including installation a new shower, Wolfe said.
The work was done by Tim Frick, who lives with school board member Donita Werkmeister.
Wolfe believes Frick has been less than frugal with the school’s money. And, he installed electrical wiring without a license.
School records show the overall cost of renovations has grown to $36,000, with $14,000 going directly to Frick.
Frick charged the school district $45 an hour (plus 5% for miscellaneous expenses) for shopping trips to Menards, Wolfe said in a presentation to the board.
The state auditor found that checks were written without proper documentation from petty cash. Petty cash expenditures have been substantial, and reached $8,000 during February. More than $5,000 of that amount was for the superintendent’s house, school records show.
The state auditor said that Koester gave Williams verbal permission to negotiate – without any board oversight or approval – with builders and other workers.
Wolfe said he found out about the renovation on the superintendent’s house at a board meeting that he was attending because he and some other parents thought administrators were not disciplining some students properly.
He said someone made a comment about the renovations to the house at the board meeting, and he started checking the public records.
He said it’s been a challenging few months. Repeated requests to put the issue on the formal agenda have been fruitless, because Williams turned them down.
He’s glad that the state auditor’s office took a look at the records.
“We weren’t getting anywhere until they got involved,” he said.
The lack of documentation, the lack of attempt to obtain bids and the lack of public discussion by the board regarding the remodeling “may strike concerned citizens as being indicative of inadequate governmental transparency and accountability,” the auditor said in a 10-page report to Koester.
The auditor recommended the board fulfill its policy of purchasing competitively.
Wolfe said the remodeling added insult to injury, because Williams lives in the house at no charge. The district also pays utility bills. Meanwhile, taxpayers have put off remodeling their own houses, in part to pay their property tax bills.
Wolfe said parents are concerned with favoritism in the schools and he said the school’s NeSa (Nebraska State Accountability) test scores, which show academic performance, are not what they should be. Wolfe has asked the board to fire Williams, but the board did not.
Wolfe said petitions will seek to recall two board members – Werkmeister and David Dodson.
The minutes of the August Maywood school board meeting have not been published on the school’s website, but the minutes of the July 8 meeting show that several people addressed the board during the public comment period.
They primarily talked about bullying and the remodeling project.
The section under public comments says:
“Annette Wood addressed the board with questions concerning the student handbook. Judy Schultz commented on graduation requirements and scheduling. Shawn Moore addressed the board about personnel concerns. Jennifer Schmidt commented on personnel concerns and bullying. Tim Wolfe addressed the board about violations of board policies and requested the board terminate Superintendent Williams’ employment. Chuck Littell commented on the remodeling of the superintendent’s house and hiring of staff. Cheryl Aupperle addressed the board with concerns over the board not listening to patrons’ comments and concerns about bullying. Rebecca Meyer asked questions about the remodeling of the superintendent’s house. Brandi Schleeman commented on the lack of professionalism of Superintendent Williams and other staff members. Chris Dodson expressed concerns over the prom dress code. Carole Wood commented on student bullying. Jeri Phillips commented on student bullying. Dawan Dibbern commented on student bullying and lack of communication from Superintendent Williams to parents."