Where did the money go?

For more than a year, Madison School Board member Lucy Mathiak has been asking Madison school district officials for a precise, up-to-date summary of how $26.2 million in 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent over the last five years.

She's still waiting, but her patience is wearing out.

Now the sharp-tongued budget hawk says she may ask the school board as early as Monday night to authorize an outside audit that would identify how the money approved by taxpayers in 2005 for repairs and maintenance of dozens of the district's aging buildings was actually spent between 2005 and fall of 2009.

"We need to have a serious, credible accounting for where the money went from the last referendum, and I haven't seen that yet," Mathiak told The Capital Times. "I'm ready to ask for an audit, and I think there are other board members who are equally concerned."

School Board member Maya Cole shares Mathiak's frustrations and says she also would favor asking for an outside audit. Maintenance costs for the school district's 50 buildings first hit the news earlier this month when Durrant Engineering released a report predicting that the school district faced about $86 million in maintenance costs over the next decade.

When reached for comment Sunday night, Superintendent Dan Nerad said it was his understanding that district financial director Erik Kass had maintenance expenditure information from this year and last year "readily available" but that complete records from the first three years of the referendum spending program would need to be "reconstructed" by Kass' staff. Nerad said he believed that task was underway but wanted to talk with Kass before commenting on why reconstructing the records was necessary or when that task might be complete.

Late Monday morning Kass and Nerad provided an update on what Kass' staff was doing to provide the complete information regarding the 2005 maintenance referendum and where funds were spent during the first three years the money was available.

"What's being done, actually, is to reorganize data, based on a new system that was put in place in 2008," Nerad explained. Nerad and Kass began their duties at the reins of the district in July of 2008; Kass began using the new Fund 41 system for tracking capital expenditures in the fall of that year.

According to Kass, earlier records on capital expenses were filed using a different format and his staff is now updating information from 2005-2006, 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 using the new system. He said the complete information on original, estimated budgets versus actual costs would be available by the end of this week.

Mathiak says she asked for details about the status of referendum-financed projects during a March 2009 meeting of the board's operations committee, and had been assured at that time that Kass and building services director Doug Pearson would compile a report including actual budgets associated with project costs.

According to minutes from the meeting, the report would describe what projects were originally scheduled for completion using referendum money, and, if projects were not completed, why they did not get done at the appropriate time.

The minutes also describe the report as the "first step of a multi-step process," and required that follow-up be completed describing the criteria used to decide which projects were completed and which were not.

Pearson is currently on administrative leave. Nerad said he could not provide any further information at this time about when or if the building services director would be returning to work.

Mathiak and other board members say knowing how the referendum money was spent is a critical matter of public record and credibility. It will also form the basis for any future budget planning for maintenance.

On Friday. The Capital Times requested the complete list of 2005 referendum projects, their projected budgets, actual budgets and current status but has not yet received the information.

At the school board's April 5 meeting, Nerad and Kass provided 22 pages outlining 2005 referendum projects. That data includes original, estimated budgets but does not provide information regarding who the contractor was or how much they actually cost.

Mathiak noted that in the past information regarding how the building maintenance referendum money was spent and the status of various large scale projects was included on the district's website. It is no longer posted on the website.

 

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