School

School Board Comments on Audit, Struggles with Public Comment

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By Dave Freneaux

    The Monday night meeting of the Central Community School Board was tense, volatile, well attended and well publicized.  TV Channels 9 and 2 as well as the Advocate all reported on the meeting.  In addition, CentralSpeaks.com has posted 80 minutes of video of the meeting on the internet at http://www.centralspeaks.com/school-board-discussions-of-101110/. The hot topics were the Legislative Auditor's Report, a discussion of over $1 million payments to two companies for technology items, and a discussion of actions by the School Board to disallow public comment.  It is not possible to fully explain the content and attitudes presented at the meeting in a single newspaper article.  You are heavily encouraged to watch the video for yourself if you truly desire to know everything that occurred.  Having said that, the explanation in print is attempted as follows:

    Superintendent Faulk addressed the Legislative Auditor's report on the Central Community School System.  The audit was apparently limited to an investigation of technology purchases.  The report found that the School System may have violated Louisiana's Public Bid Law in spending almost a half a million dollars with MIS Technology Group without allowing any other companies to bid on the work.  Mr. Faulk's report was actually a retelling of the response given to the Legislative Auditor and is published in the audit.  The Audit Report can be seen on the web at http://app1.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf .  The School Board's stance appears to be that Public Bid Law was broken on over $424,000 in purchases and that the solution has been to hire a Purchasing Agent and to implement policies that will prevent such violations in the future.

    Mr. Keith Kepper, a private Central citizen, then asked for discussion and comment on just over $1 million in purchases made from two companies, MIS Technology Group and GM Cable Contractors over approximately two years.  Mr. Kepper pointed out that these two companies also shared a physical address in Central.  $424,000 of these invoices were the subject of the Legislative Audit.  Mr. Kepper indicated that the School System's approach of accepting that things were done wrong and simply doing it right in the future is insufficient.  He asserted that the School Board has a duty to fully investigate why these purchases were directed only to these two companies and why none of the purchases had been put out for Public Bid.  Mr. Kepper asked "How could this happen? Why did this happen?" Mr. Kepper then requested that the School Board authorize an independent investigation by a party not under the control of the School Board.  The School Board made no response to Mr. Kepper's request and no action was taken in the balance of the meeting to indicate that there will be any further investigation of the matter.

     Mr. Rodney Bonvillain then spoke and expressed that the School Board President improperly shut down public comment in its last meeting and that the action was in violation of both State Law and the procedural rules of the School Board.  School Board President Browning then brought forth an attorney, Mr. Hammonds, who had prepared arguments to refute Mr. Bonvillain's assertions.  The essence of Mr. Bonvillain's comments were that the School Board was specifically incorrect in disallowing public comment and that the Board should be looking for ways to allow the public to be heard rather than seeking to justify disallowing public comment.

    Louisiana State Law RS42:15 states:  "School board meetings; public comment – Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, each school board … shall allow public comment at any meeting of the school board prior to taking any vote.  The comment period shall be for each agenda item and shall precede each agenda item."

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