Opinions 

4/25/2003

Copier to be included in probe

Trevor Hughes
Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — A criminal probe into possible financial wrongdoing at St. Vrain Valley schools has been extended to include scrutiny of an $11,000-a-month photocopier that district officials say they never needed.

The Daily Times-Call disclosed details of the controversial five-year megacopier deal earlier this week. District taxpayers also are footing the bill for a $900-a-month color copier.

The elected school board was not given a chance to scrutinize the leases when former Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Ken Kirkland decided to replace old equipment with the two industrial-strength machines in 2000 and 2002.

Now, investigators with the Boulder County District Attorney’s office say they’ll investigate on behalf of the public.

“We’ll be taking a look at those leases,” said Assistant District Attorney Pete Maquire, who wondered why the district needed such high-volume copiers. “I’m curious about that, and we’ll be looking into it.”

Kirkland on Thursday declined to discuss the situation, but said the public does not yet know the whole story.

District Attorney Mary Keenan launched an investigation into the St. Vrain Valley School District on Nov. 30 at the request of state Treasurer Mike Coffman.

Coffman was forced to bail out the district with state loans in December. That deal saddled officials with hefty loan payments, forcing them to slash spending and cut teacher salaries.

As part of the deal that helped the district clamber out of what could have been a $13.8 million deficit, Coffman sought a criminal inquiry. He also requested that prosecutors determine if district officials defrauded voters, who had approved a $213 million bond issue in November.

District officials revealed the shortfall shortly after voters authorized the massive school -contruction loan. Many voters said they would have rejected if the district ’s true financial picture had been known.

“We’ll be investigating whatever comes up,” Maquire said. “We’re looking primarily at the finances, but if we find a dead body, we’d follow up on that, too.”

Maguire, who lives in Longmont, is no stranger to the district and its shoddy finances: Last year, he headed up the DA’s investigation into Dawn Hobson, the district ’s administrative secretary who is accused of stealing $25,000 in public money through credit card fraud.

The current situation has forced district leaders to ask Xerox to alter the lease. They hope to trade the massive DocuTech 6135 in for several smaller machines.

St. Vrain school board President Kathy Hall said Kirkland’s decision to acquire the machines without approval has infuriated her.

Kirkland, fired by the board Wednesday, failed to include the copier leases when he wrote the current school budget, forcing officials to divert money that might otherwise be helping students directly. New district financial experts uncovered the copier bills while writing next year’s budget.

“This whole category of things was shoved in a drawer (and) not dealt with in the budget,” Hall said.

Maguire said he originally hoped to complete the investigation by May but now thinks June or July might be more likely.

School district spokeswoman Nancy Herbert said district officials contacted Maguire “several days ago” to tell him about the leases.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

 

 
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