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Wed, Oct. 16

Editorial: VACTE indictment could be tip of iceberg

When discussing the Valley Academy of Career and Technology Education, there is always an important separation of eras to make: “Before Bob Weir” and “After Bob Weir.”

And this week’s announcement by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office of the indictment of a former business manager for VACTE most definitely falls into the BBW category.

It also raises the question if this indictment alleging theft of school district funds is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pre-Weir era of the Valley Academy.

Remember, there are still dozens of unanswered questions about the financial practices of VACTE stemming from a damning 2015-16 audit of the district.

That audit uncovered 47 negative findings in the way VACTE had conducted its financial affairs. The audit by Heinfeld, Meech and Company reported VACTE “lacked adequate internal controls over processes for cash, capital assets, disbursements, payroll, and accounting records.”

It further noted that VACTE was in “substantial noncompliance” with the guidelines required by the Uniform System of Financial Records.

Additionally, a look at the history of VACTE shows almost from its inception, there was a lack of trust between the tech-ed school district and its working partners.

In December 2005, superintendents and school board members from VACTE’s affiliate districts balked on an intergovernmental agreement with the tech-ed district because of what they claimed were inflated administrative costs.

The sticking point was a 40-percent allocation of the total budget for administrative costs for VACTE as compared to an approximately 13-percent average for the Mingus, Camp Verde and Sedona-Red Rock districts.

The three high schools argued there needs to be more emphasis on student needs and less administration for VACTE.

“Very few VACTE dollars are spent directly on CTE students,” a position paper compiled by the three high school districts stated. All three high school districts were in unanimous agreement that the 40-percent allocation of VACTE’s $1.4 million budget for administration was extravagant and an insult to the taxpayers who authorized formation of the district.

Fast forward to April of 2007: New Board Member Kerrie Bluff began her service with VACTE by questioning the need for a curriculum development specialist for the district when the current administration should be able to handle those duties.

Bluff described the VACTE administrative travel budget as “pretty cushy.” She chastised the all-men’s club that made up the rest of the VACTE board for not even questioning line items within the administration’s budget.

Then, jumping ahead to April 2016, new Camp Verde District Superintendent Dennis Goodwin echoed the message first voiced about VACTE 12 years earlier. He said at the time, “If VACTE does not begin to provide better support for our district, we will begin to evaluate asking the voters of our district to allow [Camp Verde Unified School District] to change our JTED from VACTE to Mountain Institute JTED.”

And let’s not forget the curious happenings within VACTE when former superintendent Lois Lamer abruptly resigned. Minutes and public records previously posted on the district web site suddenly disappeared.

At the time, Verde Valley education watchdog Linda Buchanan noted in a Letter to the Editor that “Per VACTE’s own policy (and state law), meeting agendas and minutes should be posted online. When this commitment isn’t honored, it’s challenging for the public to be informed … This is a good time for the Board to forensically examine VACTE reporting and accounting practices.”

There has been no shortage of bad news over the years when it comes to VACTE. The good news is that the AG’s Office has been looking into VACTE’s fiscal history as evidenced by the felony indictment issued this week.

Time will tell if this legal action is just the tip of the iceberg.

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