Superintendent reacts to improper budgeting allegations

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Adams 12 Five Star Schools superintendent Chris Gdowski was welcomed with applause and a standing ovation during last week’s board meeting.

A group of Adams 12 employees showed up at the meeting in support of their leader, after a FOX31 Denver news report alleged improper budget practices made by the district.

“I am here today to represent all the great professionals that stand behind me. We speak to you tonight to share a simple, yet emphatic message, we are proud to have Chris Gdowski as our superintendent,” said Beau Foubert, principal at Glacier Peak Elementary School. “Despite recent reports that would mislead you to the contrary, Mr. Gdowski is a man of incredible integrity and ethics. His moral compass is strong and just.”

Those recent reports were made in a story released by FOX31 Denver on Feb. 4. The news agency conducted a three-month investigation that raised questions concerning past budget cuts, the district’s budget process and finances. In the last three years, the district has cut more than $56 million in the budget, $12 million alone for the 2012-13 school year.

Professor James Sorensen of the University of Denver was hired by FOX31 Denver to review the district’s finances, budge process and allegations that school officials are hiding tens of millions of dollars.

Sorenson’s review claims the district’s financial process is “sloppy” and suggests the district’s salaries, benefits and purchased services were inflated by more than $20 million.

But Gdowski denies allegations made in the FOX31 Denver report and gave a lengthy statement during the Feb. 6 board meeting. He said it’s inexcusable that FOX31 Denver is broadcasting numerous falsehood of misinformation regarding the district and reporter Josh Bernstein is broadcasting untruthful information with malice and reckless disregard of the facts.

Gdowski said the district hired an outside consultant, Vody Herrmann, the former Colorado Assistant Commissioner for School Finance, to review the district’s budget practices and finances. At this time the district is not releasing her findings, but according to a letter sent by Herrmann to the district, she states that she found no merit to the allegations and the district does not have a fund balance or reserves that are out of line with other similar districts.

“The district is not hoarding money, in fact, is acting prudently in planning for the long-term financial health of the district,” Hermann said in the letter. “I found all of the district’s funds to be accounted for publicly.”

Fox31 Denver’s report also included allegations made by the district’s former internal auditor Gina Holub. In the story she accuses the district’s chief financial officer Shelley Becker of knowingly providing inaccurate information to elected members of the school board. But Gdowski said after hiring Becker in 2011, she’s made a positive impact in the budgeting process.

Board president Mark Clark voiced his frustration with the news report during the meeting and said he was never approached by FOX31 Denver on the issues. He said under Gdowski’s leadership he has seen the district improve.

Board member Fred Schaefer suggested that the board have an independent review of the budget process done in order to move forward with a “clean slate.” He said he doesn’t doubt the character of Gdowski, but believes another review would put the issues to rest.

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