State Audit Finds Venal Purchases By RUSD Staff

(March 26)  RIALTO—The Rialto Unified School District spent over $28,000 on employee perks, incentives and awards in a dubious effort to boost staff and faculty morale, according to a state auditor.
Last July, Mohammad Z. Islam, who was then the district’s associate superintendent of business services, requested that the state of California’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team look into Rialto Unified’s procurement practices.
Islam’s request came well before there was any public disclosure of the embezzlement scandal that rocked the district two months later, following the arrest of former district accountant Judith Oakes, who stands accused of stealing $1.8 million in lunch money proceeds from the district’s Nutrition Services Department between 2005 and 2013. The Oakes matter ultimately led to Rialto Unified School District Superintendent Harold Cebrun and his second-in-command, deputy superintendent James Wallace, being placed on paid administrative leave.
Though Oakes’ depredations predated hisrun’s 2009 arrival at the district and he steadfastly maintained he had no knowledge of Oakes’ actions, Cebrun resigned as superintendent earlier this month.
It is unclear whether Islam’s approach to the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team,  known by its acronym FCMAT, was made as a consequence of suspicions with regard to Oakes or other district employees. It is known that the irregularities with regard to the nutrition program proceeds, which appear to have been ongoing since 1999, had come to the district’s attention in May.
Islam, who was made the acting superintendent following Cebrun’s suspension in September, after Cebrun’s resignation was appointed as the district’s interim superintendent.
FCMAT is an arm of the state government that assists school districts with financial and management research. On January 6 FCMAT completed its audit of the Rialto Unified School District. It has been suggested that elements of the report destroyed any chance that Cebrun might be reestablished as superintendent.  FCMAT’s audit extended to 2009, which corresponds with Cebrun’s tenure as superintendent.
In particular, according to FCMAT, under Cebrun the district routinely allowed vendors to write their contracts with the district.
The audit turned up that district credit cards had been  used to make what were characterized as  “questionable” purchases, among them $7,201 in payments made to Nike by the superintendent’s office over a two-year period. In addition, there were unspecified payments made to Paypal, a Las Vegas casino, a florist, as well as to cover meals at restaurants on weekends.
A series of questionable expenditures had been made, according to the audit, on “employee incentives” that included $7,429 for picture frames apparently to serve as a backdrop for photos of employees to be selectively honored; $7,614 spent on an employee appreciation dinner at ESPN Zone; and over $14,000 spent for engraved trophies intended as awards to deserving employees. According to the auditors, the actual value of the trophies was under $2,000.
The district’s previous accounting firm,  Vavrinek, Trine, Day, .had not made any notation with regard to the expenditures deemed questionable by FCMAT. Consequently, Vavrinek, Trine, Day was terminated as the district’s auditing firm in February.
FCMAT’s findings were provided to the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools and the  Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.

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