By PETER HUSSMANN
When a state panel gathers at the PCM High School this morning to hear the appeal of next fiscal year's PCM School District's budget, protesters are hoping they will be allowed to bring up as issues a variety of questionable actions that have led them to lose faith in the ability of the school administration and local school board.
Whether they will or not remains to be seen after the school district's attorney, Peter Pashler, filed a motion seeking to quell much of what the petitioners want to present as evidence saying it is "irrelevant" and "immaterial" to the topic at hand.
Late last month, 23 residents in the PCM Community School District filed an appeal of the district's certified budget asking that the state review board require that the district place its budget at the lowest possible amount of just over $10 million and disallow any levy or tax increase in the coming fiscal year.
The appeal is being led by Criste Scarnati, publisher of the Prairie City News and a resident of the district.
"Ms Scarnati will attempt to show with a series of exhibits how PCM administrators and the PCM board for years have failed to exercise proper fiduciary oversight and implemented inadequate internal control, even after they have been cited by state and school auditors, and the local newspaper reporter," the protest states.
The protest claims that property tax collections in the district have risen $900,000 in the last six years with more than $722,000 of that increase coming in just the last three. In the coming fiscal year, the certified budget would collect an additional $130,000 in property taxes from district residents.
It also takes issue with the district's practice of setting their budget at the maximum allowable and then using its line item control to keep from exceeding the limit, though in two years the school audit found it had exceeded its maximums.
But its a series of other pieces of evidence included in the protest that the school district's attorney takes issue with and says lays outside the scope of the budget appeal.
The protest cites a past incident where a PCM school secretary was charged for taking $57,000 from a school account that has lead to an $18,000 increase in the school district's insurance premiums and an incident where a former business manager's accounting error lead to a shortfall in the special education fund and her lawsuit against the district after her termination resulted in a $20,000 settlement.
It also takes issue with the district's hiring of a technology director with a criminal record, a move protesters claim violates board policies, as well as questioning a small claims judgement against the district's superintendent over a short-term loan.
The school district's motion before the state appeal board, which is comprised of representatives of the state auditor's office, treasurer's office and Department of Management, asks that anything outside the scope of the budget be striken from discussion today.
"The allegations contained in these paragraphs and exhibits is wholly unrelated to any potential challenge to (the school district's) budget for the 2012-2013 school year," the district's attorney argues. "Petitioners have attempted to create a case where none exists by making false accusations against current and former employees of (the school district) in matters wholly unrelated to (the) budget for the 2012-2013 school year. Because this Board is not an open forum for petitioners to launch a witch hunt against (the school district), making allegations going back four years or more involving people no longer employed or affiliated with the District, and stating as 'fact' matters that are demonstrably false, Respondent requests that this Board strike the above referenced portions of the petition and the accompanying 'exhibits' in their entirety."
The hearing is set to begin at 10 a.m. The Des Moines Register ran a front page story on the appeal today.