Audit finds lapses around bus driver at Mount Pleasant

State review says theft of gas just the beginning

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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A former Mount Pleasant bus driver convicted last month of stealing gas money from the district also received about $4,000 in payments that were never approved or properly vetted by district officials, a Washington State Auditor's Office report revealed this week.

Cheryl Randall, the employee referenced in the report, pleaded guilty last month in Camas-Washougal Municipal Court to using a district credit card to purchase $500 worth of gas for her personal vehicle last year. Randall, who resigned her job May 25, will be sentenced Aug. 2 for misdemeanor third-degree theft.

The auditor's investigation uncovered that Randall, a 27-year district employee, bilked the district for $1,020 worth of gas β€” not just $500 β€” between 2008 and 2011. The findings were based on what she purchased and what was needed to make her route.

"That's untrue," said Randall, 59, when told Tuesday of the report's findings on how much she stole in gas. She noted that she had not seen the report.

The five-page investigative report detailed a string of embarrassing lapses by the Mount Pleasant School District, which straddles the Clark and Skamania county lines in Washougal. The district has four full-time employees, three part-time employees and 55 students, according to the auditor's report.

The auditor's report also found the district did not require documentation when Randall billed it for out-of-town classes or extra hours worked, nor did the school board approve Randall's taking 60 hours of unpaid leave. The district could not provide an employment contract for Randall.

"Internal controls at the District were not adequate to safeguard public resources," the auditor's office wrote.

The auditor's office does not have enforcement powers. Instead, it made recommendations that the district develop policies on expenses and reimbursements and monitor them. It also recommended Randall pay back $1,020 and $5,400 spent on investigation.

Mount Pleasant officials responded to the auditor's findings with a written statement.

"The conduct described in this report is an assault on the public's confidence," the school district wrote. "Public confidence requires the highest ethical standards and responsible fiscal accountability to the taxpayers.

"We agree that the District failed on several fronts, following policy and requiring support documentation for all reimbursements as recommended by the State Auditor and our policies."

Asked for further comment Thursday, first-year Mount Pleasant Superintendent Linda Slattery replied, "The report speaks for itself and we are moving forward from this point."

Allegations that Randall stole from the district first surfaced in October, at which point district officials allowed her to continue working full-time. This became a point of contention addressed at length during June's Mount Pleasant School Board meeting.

Board member Thomas Schlatter called for Dolores Nelson to step down as board president, alleging that she attempted to cover-up for her friend, Randall. Nelson rejected Schlatter's requests to resign, noting that Slattery had the power to fire Randall but instead declined.

Assigned duties

Randall served as a bus driver and cafeteria aide, and oversaw building maintenance, during her almost-three-decade career with Mount Pleasant.

Her approved salary schedule allowed for her to work three hours per day as a bus driver ($18.13), 2.75 hours per day as a custodian ($18.13) and 2.25 hours per day as a recess aide ($12). However, from September 2009 to April 2011, Randall increased her bus driver hours while decreasing her recess aide hours, resulting in a net increase of $668.97, the auditor's office found. There was no documentation the hours were approved.

"I wrote my hours down," Randall said Tuesday. "They had to approve it."

The report noted the district paid Randall $1,643.63 in reimbursements for mileage, hotel, class registration, certification fees and insurance co-payments that were not properly documented. For instance, the district paid Randall $747 in mileage to classes in Ocean Shores in Gray's Harbor County, and Auburn in King and Pierce counties without verifying she had registered. The district approved the trip and paid for the classes, Randall said.

Randall also approved and purchased items totaling $1,690 from September 2006 to August 2011 without independent review, according to the report.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend;http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.