The claws are coming out.

This week, Kern County Superintendent of Schools Mary Barlow and Kern Community College District Chancellor Tom Burke widely distributed a "Dear community partner" letter and fact sheet that seemed to push all blame for the loss of $19 million in taxpayer funds on the Kern County Treasurer and Kern County Auditor-Controller’s offices.

Superintendent of Schools spokesman Rob Meszaros and KCCD spokesman Joe Grubbs said the letter was just an attempt to answer questions the community is asking.

But that’s not how Treasurer-Tax Collector Jordan Kaufman took it.

He said the school districts were attempting to shift their responsibility for the situation onto the county.

While the letter, he said, “has many inaccurate statements, my office continues to work with both districts and the bank to recover as much money as possible from the perpetrators of this crime.”

CRIME

Kaufman announced in early February that his office had been alerted that fraudulent payments had been made from “clearing accounts” in the county treasury that were used to pay vendors and employees of the KCSOS and KCCD.

The losses — eventually discovered to total $19 million — had happened over two to three years with most of the thievery taking place in the past three to five months, according to Kaufman.

An investigation by The Californian documented that thieves were able to continue stealing from the accounts — which are separate from the districts’ main “cash-in-county” accounts — because no one from the Auditor-Controller’s office or the school districts were reconciling the activity in those clearing accounts.

Nobody was checking those funds regularly to make sure all the transactions were valid.

LETTER

The letter from Burke and Barlow largely ignores the issue of account reconciliation.

Instead it focuses on the general structure of the relationship between the districts and the county.

School money is required, by law, to be kept in the country treasury.

The letter blamed Kaufman for releasing documents and making statements to the media that “led to confusion and misinformation to the general public.”

The bottom line, the letter states, is that the money was in the county treasury and so it is the responsibility of the Treasurer-Tax Collector and the Auditor-Controller to keep the funds secure and only make payments authorized by the school districts.

The fact sheet finishes with a firm statement that the school districts don’t expect any financial liability from the situation.

“We also expect that no losses will be absorbed by the education agencies because the Treasurer-Tax Collector, the Auditor-Controller and Wells Fargo did not disburse our funds strictly in accordance with our (pay) instructions and the Treasurer’s trusteeship responsibilities,” it read.

Kaufman took that as a direct shot at the county and his office.

The responsibility for catching the fraud, he said, was squarely that of the districts.

Letters from the Kern County Auditor-Controller’s office provided by Kaufman, written in 2005, clearly explain that the two school districts would be responsible going forward for reconciliation of the impacted clearing accounts.

School district staff have claimed they did not have access to bank statements in those accounts.

But Kaufman has provided information that shows — at least in the past — that financial staff in both districts did have access to two of the three affected accounts.

“The joint letter appears to be an attempt by the two districts to redirect attention from that responsibility,” Kaufman said. “While the county has provided documentation to back up any claim that it has made the districts have not provided any documentation to date. Therefore, at this point, I do not feel it necessary to respond to any baseless claims made in the letter.”

Meszaros and Grubbs both said the letter wasn't an attack on the county.

“That was absolutely not the intent of the letter,” Meszaros said. “The letter was to answer the questions we’ve been asked over and over again.”

Barlow, he said, has been getting bombarded by questions about what is going on and the letter was an attempt to inform the district’s friends, partners and the public.

Grubbs said the only goal of the letter was to inform district “stakeholders” about what was going on.

Did the letter get ahead of an investigation being conducted on behalf of both districts by an independent forensic auditor? Won’t that investigation determine who is responsible?

Meszaros said the letter was simply relating the best information the districts have at the moment.

“That’s the information we have right now,” he said. “If something comes out of the forensic audit, we’ll release that. But that’s the information and the perspective we have right now.”

Kern County Counsel Mark Nations said the county is remaining focused on the most important part of this situation.

“Our number one priority right now is to recover as much of the money as we can. I’m not really interested in pointing fingers right now,” he said. “It doesn’t serve any purpose other than to sway public opinion.”

(7) comments

Concerned Educator

The response from Mary Barlow is shameful! She is blaming the Treasurer when she knew full well that it was her responsibility to ensure that adequate accounting procedures were in place to prevent fraud. The previous superintendent, Dr. Christine Lizardi Frazier, brought in both Mary Barlow and John Von Flue as consultants for the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team before their appointments to the position of Assistant Superintendent for Fiscal Services at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.

Their role was to provide fiscal advice, management assistance, training and other related school business services. As consultants, they were often called in to ensure district fiscal stability. We have now learned that well-known fraud prevention procedures were not used in their own organization. Unfortunately, they are blaming others for their failures!

FCMAT has been well respected by school districts and California state agencies for years. Since the Kern County Superintendent of Schools is the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT, they should be implementing fiscal accountability systems of the highest level.

Otis2017

It is interesting that Kaufman is allowed to point fingers from the start but now if KCSOS and/or KCCD push back then they get reprimanded by the Californian and Kaufman. Usually the one crying the loudest and the most often is the one with the biggest issue, and we should all note that it is an election year for Kaufman. All this while investigations proceed with no results yet ready for the entities involved or the public.

misstowgirl

All three of them should not only be fired, but someone needs to be held accountable and prosecuted for this. How does this happen over a two year period and no one catches it. How does a bank account with millions of dollars in taxpayer money fail to be reconciled for more than two years. Not to mention they are still giving us the run around on what exactly happened and exactly how much of the money has been recovered to date. We still don't know who the thieves are, I am sure its someone right in front of their face, someone with first hand knowledge of the lack of accountability and the incompetency of the Kern Community College District, the Kern County Superintendent of School, and the Kern County Tax Collectors Office. Where is the accountability and how do they plan on covering that kind of loss?

Holding the bag

WOW, typical government rhetoric no one takes responsibility, maybe the Russians took the money. Whatever happens,we as the public will never know the truth. No one punished just don't let it happen again! Anticipating the next round of information😂🤑

JSmith

I would think that all the "good intentions" taxpayers that voted that last massive school bond are having buyers remorse at this point. Irregardless of who is responsible for this massive loss, it is a great illustration on how the management in this district respect the taxpayers of this county. Please voting taxpayers remember this next time they ask you to vote yourselves a tax increase.

Concerned Citizen of Bakersfield

It should come as no surprise that a school district that cannot teach kids to read and write has no idea how to balance their checkbook

Jpb1055

Burke, Barlow, and Kaufman should be called the three stooges. Each blaming the other, each trying to deflect the blame, each failing to take any responsibility, each showing incompetence, and each will be in court giving testimony on what they don’t know about how they lost control of their fiduciary responsibility for taxpayer money. A complete failure by government employees. As Trump would say, "You're Fired.".

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