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Superintendent of Schools announces financial audit of Fairfax School District

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Kern County Superintendent of Schools Mary Barlow plans to audit the finances of the Fairfax School District, according to a letter read at the school board's meeting.

Jamie Henderson, a management consultant with the county superintendent's office, read two letters to the board at the behest of Barlow. One dealt with her plans to audit the district, and another stated the board broke the law in restricting public comment at a board meeting this week.

Barlow's letter noted that the superintendent of schools for each county is authorized under the education code to review or audit any district when they have reason to believe that fraud, misappropriation of funds or other illegal fiscal practices have occurred.

"I have been made aware that your board may have been entered into one or more financial contracts without following statutory procedures," the first letter read.

Barlow has authorized the Fiscal Crisis & Management Analysis Team to look into the manner in which the board awarded contracts, Henderson said. The team will report its findings to Barlow, who will determine whether any further steps need to be taken, the letter stated.

Barlow's move comes just weeks after a Kern County grand jury report questioned the district's spending on its legal services. Just hours after the grand jury report was released, the board hired another law firm as temporary counsel.

Henderson also read a letter from Barlow that addressed the board's decision to revoke the public's right to speak at a special board meeting this week.

"The motion was unlawful," Henderson read. "Permission to address the board is not a privilege but a right granted by the Legislature and contained in the statute known as The Brown Act." 

The board has held a series of special meetings as it interviews prospective candidates to replace recently retired Superintendent Michael Coleman. Board president Palmer Moland called for a motion to revoke the "privilege" of public comment at one of these special meetings Tuesday. 

"No, because we represent the public. This is not OK. This is wrong," said board member Victoria Coronel, who voiced her opposition.

The vote passed with support by trustees Alma Rios and Jose Luis Tapia.

"The privilege of addressing the board has been terminated," Moland said at the meeting.

That's not only against the law but against the spirit of what board members should be doing, Barlow's letter stated.

"The right of the public to comment and ask questions is to encourage community involvement in schools," Henderson read. "This should be the goal of every school board."