Trustee: Critical audit means "pushing the pause button" on HISD bond program

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The HISD trustee who chairs the district's audit committee said Thursday that she wants to hit the brakes on a $1.9 billion bond program. (KTRK)

The HISD trustee who chairs the district's audit committee said Thursday that she wants to hit the brakes on a $1.9 billion bond program designed to rebuild or renovate 40 schools until district officials correct serious flaws in the management of the bond's rollout.

"I would stop it, slow down and assess," trustee Jolanda Jones' told abc13. "I will not be voting on anything moving forward until this stuff is fixed. The risk is we'll screw off more money, we'll have people mad at us, people won't get what they voted for in the bond and people will pay more than we told them we told them we would have to pay."

Jones' comments about "pushing the pause button" on the bond program came the day after a critical audit of the program was made public.

The audit -- conducted by KPMG for the Houston Independent School District -- pointed to inflation as a key reason why a $211 million taxpayer-funded bailout was needed, but also pointed to "incomplete project assumptions and "weak or nonexistent policies."

"HISD's polices and procedure for capital projects are not sufficiently developed," the audit read. "The program is lacking an effective and efficient organizational structure."

SEE ALSO: HISD audit: Inflation, 'nonexistent policies,' and lack of oversight led to $211M shortfall
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Outside experts looking at HISD's 2012 bond suggest the district has plenty of homework to get the bond program on track.

In addition, the audit cited problems with the Houston Independent School District's bond bosses not providing "sufficient oversight into subcontractor bidding activities" and doing a poor job estimating construction costs.

Jones noted that the KPMG audit did not look for fraud when it was digging for the reasons behind the cost overruns, but she said she'd like to order up a forensic audit to look for any possible wrongdoing.

Jones was not on the board when the bond was approved or when the extra money was allocated to fill a $211 million dollar budget hole that school administrators said last year was caused by inflation.

Her colleagues who were on the board then did not seem eager to join her call for a stoppage.

"That's her opinion," board president Manuel Rodriguez said. He declined comment to any other questions about the bond.

Indeed, Rodriguez refused to give any opinion on the audit until after a board meeting to discuss KPMG's findings.

SEE ALSO: Months after blowing whistle on cause of $211M shortfall, HISD auditor suspended
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Just months after he questioned HISD's rationale behind the district's $211 million bond shortfall, trustees suspended their chief executive auditor.

He also said he didn't know when that would be.

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said she believed stopping work would mean extra costs.

"I think we can carry on without stopping work," she said. "Delays mean more money which I will not allocate."

Skillern-Jones said she also believed that new Superintendent Richard Carranza was up to the task. After student achievement, managing the bond is Carranza's most important job, she said.

Trustee Michael Lunceford also suggested that stopping the bond projects is not a good idea.

The snowball is coming down the mountain and it'll be awful hard to stop a lot of these projects," he said. "Most of them are all out to bid... they're starting the construction phase."

Stopping the bond rollout is problematic in part, Lunceford said, because the audit took so long to complete.

Trustees ordered up the KPMG audit in December. It was completed on August 11.

"They should have had a month to do it," he said.

Still, Lunceford said he's got some questions concerning how the bonds management failed so badly.

"I think it would be better, the next time around, to plan ahead of time better," he said. "What did we do wrong? What do we need to do better next time?"

A district spokesperson said the superintendent looks forward to meeting with the board to discuss all issues related to the building program.
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