Springfield Public School’s No. 2 finance official came from district blasted in audit – Springfield News-Leader
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The former internal auditor and controller for the St. Joseph School District, where spending practices triggered a searing state audit and federal investigation, is now the No. 2 finance official for Springfield Public Schools.
Kim Mulvaney, who worked in the embattled 11,000-student district in northwest Missouri for 13 years, was hired more than a year ago. She was initially chosen for a newly created role, assistant director of finance, but was promoted to director of finance at the start of the school year.
Springfield’s chief human resources director was asked if the district considered Mulvaney’s lengthy experience in St. Joseph.
“Yes, we are aware Kim worked in the St. Joseph School District in a role that is very related to the role that she performs for us here, in terms of the duties she had there,” Parker McKenna said. “We did explore that information and used it in making a hiring decision.”
Mulvaney reports directly to Carol Embree, chief financial and operations officer. Her primary role is to help direct and coordinate accounting, financial reporting and budget activities for the state’s largest district, which has an overall spending plan of more than $300 million. Her salary is $100,076.
Embree said Mulvaney works hard and has quickly become a leader in the finance department. “If given the opportunity, I’d hire Kim Mulvaney today without hesitation.”
Mulvaney was chosen for the Springfield job in late 2014, as the state audit process was wrapping up in St. Joseph.
The final audit report — with more than 40 findings across 17 areas — was released in February 2015. The audit was rated as “poor,” the lowest designation, and noted there were significant issues that required immediate attention.
The toughest language in the audit is aimed at the upper echelon of decision-makers in St. Joseph, especially the superintendent — not Mulvaney. But the report was highly critical of the lack of financial oversight and internal controls over spending, from fuel purchases to payroll.
Among the concerns, the district spent $3.8 million on stipends during the 2013-14 year and many employees, including Mulvaney, received extra pay. The audit pointed out that not all stipends were approved by the board.
The audit was critical of the way the internal auditor job was structured, noting the position did not report directly to the board and was not independent of all the activities it audited. The report stated: “The internal auditor did not perform an annual risk analysis, audit plan, or prepare written reports following up on prior recommendations.”
The report made it clear that if that job functioned properly, many of the financial oversight problems might have been averted. It read: “An effective internal audit function could have helped in discovering and or resolving many of the accounting and procedural control weaknesses and policy compliance issues addressed in this report.”
In a statement provided to the News-Leader, Mulvaney said she was the controller for 13 years, starting in 2001, and performed her “professional duties with integrity to ensure district funds were being properly accounted for.”
Starting in mid-2008, she also served as the internal auditor. She stated that for three years, she presented annual internal audit reports to the board finance committee.
“Also, per board policy I presented to administrative leaders any instances of irregularities or reasonable suspicion of fraud or theft identified throughout the accounting process,” she wrote in the statement. “Unfortunately, in my role I did not have the authority or power to implement any changes to rectify issues identified.”
She stated the internal audit duties were a small part of her job, about 10 percent. The bulk of her time was spent preparing budgets, managing financial accounting functions, and serving as liaison to independent auditors.
McKenna acknowledged that the public might be curious about Springfield’s hiring decision but called any skepticism “an immediate reaction just based on surface-level facts.”
“It’s fair to say we were aware, we are aware, of what is going on in the St. Joseph School District,” he said. “But I don’t believe that incident or issue precludes all employees associated with St. Joseph from working in Springfield or any other school district.”
Embree and Superintendent John Jungmann worked in Liberty, an hour from St. Joseph, until mid-2014, and were in the area when allegations of questionable spending and plans for a state audit made headlines across Missouri. But Embree said she didn’t read the audit until recently.
She said she “knew of” Mulvaney and the two likely attended the same professional conferences but never worked together until Springfield. “I knew she had a tremendous reputation throughout the state of Missouri and that her supervisor and others spoke highly of her work performance.”
Beau Musser became St. Joseph’s chief financial officer — and Mulvaney’s boss — at the start of the 2013-14 school year. In a relatively short period of time, he blew the whistle on questionable spending by the administration, triggering the audit and federal investigations.
Reached by phone, Musser, who resigned from the St. Joseph job last year, said Mulvaney was “not part of the problem.”
“When I got there, the first day on the job, she made me aware of all her internal audit reports,” he told the News-Leader. He said she tipped him off to the possibility that there were “thousands of gallons of missing fuel.”
“I began my investigation from there,” he said, crediting her with “making me aware of these issues.”
Musser told the News-Leader he can’t speak to what role Mulvaney played in the nearly dozen years before he arrived or whether or not she “turned a blind eye” to some of what was happening. He noted she was “in a bad position.”
“Kim Mulvaney tried to do the right thing and she was intimidated,” he said.
The St. Joseph school board selected Mulvaney to pick up some of Musser’s duties for the months he was placed on paid leave after making his concerns public. When he was reinstated to the job in late 2014, she announced plans, reported in the St. Joseph media, to take a job in Springfield.
Four months later, the hiring decision showed up in Springfield’s monthly personnel reports provided to the school board. It’s not uncommon for there to be a lag, McKenna explained, and he said the delay was not intentional.
Her initial job, assistant director of finance, was listed as a “new position” in that personnel report. McKenna clarified that while it was a new title, it did not add a position to the department. Instead, the new title was created by combining two previous jobs, including budget manager.
After Mulvaney was promoted, budget specialist Cara Stassel was named the assistant director of finance.
Asked about the decision to hire a financial officer from St. Joseph, board vice president Tim Rosenbury said the board was not directly involved.
He said the board is responsible for hiring the superintendent, who hires the cabinet. Those cabinet members, in turn, hire others but — by that point — the hiring decisions are far removed from the board.
“I have faith in our CFO’s judgement and supervisory ability to the extent that this is not of great concern for me,” he said.
Rosenbury said there shouldn’t be a “black cloud over everyone who has ever been paid” by the St. Joseph district.
“I’m a big believer in second chances,” he said. “I’ll also allow that sometimes work habits from one type of job can transfer to another job. But, sometimes, lessons learned from one job can be brought to bear in the performance of another job.”
Kim Mulvaney, director of finance for Springfield Public Schools, issued a statement:
“I served as controller for St. Joseph School District from 2001 to 2014. During that time, I performed my professional duties with integrity to ensure district funds were being properly accounted for. Beginning with the 2008-2009 school year, the internal audit function was added to my responsibilities but comprised only approximately 10 percent of my overall job duties, which primarily focused on assisting in budget preparation, managing financial accounting functions, providing business software support and serving as liaison to independent auditors.
“One component of my internal audit duties was to present annual internal audit reports to the school board finance committee. This was my responsibility from August 2009 to October 2012. Also, per board policy I presented to administrative leaders any instances of irregularities or reasonable suspicion of fraud or theft identified throughout the accounting process. Unfortunately, in my role I did not have the authority or power to implement any changes to rectify issues identified.
“Following the hiring of a new superintendent and chief financial officer in 2013, I was no longer responsible for making internal audit reports to the finance committee. I briefly served as interim treasurer to the school board beginning in May 2014 when the CFO was placed on administrative leave. I resigned from St. Joseph School District in November 2014.”
According to the job description, Springfield Public Schools’ director of finance must have a bachelor’s degree and specialized job-related experience. The key aspects of the job include:
• Assist in direction and coordination of accounting, financial reporting and budgeting activities.
• Provide information and serve as a resource to others.
• Develop, recommend, interpret and implement policies and procedures in compliance with established guidelines.
Springfield Public School’s No. 2 finance official came from district blasted in audit – Springfield News-Leader}