On a cold winter day students of the Adams 12 Five Star School District find themselves wandering home between a pair of old rusty train tracks.
Over the last three years, the District has cut its budget by more than $56 million, eliminated bus routes and cut more than 200 jobs and middle school sports.
But a three-month investigation by FOX31 Denver raises serious questions regarding the district’s finances, its budget process and whether all those cuts were really necessary.
“I think that if someone in good conscience knew they were deliberately presenting this [Executive Summary Financial Plan and Budget] they would have to question their ethics,” said Professor James Sorensen of the University of Denver, Daniels College of Business.
At the request of FOX31 Denver, Sorensen spent two months reviewing the Adams 12 Five Star School District’s finances, budget process and allegations that school officials are hiding tens of millions of dollars.
Sorensen describes the district’s financial process as “sloppy” and claims school officials have “deliberately overstated” their expenditures. “There is no question. When I look at the mechanics of how they put the budget together they injected those numbers.”
The district’s own records indicate the budget controls, a system of checks and balances, had been turned off.
“I’d say that sounds very dangerous to me,” Sorensen said. “Any organization that turns off financial controls invites disaster.”
He says without controls there’s no accountability: “What you introduce is the possibility of fraud, the possibility of theft, the possibility of misstatements.”