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Hallsville ISD hires new auditor; Austin-based firm in a time 'bind' Trustees take tour of new high school under construction

By Christina Lane
Nov. 8, 2010 at 7 p.m.

HALLSVILLE - Trustees on Monday hired an auditor familiar with "Robin Hood" school districts to audit Hallsville ISD's 2009-2010 financial records, and toured the new high school under construction.

The school board in a 7-0 vote, unanimously agreed to hire Austin-based West Davis and Co. to conduct its annual audit. The agency currently serves three Chapter 41 districts, according to Gary Davis, a partner in the company. Chapter 41 "property-wealthy" districts must return money to the state to be redistributed to "property-poor" school districts.

The district is paying $19,500 for the auditing services, which are due to the state in January - putting the district in a time crunch to hand over records and get the process started.

"We are in a bind where time is concerned, but it is my desire to have the audit completed in a timely fashion," Finance Director David Edgar said.

Hallsville ISD ended its contract with former auditors Knuckols, Duvall, Hallum and Co. after the agency failed to find missed Chapter 41 payments and state overpayments in previous audit reports.

The district in September took out a $7.3 million loan and pulled $5 million from its fund balance to pay state money after it was determined the district missed several Chapter 41 payments and didn't report an overpayment from the state in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. The district has blamed former finance director Tim Brittain for the missed payments.

In addition to having more than 30 years experience in public accounting auditing school districts, Davis also served for three years as the chief financial officer for Austin ISD, a Chapter 41 district.

"He brings a unique perspective because at one time he worked for one of the largest school districts in the state," Edgar said. "He's been on the other side of the fence and he sees both sides."

Edgar worked with West Davis and Company when he was employed at Vidor ISD, but Gary Davis reassured the school board that his previous experience with Edgar would have no bearing on the audit.

Davis also reassured the board that he will find inaccuracies in the records, should any exist.

The auditors will question the district about how much money they owe the state, then verify that amount with the Texas Education Agency and reconcile the number should there be any differences, Davis said. The auditors can also verify payments with the agency.

The firm also asked the state agency to put communication in writing, Davis said. The communication then becomes part of the audit report presented to the board of trustees.

Prior to discussing the audit report, trustees toured the new Hallsville High School that is being built as part of a $96 million bond package passed in 2007.

Construction of the 400,000-square-foot high school is on schedule, Superintendent Greg Wright said.

A centerpiece of the school will be a rotunda being built next to the main visitor entrance to the school. Architect Brice Davis, with Thacker Davis Architects, showed trustees the planned rotunda Monday.

The school will feature academic wings, career technology education rooms, a student mall, two elevators, weight rooms, locker rooms, tennis courts and a state-of-the-art gym with the capacity to seat 1,920 people at games, Davis said. The gym is built in a design similar to Tatum ISD's gym, which seats 1,350 people. The competition gym in Hallsville allows for three games to be played at once during tournaments, he added.



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