Kansas

Fitzpatrick: COVID relief, school spending focus as auditor

 

Independent from Missouri/ Cassville Democrat Special

Newly inaugurated state auditor Scott Fitzpatrick said on Jan. 9 that auditing federal COVID-19 relief funds and how local school districts spend the money will be his top priorities over the next four years.

Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, was sworn in at noon on Jan. 9 to replace Nicole Galloway, a Democrat who did not seek reelection after two terms as mayor. Fitzpatrick served as state treasurer until he was sworn into his new job and was elected four times to the Missouri House.

Massive federal COVID-19 spending through state and local governments needs to be monitored and reviewed, Fitizpatrick said.

“This explosion of spending at all levels of government has made it easier and more likely for taxpayers’ money to be wasted, misappropriated or even stolen,” he said.

With Fitzpatrick’s inauguration, Republicans hold all elected office statewide for the first time since just after the Civil War.

The state auditor is required by law to review the spending of state and county agencies that do not have a county auditor. The auditor has the authority to audit any school district and may, at the invitation of a local government or following a petition from residents, audit any local political subdivision.

The authority to oversee school districts, expanded in 2008, has rarely been used, Fitzpatrick noted in his brief speech after being sworn in by Chief Justice Jack Goodman of the Southern District Court of Appeals.

On average, he said, there was one school district audit per year. There are more than 500 school districts in the state.

School districts are required by law to audit all financial, transportation and attendance records every two years. Fitzpatrick said the reviews of him would go beyond those financial concerns to look at performance.

Two-thirds of Missouri schoolchildren are not proficient in math for their grade level and half read below grade level, Fitzpatrick said.

Earlier Monday, he also said he wanted to explore whether districts use “critical race theory” as the basis of curriculum on racial history and current race relations. He said any audits of the curriculum would be guided by legislation expected this year.

How, or if, the General Assembly addresses critical race theory, he said, “will determine how we look at this,” he said.

A 2021 survey of more than 400 Missouri school districts administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found that only one district, Kansas City Public Schools, said it teaches critical race theory classes.

Gov. Mike Parson named Fitzpatrick treasurer in 2019 after Eric Schmitt was named attorney general. Fitzpatrick won re-election as treasurer in 2020 and entered the auditors’ race after Galloway retired.

Parson appointed Vivek Malek, of Cape Girardeau, to replace Fitzpatrick as treasurer. Malek will be sworn in on January 17.

Galloway said ahead of the ceremony that he is returning to private work and has no immediate plans to re-enter politics.

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