Damning audit report raises questions about McAllen ISD technology department

The McAllen school board may discuss a damning audit of the district technology department on Monday.

During a review of district security systems, staff discovered major problems with the Network Services and Support division of the technology department, according to a copy of the audit report, which a source provided to the Progress Times on the condition of anonymity.

McAllen LogoAuditors determined Network Services and Support Director Pat Karr purchased Apple watches, Fitbit devices and other gadgets “without proper justification;” and monitored the district email system for messages about “particular employees, departments, student information and key words,” which were automatically forwarded to him.

The report also accuses two unnamed technology department employees of inappropriately accessing Internal Audit Department files during the review.

“It could have put the audit in jeopardy,” said school board Trustee Tony Forina. “But I think our auditor did such a good job that she saw that happening and had a chance to correct it.”

Karr, though, said the audit report is deeply flawed — and believes the district is attempting to railroad him.

He filed a flurry of grievances against district employees and accused the auditor of slander.

After the school board meets on Monday night, Karr is scheduled for a grievance hearing with district administration. He wants administrators to make the hearing public.

“I want to clear my name because these people have put it through the mud,” Karr said.

Auditors started a review of security systems on Jan. 11, responding to a request from the McAllen Independent School District Police Department.

The audit quickly uncovered problems at Network Services and Support. Karr said he believes the initial findings also spawned a criminal investigation and an administrative investigation.

Two weeks later, the school district moved Karr to the Athletic Department and deactivated his district email account.

Superintendent Jose A. “Jay” Gonzalez assigned him to “assist the Athletic Director with administrative duties,” according to the reassignment letter, which Karr provided to the Progress Times.

Meanwhile, auditors documented major problems with the technology department.

The school district email system automatically forwarded Karr messages about particular employees, departments, student information and key words, according to the audit report, which accused him of monitoring the email system without permission.

Karr said the audit report misrepresents what happened.

The system automatically forwarded him emails with words and phrases, including “bomb,” “suicide” and “cutting.” Karr said he forwarded messages with problematic content to the appropriate people, including school district police.

In one instance, the alert for “bomb” tipped off the district about a student who discussed bringing an explosive device to school, Karr said. Police contacted the student after reviewing the message.

District administrators knew about the email monitoring, Karr said, adding that they never expressed any concerns before the audit.

“I set those things up as a safety measure,” Karr said, not to spy on anyone or intercept messages for personal reasons.

Auditors also accused the technology department of spending $10,000 on unnecessary gadgets, including Apple Watches and Fitbit devices.

Karr said he purchased 10 Fitbit devices as part of a wellness initiative and followed the proper purchasing procedures. The department spent $2,240 on five Apple Watches, which allowed employees to receive automatic notifications from district equipment.

“At the end of the day, to me, it was well worth the money,” Karr said.

Auditors prepared a 52-page report, which noted nearly four dozen problems with the technology department and district security systems.

Administrators didn’t allow Karr to provide a management response. Instead, they invited him to a meeting and explained they would verbally ask him about each item — without allowing Karr to review a copy of the audit.

If he wanted a copy, the administrators told Karr to file a public information request. He recorded the meeting and posted the audio on YouTube.

“I just need people to hear and see what’s happening,” Karr said. “It’s ridiculous.”

When he finally received a copy, Karr sent a point-by-point rebuttal to the school board. Trustees may discuss the audit report Monday.

School board Trustee Sam Saldivar Jr. said he’s concerned by the findings, which may require further action.

“I strongly believe that the internal auditor and our team’s findings are accurate and complete,” Saldivar said, adding later “And I believe a full accounting of the Department of Technology needs to take place.”

School board President Danny Vela said he wants to see the supporting documentation before drawing any conclusions.

“We haven’t been given a full report by either the audit committee or the auditor,” Vela said. “I’ve read exactly what you’ve read. And outside of that I haven’t been given any documentation.”

Karr said he welcomed the additional scrutiny.

“Is there stuff here that could have been done better? Yeah,” Karr said, but the audit report lacks context and doesn’t provide supporting documentation for many assertions. “This has gotten way, way, way out of hand.”

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