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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Internal Audit of Castaic School District Under Study : Education: Board members want to look at management and financial policies in the wake of the superintendent’s reported misuse of a credit card.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the school board election nears, the heat in the Castaic Union School District is turning up a notch.

The board, which has been in the throes of a sharp division for most of the past two years, will consider an internal audit of district management and financial policies at its meeting today. The discussion comes a week after a July letter from the Los Angeles County Office of Education rebuking Supt. Scott Brown for misuse of a district credit card was leaked.

Earlier this week, trustee Jane Pederson resigned, just two months before her term was to end. Pederson, 50, who had already chosen not to seek reelection in November, was one of three members who generally supported Brown; she cited brutal politicking as her main reason for leaving.

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A management audit of the district has not been conducted in more than 10 years, and Brown’s opponents said it would help clean up a wasteful and inefficient administration.

“There have been a few years of what we felt was fiscal mismanagement,” said trustee Gloria Mercado, who is running for her second term on the board. “It goes back to management and lack of leadership. It’s nothing personal.”

Mercado and board member Lester Freeman earlier this year asked the county to look into Brown’s use of the credit card. Brown, by his own admission, used the credit card several times in the past two years for personal expenses of $1,259, which included travel, hotel stays, car rentals and gifts. Each time, he promptly reimbursed the district.

The county responded in a July 20 letter that said Brown’s use of the card “may involve nothing more than poor judgment,” then asked him to “please discontinue” using it for personal charges.

Brown has said some charges occurred through oversight and others were “simply poor choices or poor judgments on my part.”

Board member Bruce Fox downplayed Brown’s use of the card, saying attention paid to it was politicking by Mercado and Freeman.

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“The story was sat on by other members of the board until now because the election is coming up,” Fox said, echoing the sentiments of Pederson and board President Irene Massey. “I had no problems with (Brown’s use of the credit card) as long as I knew that it was reimbursed.”

Mercado and Freeman, who was elected two years ago, have been longtime critics of Brown and have hoped that he would step down.

In November, six candidates are running for three seats, one of which was vacated by Pederson. Mercado has aligned herself with Ethel Matlen and Wendi Milka, while Massey, who is also seeking reelection and has generally been supportive of Brown, heads a slate that includes Nora Emmons and Dirk Gosda.

It is unclear who asked for the audit, with Mercado taking credit for the idea and Massey saying it was a decision by the entire board. It is also uncertain what the audit will cover.

Massey said there are areas she would like to have looked at other than Brown’s management. She would not say what those areas are.

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