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SPRINGFIELD - The state's top auditor said Wednesday that a recent report on the Regional Office of Education for Franklin and Williamson counties was the "most challenging" one he's seen since the state began auditing the county education agencies more than five years ago.

"We hope that we never see an audit like this ever again," said Auditor General William Holland.

The audit detailing wasted spending and rules problems was released last month, but a panel of lawmakers discussed and signed off on it Wednesday.

A majority of problems came under the tenure of former Regional Superintendent Barry Kohl, who pleaded guilty in April to charges of theft, bribery and official misconduct.

The audit found, among other things, that the office had no controls to prevent employees from being reimbursed for personal expenses. And Kohl's wife was reportedly paid $25,411 for 124 days that she was absent from work.

Interim Regional Superintendent Ronda Baker, who was appointed to take Kohl's place last year, estimated that the losses over several years totaled nearly half a million dollars. She doesn't know if criminal or other proceedings would result in that money being recovered.

Baker said she has worked to fix the office, and nearly 40 percent of the staff has either left or been fired in the last year.

"That has solved numerous problems that are mentioned in the audit," she said.

Baker's interim stint as superintendent ends at the end of the week, when recently elected Matt Donkin will take over.

Baker will remain on the staff until October to help with the transition, and Holland said his office will watch closely, too, to make sure the situation improves.

"It just can't get any worse," Holland said.

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