Monday, June 14, 2010

TOP STORY >> Audit shows PCSSD fast and loose with money

By John Hofheimer
Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School Board on Friday afternoon reversed itself, implementing for the first time a “no-cash-advance” policy for traveling board members, just hours after the state Legislative Audit Committee chastised the board for its failure to rein in the self-enrichment of some members through improper advances and restitution.

Board expenses from July 1, 2006 to March 3, 2009 included $37,855 for travel reimbursements and $8,544 for food and catering for workshops and meetings. Board policy does not impose a limit on food purchases.

The audit found about $7,000 of that improper.

When it met in May, the Legislative Audit Committee discussed having the state take over the district for financial malfeasance and incompetence, and at its June meeting on Friday, it decided to audit the school district annually.

In May, the auditors said more than half a million dollars had been stolen or misappropriated over the past six years.

Some employees, including former maintenance supervisor James Deimer, will go to jail.
Deimer stole about $440,000 worth of school property for resale. He has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

Among the audit findings were that two PCSSD school board members, Mildred Tatum and Gwen Williams, owe $2,788 and $619 respectively for travel reimbursements they received that are not allowed by state law. They include reimbursements to Tatum of $116 for a ticket to a Broadway play and $321 for two nights and valet parking at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock, when she attended a local conference.
Tatum lives a few miles outside Little Rock.

Both women submitted virtually identical letters to the auditors vaguely detailing their intention to repay the debts, but not laying out a schedule of payments.

This is not the first time Williams has received improper cash advances or reimbursements. Several years ago she received an advance of about $2,000 for a workshop that she didn’t attend, and she did not repay the money for more than a year, until it was discovered and made public.

The audit committee members, unhappy with the district’s response to its findings about the board, said they wanted the entire board to attend the next meeting, which will be in September.

Only board president Tim Clark attended the Legislative Audit Committee meeting Friday, and he also was censured.

The committee members expressed concern over mileage reimbursements of $2,030 for 100 trips, 58 miles each from Clark’s home to the central office and back between February and December 2009.

Tatum was paid $1,447 in mileage between July 2007 and September 2009. Williams billed the district and was paid $339.

Board members Charlie Wood, Bill Vasquez, Sandra Sawyer and Danny Gilliland apparently asked for no reimbursement.

Clark, who requested the audit shortly after taking office, could be glad now that former Superintendent James Sharpe rejected one of his reimbursement requests.

He asked Sharpe to sign off on a $2,753 bill for a party Clark threw at the Maumelle Country Club in celebration of the groundbreaking for the new high school at Maumelle.
Sharpe refused, Clark paid it himself, and soon after, the board forced Sharpe to resign.

Interim Superintendent Rob McGill put an item on the agenda for Tuesday’s regular board meeting that would have prohibited cash advances for board members in the face of abuse by at least two of the board members.

But the board tabled the motion and ordered McGill to direct Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver to create a policy that would not place a hardship on the board members.
McGill said that violated the committee’s wishes and refused.

In a special PCSSD board meeting Friday, after the Legislative Audit Committee meeting, the board unanimously reversed itself, prohibiting cash advances to board members by a 4-0 vote. Clark, Gilliland, Tatum and Wood were the only members present.

The board on Tuesday also defeated McGill’s agenda item that would have required Williams and Tatum to pay the district by July 15 for the improper reimbursements or advancements they got or face possible charges.