Three Bibb school board members say independent review needed for finances

acastillo@macon.comMarch 9, 2012 

Bibb County school board members Lynn Farmer, Sue Sipe and Gary Bechtel are calling for an independent financial review of the school system’s spending, raising questions of whether money has been spent properly under the leadership of Superintendent Romain Dallemand.

Farmer, Sipe and Bechtel issued a written statement after the school board approved the Macon Miracle schools-improvement plan in a 5-3 vote Wednesday night. The three, who voted against the plan without more specifics of how it would be carried out or paid for, called for the financial review of system spending during Dallemand’s first 13 months in office. The trio want an outside law enforcement agency or the current school board auditor to handle the review of spending, including money for employee salaries and consultants.

“There’s a lot in the plan I support, but again, my ‘no’ vote was more about voting yes for the transparency and accountability and fiscal transparency I don’t think we’ve exhibited in this process,” Farmer said Thursday.

Farmer said she, Bechtel and Sipe don’t have a specific organization in mind for conducting the review, as long as it is one without a vested interest in its results.

“I would want to investigate the spending processes,” she said. “I would want something independent of (Dallemand). Otherwise, I don’t think the public is going to accept the findings.”

The GBI would not do the sort of audit the three school board members are calling for, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said via e-mail.

For Farmer, a Feb. 26 Telegraph article examining Dallemand’s out-of-town travel since he became superintendent in February 2011 raises serious questions about spending in the district.

“It’s my job as a board member to mind the taxpayers’ money,” she said. “I just think as a district, I think we’d be better off to go ahead and get an independent review, (make) public the results and move on.”

Meanwhile, the school system is undergoing its own forensic audit, Dallemand said Wednesday night.

According to school system documents, the forensic audit was intended to examine the system’s accounting practices during fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2011, as well as areas where fraud can or has taken place.

The Telegraph contacted the Bibb County school system for more information about the audit Thursday but could not reach anyone who could provide more information.

While the statement issued by Farmer, Sipe and Bechtel was given to the media, board President Tommy Barnes said he and other board members did not receive a copy of it.

“No board member communicated that to me,” Barnes said Thursday. “They didn’t give that to me last night.”

At the Feb. 9 school board meeting, Dallemand and the board discussed the possibility of presenting results of the forensic audit at its March 15 meeting, although that would not be set in stone until an agenda is released, Barnes said.

The board president also said the forensic audit will provide a comprehensive look at the system’s finances and is not being performed by anyone in the district.

Farmer, Sipe and Bechtel’s statement also raises questions of whether Dallemand has followed the stipulations outlined in his job contract, such as following state rules on travel spending.

The statement also says that Dallemand’s contract stipulates that he, with the guidance of the school board, will develop a strategic plan that prioritizes student achievement, school safety, budget management and community collaboration.

“I really felt that this year the handling of discipline in the schools had been just about a complete failure,” said Farmer, who considers school safety a major priority.

Student discipline and teacher morale are among the worst Farmer has seen in her decade as a school board member.

While the plan now includes changes that do more to address discipline, Dallemand should have placed a strong focus on the issue and enforced policies already in place, Farmer said.

“To me, if children are not safe in school and teachers are not safe teaching, we are not going to be successful. I don’t care what plan we have in place,” she said.

Farmer thinks an independent financial review would need school board approval, and she intends to bring up the matter at the next school board meeting.

If a majority of the board doesn’t approve the review, “at least I feel that I have done due diligence as a board member to ask questions,” Farmer said.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.

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