Early forensic audit results highlight problems in Bibb school system

acastillo@macon.comMarch 16, 2012 

The preliminary results of a forensic audit of Bibb County’s school finances over the past three fiscal years indicates the system has been paying former employees long after they’ve stopped working. It also found that schools have inconsistent practices when it comes to spending, paying bills and following local school board and state policies.

The audit was carried out by McGladrey, one of the largest accounting firms in the nation and the world.

Most of the work carried out by the firm looked at procedures involving cash accounts, membership accounts at Sam’s Club, credit card spending and service agreements with independent contractors. The audit reviewed these transactions among central office departments, as well as Bibb’s high schools and four of its middle schools -- Appling, Ballard-Hudson, Rutland and Weaver -- from July 1, 2008, to Jan. 19, 2012.

“In order to improve the system, we need to know exactly what the issues are and what we’re dealing with,” Superintendent Romain Dallemand said Thursday at a school board meeting.

The preliminary audit report indicated that schools and central office departments have not followed local board or state accounting policies, or both.

According to the audit findings, 149 former system employees had been receiving payments more than 100 days after they stopped working for the system. In one case, one former employee received payments nine years after leaving the system. The preliminary report also showed 897 employees received overtime pay during the three-and-a-half year period, with one employee making about 10 times more in overtime than the employee received from a regular salary.

Just before 9 p.m. Thursday, school board members were in a closed-door executive session and unavailable for comment on the preliminary audit findings.

McGladrey also looked at accounting practices with money from federal programs such as Title I, which serves low-income students, as well as E-Rate, which funds technology in schools.

The findings in the forensic audit are preliminary, and the school system may choose to enter a second phase that would involve McGladrey digging deeper into discrepancies in the books.

In the presentation by Debra K. Thompson, director of financial forensics and valuation services with the company, she recommended that schools with memberships to Sam’s Club discontinue those. Instead, they should make those purchases through the district’s central purchasing departments when needed.

Thompson cited a state document that estimates school systems save 10 percent to 35 percent on those expenses when using a centralized system compared to those that do not.

“I recommend you consider following centralized purchasing,” she said.

Most of the findings focused on credit card spending and other activity among schools.

During the audit process, schools were asked to provide documentation for credit card spending but not all did so.

Among those that did, spending on school credit cards ranged from $1,207 to $133,388 between July 2008 and August 2011.

The report indicated that at least one school had been keeping signed, blank checks on hand when the principal was not available to sign them. That is against local and state policy.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.

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