One Bibb County school board member cost the system an additional $1,150 on the bill to pay for Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s relocation expenses in early 2011, according to preliminary results of a forensic audit of the system’s finances.
In addition, the audit report, put together by accounting firm McGladrey and shared with school board members Thursday, indicates the system has been paying former employees even 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.
Dallemand provided Bibb school leaders two bids for his relocation expenses, according to the report. Later, school board member Gary Bechtel, who briefly responded to the issue Thursday, sought a bid from a third company. That company ended up being the lowest bidder, and Bechtel approved the invoices, according to the audit. The documents indicate the system ended up paying about $1,150 more than it would have if it had chosen one of the other companies, and auditors said Bechtel’s approval violated existing policies.
Bechtel, however, said he was acting in his role as then-board president. He said he kept Dallemand, board members, school attorneys and other Bibb County staff informed at every step. He also said the invoices for the expenses were directed to Ron Collier, chief financial officer for the school system.
“It was transparent to everybody involved,” Bechtel said.
Efforts to reach Collier for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
He also said the local company was the lowest bidder of the three companies and that the added cost came from extra moving expenses that came up later.
Bechtel said the school board negotiated those relocation expenses directly with Dallemand as part of his contract. After Dallemand submitted bids from two Midwestern companies, Bechtel said he also contacted a local company, which he would not name, for an estimate of moving expenses. He said he was more comfortable working with the local company.
Bechtel said he made the decisions in consultation with Dallemand. A bid request for the services was not posted on the school system’s website, and the decision was made based on the three bids from Dallemand and Bechtel.
Once the moving process was under way, though, additional shuttle and cleaning expenses brought the costs about $1,150 higher than estimated. Bechtel said he thinks the system would have had to shoulder those costs no matter which company it chose for the moving job. Dallemand’s moving expenses from Rochester, Minn., and from Hartford, Conn., where other family members lived, came in at $15,145, Bechtel said.
“I didn’t think there was an issue when going through the effort with those expenses,” Bechtel said. “They were reasonable overruns that were unanticipated.”
Some audience members at Thursday’s school board meeting expressed surprise at the audit findings and Bechtel’s actions. One audience member even called for his resignation.
In response Friday, Bechtel said, “That’s ridiculous. I was acting within the authority as president, as communicated between other board members at the time.”
Current board President Tommy Barnes said Thursday’s discussion of the audit findings was the first time he had heard about Bechtel’s actions.
“I knew nothing about that,” Barnes said Friday. “Currently serving as president, I never feel it’s my role to interfere with the bid process.”
Dallemand’s travel expenses also came up during Thursday’s audit discussions.
School system documents indicate that Dallemand spent money for meals and other travel expenses during the past year that were higher than daily spending limits outlined by the state.
During Thursday’s meeting, auditors discussed a June 2011 letter from then-school board attorney Warren Plowden to Collier stating that Dallemand could be reimbursed for reasonable meal expenses incurred while carrying out his duties as superintendent.
The school system’s legal counsel also reviewed other documents and found no irregularities with them, Barnes said.
“There was no wrongdoing with the expenditures,” he said.
Bechtel said some of McGladrey’s findings were consistent with issues that have come up in the past.
“There need to be proper controls,” he said. “This particular audit gave more details.”
Barnes is concerned that principals and other staff members have not followed the directives of the central office in preparing for the audit, including some schools not complying with requests for financial documents.
“We’ve got to put a stop to that,” Barnes said.
Following the board’s Thursday decision to allow McGladrey to carry out a second phase of their audit, the board will need to support the superintendent in whatever personnel action may come as a result of the audit and address Bibb’s policies and procedures, Barnes said.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.