Documents show Bibb schools’ forensic audit bills nearly $413,000

The Bibb County school system has rung up almost $413,000 in bills for an audit of the system’s finances and board members’ e-mails, nearly five times the amount that school Superintendent Romain Dallemand told board members in December the audit would cost.

So far, the school system has paid more than $346,000 for the audits, and the auditing firm McGladrey has billed the system nearly $67,000, according to documents obtained by The Telegraph under an Open Records Act request.

In December, Dallemand wrote to board members in a series of e-mails that the system would be hiring McGladrey’s Atlanta office to perform a forensic audit to the tune of $90,000. According to the superintendent, the firm was hired over concerns about employees’ use of school discount cards, warehouse memberships, building activity funds and credit cards, as well as over service agreements and a complaint by one terminated employee about overtime pay. Dallemand also wrote to board members that he had been in contact with the local FBI office and the U.S. attorney about the issues.

Attempts to reach Dallemand and McGladrey representatives for comment on this story were unsuccessful.

While board Vice President Susan Middleton did not want to comment on the audit’s costs without having documents with her, she said the audit results presented to the board so far have been “broad,” including information on spending in the district as well as a look at board members’ e-mails.

The e-mail analysis is a part of monitoring board governance, one factor considered in the system’s re-accreditation process this school year. It also helps Dallemand have an idea of the issues in Bibb County, she said.

“I don’t have a problem with what they’re bringing to us,” she said. “All of this is a way to improve our work and how our district operates.”

McGladrey representatives first shared results of their findings in March, discussing cash accounts, membership accounts, credit cards and services agreements in the system, along with reports on other programs. The board voted to extend the audit into its second phase at that meeting, but board minutes do not elaborate on the scope of the audit firm’s work.

McGladrey’s second presentation in July focused on an analysis of board members’ e-mails -- and with it, possible violations of state and local policies.

Board members Gary Bechtel and Sue Sipe took issue with those findings, questioning the timing of their release during the heat of summer political primary races. A sampling of the e-mails released to the public targeted Bechtel, and he subsequently sued Dallemand, contending that the superintendent had improperly released information about his son’s school records.

Bechtel, who is term-limited on the school board, won his bid for a county commission seat July 31. Sipe will face challenger Merritt Johnson in the Aug. 21 Democratic primary in her bid to keep her school board seat.

Earlier this month, local blogger Bill Knowles wrote about the audit’s $346,000 price tag in his blog “We Are Politics,” describing the spending as “the most shocking misuse that I have found of taxpayer money.”

Payments totaling $346,099.55 cover invoices from McGladrey from January to June. Another four invoices totaling $66,796 were sent to the school system July 20 and 30, according to documents from the open records request. The Telegraph has not received any documents that indicate the system has paid those bills yet.

Among the $66,796 in invoices billed to the system since late July is a bill for $11,173.50 for a board e-mail report. The invoice notes that it was an “unplanned work report request by client not included in engagement letter.”

While The Telegraph did not receive detailed information about the work that auditors performed regarding board members’ e-mails, documents show McGladrey employees performed that work from June 26 to July 6.

The system also has been billed $2,234.67 for a look at travel expense reports for Dallemand and board members that was not planned, according to the invoice.

In January and February, the scope of McGladrey’s work included analyses of E-Rate -- a federal program that gives money to schools for technology -- and school lunch programs in the system, credit card spending and visits to some schools, according to detailed invoices. McGladrey addressed those issues in its initial report to the school board in March.

The school system did not include detailed invoices for work billed between March 28 and June 28. While the system included copies of detailed invoices for bills from July 20 and 30, they did not include descriptions of the work.

School attorneys indicated Friday that they would look into questions raised by The Telegraph about the inconsistencies with the invoice information.

In a June 18 letter to a school board attorney, McGladrey provided the system with updated estimates of its Phase I and Phase II costs. Estimates for each phase started at $110,000, according to the letter, but with additional procedures requested by school officials, Phase I rose to $170,000 and Phase 2 to $180,000, bringing the estimates to $350,000.

The letter also shows that Dallemand signed and agreed to that amount July 3.

The $346,000 tally for McGladrey’s work so far includes a $19,071 bill from March 28 for an analysis of Title I-related information, consulting service agreements, business expense reimbursements and e-mails. It is not clear which e-mails were reviewed based on the documents provided to The Telegraph, because the system did not provide detailed invoices for that work.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.