Bibb schools again rocked by serious allegations

The hits just keep on coming for the Bibb County School System. After months of controversy over the “Macon Miracle” plan proposed and adopted by the school board, now comes new findings in another phase of a school district forensic audit.

The first release of findings by McGladrey, a firm specializing in such audits, found widespread misuse of credit card and “membership accounts.” There were instances of “substantial” school level disbursements to purchase Chick-Fil-A biscuits to re-sell to students in competition with its own food service program; 149 employees received payroll disbursement more than 100 days after termination; and charges on credit cards ranged from $1,207 to $133,388. In addition, there was open defiance from some of the campuses. Of the seven schools asked to provide financial information, four ignored the request from the central office.

Now an audit of board members’ e-mails says Gary Bechtel may have violated a number of state and local school board policies by, among other things, interfering in the hiring and competitive bid processes. Susan Sipe was also mentioned in one minor e-mail communication with school personnel. The audit report is available at the board website: www.bibb.k12.ga.us/images/ForensicAuditFULLexhibits.pdf.

There are several questions that arise from the audit -- from the timing of its release (the board members cited are in election mode) to the audit’s veracity, to what action the board can take.

There is also the question of how board governance became part of the audit. In a letter to the school district’s attorney dated July 5, 2012, a McGladrey representative said “One of the items the Board requested for us to continue from our Phase 1 procedures was a review of board governance, which includes communications between Board Members and school district employees. ...” However, Bechtel, Sipe and board member Lynn Farmer say that the expanded audit was intended to take a deeper look at school finances, not board governance.

On the veracity question, McGladrey has been in business since the 1920s and has a worldwide footprint. Would it risk its reputation with the handling of this audit?

As for what’s next, the board could punt and refer the matter to the Professional Standards Commission. However the board decides to deal with this issue, it’s important to sweep away questions of personality and deal only with the facts of any possible infractions.

Another expected blow to the system was delivered in a Safe Havens International report. Safe Havens was hired to access the district’s policies and training in the areas of discipline and safety of students and staff. The preliminary report found underreporting of incidents. This lends credence to the oft-mentioned lack of discipline in the district’s schools.

The bright news during an otherwise gloomy and contentious board meeting Thursday, was that Safe Havens believes the district, by opening alternative schools and setting clear guidelines for reporting incidents, is moving in the right direction.

-- The Telegraph Editorial Board