By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Board of Education has been focusing on next year’s budget as of late, but at the Thursday, June 15 meeting to review the audit for the previous year, it was clear that some old messes may require some cleaning up as well.
According to the audit ending June 30, 2016, unauthorized expenditures with overages in the highway fund, the rural debt service fund and the capital projects fund were just some of the issues found by accounting firm Blackburn, Childers and Steagall, who presented the audit.
But what raised the most questions from BOE members were the salary increases that did not receive approval from the board.
The report states that salaries exceeded appropriations in 32 of 73 salary line items of the general purpose school fund by amounts ranging from $10 to $283,399. According to Tennessee Code Annotated 49-2-301, the board must approve salary increases, stating that “the director of schools can recommend to the board salaries for teachers in accordance with the salary schedule and the salaries and wages of all other employees nominated by the director of schools.”
“It’s obviously a clear violation of code that you’re not supposed to do that,” BCS Partner Melissa Steagall-Jones said during the review. “The director of schools can have great input in that, but they can’t authorize that.
“Do I feel there was ill intent in it? No I don’t. If I thought it was fraud and it rose to criminal intent, I would have turned it over to the state of Tennessee. They have seen this report and they did not question that. Do I think there was an error? Yes, absolutely.”
The Washington County Department of Education saw a new finance director and an accounting software conversion in that same year, which could have brought about an error, Steagall-Jones added.
“I think some people were surprised that some unauthorized things had been done without our approval,” BOE Chairman Jack Leonard told the Herald & Tribune. “That’s why I asked that we go back and rescind those pay increases, since we didn’t approve them. So that might be something the board looks at once she gets that information to us.”
Board members requested further information as to who the increases were slated to go to and by how much. The Herald & Tribune has made a public records request for that information as well.
Steagall-Jones said a previous finance director was one of the employees listed. She also said this could have been due to the software conversion and the extra hours the finance director had put in because of that conversion.
“With all the changes that we have had, it’s wise that we’re going and looking at it (specific salaries affected) just to be sure,” Leonard said.
“I’ve stated many times that this isn’t our money. This is the people’s money and this is money that’s been approved to be used for education and we need to be sure that it’s being used correctly and wisely.”