South Carolina School District Finds No Fraud in Case of Mismanagement and Overspending

COLUMBIA — An inquiry by the state Office of Inspector General reveals that a school district in Laurens County has overspent nearly $1 million on various expenses such as food, travel, and gift cards over the last four years. The report highlighted these financial discrepancies.

An examination into Laurens County School District 55, encompassing schools in Laurens, did not unveil any criminal activities. However, it disclosed that the district excessively spent up to $973,000 on unnecessary items due to dubious record-keeping and policy gaps, as per the report.

Lawmakers representing the 5,100 students in this district had sought this investigation following concerns raised by the school board regarding the speech language pathologist program.

The inspection of four years’ worth of records unearthed outdated policies and lenient enforcement measures, potentially exposing the district to fraud risks, according to the report.

Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, expressed that while the findings weren’t ideal, there was no evidence of intentional misappropriation of taxpayer funds by employees.

“This underscores the importance of organizational culture, especially under the previous superintendent’s leadership,” as highlighted in the report.

Following Superintendent Ameca Thomas’s resignation in January, the district appointed co-interim Superintendent Jody Pendland as the permanent replacement.

The report recommended a detailed audit by the state Department of Education and proposed policy updates to mitigate the exploitation of outdated regulations, a move the district officials intend to enforce.

“This report provides a roadmap for the District’s improvement in delivering quality education,” affirmed by co-interim Superintendents Pendland and Harris.

Acknowledging the report, Superintendent Ellen Weaver is committed to collaborating with the school district for any necessary improvements, as confirmed by a department spokesperson.

Overspending

Investigations uncovered misappropriation including expenditures on Stanley stainless steel tumblers, steak dinners, and electronic picture frames from a student meal account, contradicting federal guidelines supporting student meals in the poverty-stricken district.

These expenses diverted over $12,600 towards birthday and end-of-year meals at upscale restaurants, as well as $8,500 on gift cards and giveaways, as detailed in the report.

Compliance with federal program rules regarding fund usage seemed challenging for staff, according to McCravy, resulting in financial mismanagement.

The report mentioned discrepancies due to the lack of financial policy awareness among employees, leading to inadvertent misuse of funds.

Meticulous adherence to policies was lacking, allowing for unauthorized reimbursements exceeding $36,000 and non-compliant travel expenses, exposing lax enforcement within the district.

Among the oversights were inappropriate expense claims using district cards, along with excessive spending on gift cards, contrary to the district’s financial regulations, as highlighted in the investigation.

Efforts to implement cost-saving measures were advised, along with tightening financial protocols, as emphasized by the report.

Contract workers

In a span of three years, the district disbursed approximately $531,000 to three vendors without formal contracts, illustrating a lapse in basic contract oversight.

Contract absence led to unclear allocation of funds, stressing the importance of formal agreements for service delineation and payment standards.

Incorrect compensation, as evidenced by a speech language pathologist assistant being paid $20 more than the contract rate, necessitates remedial action to rectify the discrepancy.

Included contract workers in district-wide bonuses, exceeding $63,400, was deemed inaccurate, indicating a need for alignment with contractual obligations.

Uncertified teachers

Instances of unqualified teachers, including an uncertified speech therapist using misleading credentials, led to corrective actions in the district.

Notifying parents of uncertified teachers as per state regulations was found lacking, prompting overdue notifications and alterations to faulty practices.

Procedural deficiencies were noted in reporting uncertified teachers to state authorities, warranting adherence to state regulations for transparency and compliance.

Implementing reforms prescribed in the report should address these shortcomings and enhance operational integrity within the district, noted McCravy.

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