SC

Report: South Carolina School District Mismanaged Funds

State inspector general’s office uncovers sketchy financial activity in Laurens County school district …

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A review of Laurens County School District 55 conducted by the South Carolina Office of the State Inspector General (SIG) has revealed significant fiscal mismanagement and procedural lapses from 2021-2024.

The review – requested in December by the Laurens County legislative delegation – focused on fiscal practices within the district from 2021-2024. It was initiated after the delegation asked the SIG to investigate the delivery of speech and language therapy provided to students by a vendor’s employee who was not properly licensed.

The delegation requested the review of any additional allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, misconduct, violations of state or federal law – or any wrongdoing as deemed appropriate.

The report released by the SIG late last month found plenty.

“The SIG conducted interviews of current and former district staff and board members, members of the public, subject matter experts, and persons who initiated confidential contact with the SIG,” it noted. “In addition, the SIG reviewed applicable state and federal laws, regulations and policies.”

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At a June 2023 board meeting, the district’s elected leaders voted unanimously to adopt a procurement policy and approve a $56.6 million budget for fiscal year 2023-2024. The finance procedures manual for District 55 stated, among other things, that “under no circumstances will personal items be purchased using the school credit card with the intent of reimbursing the school.”

“The card is restricted to school expenditures,” it added, but noted that travel credit cards could be used to secure hotel rooms, airlines, and conference registration – but no meals associated with school travel.

In the scope of its review, SIG investigated P-card transactions within the district budget – revealing a total of more than $83,000 worth of transactions which allegedly violated the district’s regulations on spending.

For example, a July 2023 credit card statement revealed thousands of dollars spent at places such as Walmart, Amazon, Hobby Lobby and multiple restaurants – and more specifically, nearly $6,000 spent at the Grand Bohemian Lodge in Greenville, S.C.

Take a look …

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The report also noted that thirty-one P-cards were reported as canceled, lost or stolen since April 2018. A table breaking down the cards revealed two were stolen, three were lost and 26 were canceled.

As stated in the report, “the majority of P-cards were reported canceled due to detection of fraudulent transactions, while a smaller portion were canceled due to employees leaving the district or multiple cards ordered in error.”

The credit card policy for the district stated that all P-cards were to be kept in a locked and secured place – and that a signature log must be maintained and updated whenever it is used. District staff rarely maintained these practices, however, according to the SIG.

Additionally, investigators also identified inconsistencies regarding the limits the allowable rate of reimbursement for meals for employees while on travel – which were set at $8.00 for breakfast, $10.00 for lunch, and $20.00 for dinner. The manual also stated reimbursement for meals for meetings one day or less in duration would not be allowed. However, in a seemingly conflicting excerpt, noted that “where meals are included in the registration fee or prepaid by the district, no reimbursement claim will be allowed.”

In an effort to see if the district was keeping tabs on these reimbursements, the SIG reviewed more than 300 claims made by ten district employees.

“Based on the review of the various travel reimbursements and interviews, the district failed to enforce (its reimbursement policy) and the requirements outlined in the finance procedures manual,” the report noted. “With rare exception, anything received by the finance department was reimbursed to the employee without question or ensuring compliance.”

The report further noted the failure of the district to identify a policy relating to the purchase of gift cards with district funds – and procedures governing gifts to employees. Specifically, it identified nearly $23,000 worth of gift cards from fiscal years 2020 to 2024, and nearly $24,500 in employee giveaways during the same five years.

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Regarding the speech/ language therapy issue which formed the basis of the investigatory request, the report reviewed “four speech/ language therapy service vendors, contract services, the mischaracterization of expenditures, and use of federal funds … as it pertained to Speech/Language Therapy services.”

Investigators also looked at therapeutic services provided by an unlicensed Speech/ Language Pathologist (SLP).

“The unlicensed SLP utilized the license of an SLP with a similar name as well as the teaching certificate that belonged to another person,” the SIG found.

Due to the district’s failure to verify the SLP’s licensing, a credit of nearly $6,000 was issued for services previously paid by the district.

“A credit memorandum dated 9/8/23 for this amount was applied toward subsequent services provided to the district by the vendor,” the report noted.

Ultimately, the SIG determined the district was not responsible for the licensing verification – and found district officials took the appropriate steps after discovering the person was not properly licensed.

The report further revealed that between June 2020 to June 2023, the district entered into an independent contractor agreement with a vendor for speech/ language therapy services (at) a rate of $65/ hour for each school year, while a Speech/ Language Pathologist Assistant (SLPA) maintain(s) a rate of $55/ hour.

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RELATED | BAD APPLES IN S.C. SCHOOLS

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“Upon review of payments to (the vendor) and the supporting documentation, it was noted that although the agreement for the SLPA was for a rate of $55/hour, the SLPA’s time sheet … listed an hourly rate of $75 and the SLPA’s time sheets contained the calculation for the total cost of the hours billed at a rate of $75/hour,” the SIG report found.

District officials accepted “the amount listed on these time sheets” even though it was $20 an hour higher than the agreed-upon rate – resulting in an overpayment of more than $11,000 for these services.

Additionally, bonus payments totaling nearly $63,500 were made by the district for the benefit of contract employees starting in December of 2020 – even though the board informed the SIG it only approved bonuses for district employees and not contractors.

The SIG also identified issues regarding uncertified teachers – and problems with parental notification.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 states that any school receiving Title I funds “shall provide to each individual parent of a child who is a student in such school … timely notice that the parent’s child has been assigned, or has been taught for four or more consecutive weeks by, a teacher who does not meet applicable state certification or licensure requirements at the grade level and subject area in which the teacher has been assigned.”

In an effort to gauge compliance with that law, SIG reviewed a total of 103 uncertified teachers who provided instruction for four or more consecutive weeks – finding that the district sent only 15 letters of notification to parents.

Despite finding several areas of concern, the SIG investigation did not identify any criminal activity or fraudulent activity on the part of district employees.

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THE REPORT …

(S.C. Inspector General)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Erin Parrott (Provided)

Erin Parrott is a Greenville, S.C. native who graduated from J. L. Mann High School in 2021. She is currently a rising senior at the University of South Carolina majoring in broadcast journalism. Got feedback or a tip for Erin? Email her here.

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2 comments

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The Colonel Top fan June 10, 2024 at 8:37 pm

Well you finally decided to look into our school district offices! I’m willing to bet Fancher, Parrott and Nolan can stay busy the rest of the year just looking at P Cards and building plans.

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Allison Sullivan Top fan June 11, 2024 at 7:47 pm

Investigate how accountable they hold themselves when it comes to their personnel policies. Inappropriate relationships with the parent of a student in their class on and off school property, failure to refer for appropriate special education services resulting in negligence, sending an employee on a paid trip out of state instead of investigating misconduct and admin leave, past criminal charges, and transferring the employees with complaints to different schools to teach instead of utilizing appropriate state disciplinary procedures.

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