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School system finance in a precarious situation, attorney says

POSTED: April 16, 2017 9:06 a.m.

 

Liberty County School System bookkeeping records are in disarray, according to testimony by a school system employee and an independent financial auditor.

The problems were brought to light at Tuesday’s tribunal hearing concerning former LCSS Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese, who was placed on leave without pay earlier this year by Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee.

During the hearing, auditor Jacqueline Mells of Brunwick said Reese failed to reconcile bank statements since June 2016.

Mells said she found a number of discrepancies, including that 2017 fiscal year budget revenues recorded locally in the school system’s MUNIS financial management software were $79 million less than that reported to the Georgia Department of Education.

Other discrepancies ranged from $2,000 to $6 million.

These and other issues were outlined in a March 3 letter dated March 3 from school system attorney Philip Hartley to Reese and his attorney, Matthew Billips, then presented to the panel at Tuesday’s hearing before three current and former school superintendents.

“The evidence clearly shows that the finance of the school system is in a precarious situation,” Hartley told the panel during his closing speech. “Hopefully it’s not the finances. Hopefully it’s the bookkeeping about the finances…which appears to be the case. Mr. Reese is responsible for that.”

Both Reese and Billips were a no-show at the hearing.

Lee, who testified for 90 minutes, said Reese failed to correct several mistakes regarding wages paid to school employees.

One error, Lee said, led to the overpayment of a teacher by $29,000. She also said Reese mishandled a number of personnel issues involving appropriate salaries or supplements, verifying proper certification and credentialing of employees, and in one case, authorizing the hiring of a custodian without proper authority.

Mells performed her audit in February after an internal audit in December by LCSS Executive Director of Operations Jason Rogers that allegedly uncovered a number of issues involving school finances.

Billips called Rogers’ audit “a bogus internal audit,” that was also “inaccurate and inconsequential.”

He also claims Reese was hired by Lee to replace Rogers during the 2014-15 school year to clean up bookkeeping errors Rogers made in previous years.

Billips said Rogers was placed back into the internal audit position after Reese questioned Lee’s recommendation for banking services.

Reese claims Lee violated sealed bid policy and is suing Lee and the school system for breach of contract and violating the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act.

Outspoken BoE member Marcus Scott IV said he has asked the board to consider getting a forensic audit. At Tuesday’s meeting Scott said his request was brushed aside by the rest of the board members.

“I asked for it to be on the agenda and Lily Baker said no,” Scott said during his weekly Facebook live show, The Education Hotline. “How do you make an individual decision to say no? So she already knew what was coming…that I was going to do it in the public meeting and ask that it be put on the agenda….so they had already got together and they didn’t vote to second the motion. It wasn’t the fact that we are not voting for the forensic audit…they don’t even want it to be mentioned for certain reasons.”

Scott said such an audit was discussed in executive session, but he felt it should have been discussed in public as well. He said the audit was also recommended to the BoE by an attorney.

 

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