The Liberty County Board of Education voted Thursday to accept the recommendation of a tribunal panel and is firing former Liberty County Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese.
The BOE voted on the matter during a 5:30 p.m. called meeting.
LCSS Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee and BOE members Yvette Keel and Marcus Scott IV were not present for the called meeting. Board chairwoman Lily Baker and members Verdell Jones, Marcia Anderson, Carol Guyett and Carolyn Smith Carter voted to fire Reese.
Reese, who was placed on administrative leave in January, has filed a lawsuit against Lee and the school board in Liberty County Superior Court alleging violations of the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act.
Reese claims he was retaliated against for claims Lee violated policy regarding banking services.
Both Lee and Ameris Bank, the bank which got the school system’s contract, deny improprieties.
Lee and school system attorney Phillip Hartley say Reese gave himself a raise without authorization and his incompetency and neglect harmed the school system.
Lee is leaving at the end of the school year after she and school board members “mutually” agreed she would not return.
Under the agreement, Lee is being paid her $190,000 salary for next year as severance pay.
The tribunal panel met April 11. Reese and his attorney, Matthew Billips were no shows at the hearing and contested its makeup. Reese’s lawsuit was filed the same day as the panel was held.
The panel was comprised of former School System Superintendents Sam Allen, Beauford Hicks and Terry Deloach. Lee Holiday served as the tribunal’s hearing officer.
Hartley said Reese’s incompetency left the school system’s
finances in a precarious state. During the BOE’s regular meeting Tuesday the topic of the district’s pending budget was discussed.
LCSS Chief Operations Officer Jason Rogers explained what funds were needed to take the district into the end of the current school year. He also reviewed a tentative budget for the start of fiscal year 2017-18.
“We feel pretty good on the majority of the expenditures,” Rogers said. “And we also feel pretty good on the fact that we met with the departments. We went over their departmental budgets and we’re pretty much holding everything steady.”
Baker asked Rogers to explain where the budget, “is actually at today.”
“Where we anticipate ending this school year… We are looking at $23 million on balance in our general fund,” Roger said, noting it might be $4 million more if they receive the large impact aide payment before the fiscal year ends.
Carter said she is not comfortable moving forward with the budget. She said reports and testimony at the tribunal indicated funds were misallocated in several categories by millions of dollars.
“I guess I am basically insecure as to what we are looking at. What was reported? What was supposed to be there? And we are not sure even with the second audit,” Carter said. “Public officials have personally asked me to verify if our district is secure financially. At the time I had nothing but what I read in the paper, so my answer to them was no. I hear you saying you are feeling pretty good about, that you are looking at the actual expenditures of years 15 and 16…. We were told that there were some problems with the actual expenditures and that was the reason we had to employ somebody else in finance. So I am listening to all of this then I’m listening to all I’ve been told…I am confused…I am just not feeling this.”
Though Rogers was replaced by Reese in order to correct what Lee, at the time, called inaccuracies, Lee reinstated Rogers with retroactive pay when Reese was put on administrative leave. Carter said she wants someone, “from the outside,” to come in and take a good look at the district’s financial situation.
“We need to be accountable and the way we need to be accountable is to get this right. And I personally don’t think we have it right,” she said. “Feeling good about something to me is not enough. I need to know exactly.”
“The majority of the discrepancies that I believe Ms. Smith-Carter is alluding to dealt with the budget,” Rogers said, blaming budgets prepared by Reese prior to his termination.
“And that is one of the reasons that we did not rely on any budgeted numbers in the calculation of this particular budget. That is why we relied on where we think we will end fiscal year 2017. (We used) the actuals and a comparison of the 15-16 actuals.”
Scott said it sounded as if Carter was requesting a forensic audit, something he has asked for in the past and, according to him, something other board members did not want. However, Baker asked Rogers if requests for bid for a forensic audit have been sent out. Rogers said he thinks they were sent out and will check on the matter.
Scott also questioned why there was a tentative budget being set when BOE members have yet to submit their recommendations as to what they think should be included in the budget.
Approval of a tentative budget was eventually tabled.
There was also controversy during the BOE’s discussion regarding code of conduct, Smith asked Rogers to produce copies of the facility use agreement report for the Midway Middle School gym.
Scott then reminded Rogers that he had requested a facility use report at the January meeting but had yet received it.
Scott said Baker had made the same request and had yet to receive the information as well.
Rogers said he responds to requests as he receives them from Lee. Once the reports are ready he gives them to Lee to distribute.
Scott said Lee’s failure to respond to the board members’ request equated to insubordination. According to Scott, Lee and the BoE have accused him of violating the code of ethics on several different matters, including the misuse of the SGMS gym, an he is under investigation by the Georgia Professional Standards Ethics Committee on those charges.
Scott said they are retaliating against him for siding with Reese.
Lee and Keel were also absent from Tuesday’s regular meeting.