In the final weeks of the Greenwood School District’s existence, it went on a spending spree, according to state officials, buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of goods and services that had not been approved by its financial overseer.
As a result, members of the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School Board could be held individually liable for those purchases under state law, says Mike Kent of the Mississippi Department of Education.
On Tuesday, the eve of the first day of classes for the newly merged district, board members were informed of the problem by Kent and Debbie Jones, a financial consultant hired by MDE to help with the consolidation of the Greenwood and Leflore County districts.
Jones said the bulk of the purchases were made in June, the final month before the city school district was dissolved, and were for roofing and large amounts of equipment. She said she is working with Kellia Washington, the consolidated district’s finance director, to determine the exact total of unapproved purchases.
Jones said that some of the purchases were made even after she had alerted city school officials to hold off on them until the new board took over on July 1 and decided whether to proceed.
“We tried to put a halt on some of the spending to leave it over to the new board,” said Kent, who has been shepherding local officials through the consolidation process.
Not only, said Jones, were the purchases not approved by her, as the consolidation law requires, but they did not follow the proper process of having requisitions made and purchase orders issued before any transactions occurred. Jones said there were cases where purchases were made without purchase orders. Washington said there were also cases where purchase orders were issued without accompanying requisitions.
At least some of the last-minute spending, for the creation of kids’ museums for preschoolers, “may be wrapped up in a project that was approved months ago by this board but then there was very little action,” Kent said.
According to Kent, school board members theoretically could relieve themselves of any personal responsibility by authorizing the purchases after the fact, and there might not be a problem unless MDE decides to make an issue of it.
“If a vendor walks in here and says, ‘Hey, I poured 50 yards of concrete out there; I want my money,’ they can (pay it),” Kent said. “Our job is to point out that the process wasn’t followed.”
Board member Randy Clark asked Washington to search the minutes and report back whether the expenditures at issue had been previously approved by the board.
In another dilemma, the four board members continue to wrestle with what to do about the vacancy created when Deirdre Mayes resigned at the end of June. Under state law, the board is required to appoint a replacement within 60 days of the vacancy occurring. The appointee would only serve until the end of the year, when two newly elected members will take their seats from Districts 4 and 5.
Kent said, however, that it is unclear from which district the replacement would have to come. He talked this week at length with both the Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office to get direction.
“There’s just not a definitive answer,” Kent said.
Mayes lives in District 2, but that district already has an elected member in Kalanya Moore. The board also is reluctant to appoint someone from District 4 or 5 and potentially give the appointee a leg up in the November election.
“You probably would be accused of dabbling in their election,” Kent agreed.
The board opted to try to buy some time by directing its attorney, Kelvin Pulley, to ask for an expedited opinion from the attorney general. Meanwhile, it said that anyone interested in the interim appointment who lives in District 2 should submit a resumé or letter of intent to the board.
•Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.