Federal funds to be refunded

Friday, December 17, 2010

Marshall County Schools will refund $3,360 in federal funds to the state, Schools Director Roy Dukes said in his Tuesday response to state Education Department auditors.

Dukes sent the response by e-mail, the day before it was due. Chris Steppee, director of internal audit, had sent Dukes a memorandum, also called a draft report, on Nov. 22, requesting reimbursement of the federal money.

Almost all of it had been spent on awards ceremonies on the last two days of school in May at Lewisburg Middle School.

Steppee's memorandum also requested action on recommendations to tighten administrative controls on spending money, and told Dukes to submit "a description of the action that will be taken to implement each recommendation."

In his response, Dukes agreed with all the "findings," and said that the disputed money would be refunded to the Title I Part A and Title III programs. He asserts that stronger controls are already in place for processing travel claims and vendor invoices.

The "most troubling" finding, according to School Board Chairman Mike Keny -- that the salary of federal projects director Linda Williams-Lee had been entirely paid out of federal funds, even though some of her time is being spent on human resources -- has been addressed.

Dukes wrote, "Currently, the general purpose budget has reimbursed federal programs for the appropriate share of the director of federal programs salary. Budget estimate with supervisor's salary and benefit cost for each payroll is on file for July-September quarter with the Fiscal Department."

"An Assistant Director of Schools has been hired to assume the Human Resources Department duties," Dukes continued.

This is strictly true, but according to what Dukes told the budget committee earlier this month, there is little prospect of Ken Lee taking up the assistant director position. A replacement math and physics teacher for Cornersville High School has not been found, and now Lee, a major in the Tennessee Army National Guard, has told Dukes he might soon be deployed to Afghanistan.

Since no "major issues" were raised by Dukes' response, Steppee said the final version of the memorandum could be available as early as next week.

Board members expected to discuss the memorandum and Dukes' response at their meeting Thursday night.

Sam Jackson, the board's attorney, was already scheduled to attend the meeting to pick up copies of board members' evaluation of Dukes' performance that his firm has promised to process in time for the January meeting.

The largest part of Title I Part A funds that are supposed to be reimbursed is $3,124 spent on food for the end-of-year awards ceremony at LMS on May 24 and 25. Assuming a total of 500 students, parents and teachers attended, this works out to a total of $6.25 per person.

One of School Board member Barbara Kennedy's children is a student at LMS, and she attended the ceremony, but recalls nothing special about the food. She said usually student organizations like Beta Club sponsor the refreshments for events, or parents are asked to contribute food items.

"I've never been aware of a situation where Title I funds were used so extravagantly," Kennedy said.