Dukes reprimanded by board

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A stormy school board discussion has led to a verbal reprimand by the panel to the director of schools.

The 6-2 vote Thursday last week reprimanded Roy Dukes in connection with a state audit and the refund of federal money.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Dukes refused to discuss his reaction, saying he had "no comment."

Ann Tears and Curt Denton voted against the motion by Barbara Kennedy, seconded by Donnie Moses and supported by Kristen Gold, Randy Perryman, Harvey Jones and Mike Keny. Dee Dee Owens was absent.

"I filed the complaint" that resulted in the state's draft audit and six 'findings,' Kennedy revealed at the start of the discussion. "There's more coming.

"We're not overseeing our finances in an appropriate manner," she said.

The largest sum mentioned by auditors was $3,124, apparently spent on food at a Lewisburg Middle School awards ceremony for seventh and eighth graders on May 24 and 25.

The sixth "finding," and one seen by some school board members as the most troubling relates to the salary of federal projects director Linda Williams-Lee who had been paid entirely out of federal funds, even though she spends some of her time on human-resource duties.

In his response, Dukes wrote, "The general purpose budget has reimbursed federal programs for the appropriate share of the ... salary."

Board members wanted to know where, exactly, in the general-purpose (GP) budget the money had come from.

"It was taken from the Regular Instruction line item," Dukes told them.

"You have written checks for money that the board has not approved," exclaimed Kennedy. "You seem to be circumventing the budget process," she continued. "I'm disturbed."

Gold agreed.

"You spent from GP in a way that was not budgeted," Gold said. "It was not approved by the board. The board should have been informed."

Tears sprang to Dukes' defense, saying that $3,360 was a tiny percentage of a $1.4 million dollar budget; noting that this was just a "draft" finding; and pointing out this was not the first time the school system had to pay back money.

"Central office should be commended," Tears said. "We need to focus on the students, the teachers and Race to the Top. There's too much to do to be focusing on $3,000 out of $1.4 million."

Moses disagreed, saying, "It's less about the dollar amount than the principle and the lack of respect for policy. It's my contention we are here to provide oversight."

Kennedy agreed with Moses that the dollar amounts were irrelevant, and said a precedent had been set for blatant disregard of policy.

At this point she made her motion to reprimand Dukes for failure to comply with board policy, state law, and standard accounting practices.

Then, Denton joined Tears to defend Dukes, saying the director gave people responsibility in the belief they would do their jobs properly, and, in fact, they thought they were doing the work properly until the audit showed otherwise.

"I don't buy the excuse 'They thought it was OK,'" Jones said. "We've got to do it right the first time."

Gold pointed to a broader issue of responsibility.

"We are responsible for this budget," Gold said. "This board passed a federal projects budget without knowing what was in it. That was our first mistake."

However, the board had been told the federal projects budget was in compliance, according to Tears.

"It's not fair," Tears exclaimed. "These people are doing the best they can. Making a reprimand is extreme. You're out to get a person, in my opinion."

Moses offered a countervailing view.

"With responsibility, there should be accountability," he said.

Perryman agreed with parts of both sides' arguments, but ended with a plea to "get past this," move forward and focus on educating children.

After the board's attorney, Sam Jackson, explained the difference between written and verbal reprimands, Kennedy clarified that she wanted a verbal one, and the 6-2 vote followed.