Rogue school officials defy financial policy

Rogue school officials defy financial policy
Superintendent Morton Sherman has requested an independent audit of the school district's books after ACPS staff ignored financial policies. (File photo)

One Alexandria City Public Schools staff member has resigned and another is on administrative leave after an independent audit revealed city employees deliberately flouted internal financial policies.

Employees with the district’s educational facilities department transferred more than $50,000 from one project to another without approval from either administrators or the school board — a direct violation of ACPS policy, officials said.

Payment vouchers also were prepared and approved by staff for amounts exceeding what was available in project budgets.

Superintendent Morton Sherman outlined the financial irregularities in a memo sent to Mayor Bill Euille and Alexandria City Council members on Monday. He pledged to strengthen coordination between city and school staff as well as tighten financial policies.

There has been no evidence employees were shifting taxpayer dollars for personal gain thus far, Sherman told the Times in an interview Wednesday. While the money was transferred between projects without oversight, there’s no indication yet that any of it has gone missing.

“What is emerging is there were some really well intended people who made some awful decisions, people who had been with the division for a long time who continued patterns they should not have,” Sherman said.

Preliminary findings show staff members deliberately sought to keep Sherman and school board members in the dark.

“[If] you violate a policy and don’t protect the dollars that are being given to … the department, that is a violation of trust and policy, which merits rather severe personal consequences,” he said.

Hints of the financial irregularities, all of which are so far related to capital improvements projects undertaken in the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, surfaced in September when Sherman received an incomplete CIP report. The review omitted original budget figures, project statuses and estimated costs, he said.

In October Sherman learned contractors working on ACPS projects were not getting paid. About the same time one of those vendors, Hitt Contracting, raised concerns with city council members, Sherman received a tip about the financial mismanagement.

As a result, school officials hired Farmer, Cox and Robinson, an independent auditing firm, to review the district’s financial records. City officials said they welcomed and supported the independent audit in a statement released Tuesday.

Farmer, Cox and Robinson’s finished report is expected in mid-December. Further details about the irregularities and mismanagement won’t be available until then, Sherman said.

Neither the names nor the positions of the two staff members caught up in the financial imbroglio have been released to the public.