by Max Brantley
State auditors revealed today a criminally messy audit for the Pulaski County School District. The findings were sufficiently bad to be forwarded to the FBI and federal and state authorities for review. At least one criminal case is in progress. Highlights (or lowlights):
* The district overpaid an outgoing school superintendent, James Sharpe, almost $85,000 to end his employment and he drew $7,800 in unallowable expenses. He's repaid most of the money but a pending civil suit continues over a portion of it.
* School board members, led by Mildred Tatum, received thousands in questionable travel expenses -- either for disallowed purposes (hotel room in a board member's hometown in one case, alcohol, a Broadway play) or for expenses not properly documented. Most of the discrepancies have been satisfied by repayment or documentation.
* The audit found almost a half-million in improper purchases in the maintenance department by an employee who apparently resold the goods for profit. James Diemer pleaded guilty to a federal charge and awaits sentencing. We'd reported on these purchasing improprieties previously.
* There was misuse of federal Hurricane Katrina emergency money. Some apparently was redirected from helping students to buy women's underwear at Dillard's for a school counselor, along with shoes and athletic gear.
* School board members received goods and services from the district and district vendors for unofficial purposes.
* Desegregation money didn't go to purposes intended, but was "saved" for other purposes.
* District equipment was "checked out" for personal use.
* There were questions about excessive overtime in the maintenance department. (Not to maintain roofs at a couple of schools, apparently.)
* More than $300,000 was paid over two years to a "communications vendor" without bids and with no contract.
Here's the full audit. It was a special audit that focused on several specific issues over a six-year period through February of this year. It notes that many changes in personnel have occurred.
The district has an extensive response on steps taken to correct the many shortcomings.