/Despite financial mismanagement, Wayne County schools avoid state takeover

Despite financial mismanagement, Wayne County schools avoid state takeover

Nonprofit Mississippi News The Mississippi State Board of Education has assigned a financial advisor for the Wayne County School District, rather than putting the district under the control of the state. After a series meetings, district officials argued their case to the Commission on School Accreditation. Since 1997, the state has taken control of 20 school districts. The finances of the district are what lead to the question of Wayne County schools being left under local control. Felicia Gavin, Chief Financial Officer of the Mississippi Department of Education, said that she received a call from the business manager in June warning her that Wayne County School District was in bad financial standing. Gavin stated that this prompted the state to inspect financial records and find several violations. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education, requested an investigation into the district. In November, Shad White, the state auditor sent a warning letter to the board about the poor financial practices of the district. The auditor’s office discovered that the district had mispent interest on 16th Section loans. This is property that the school district leases out and owns. The letter stated that the district was financially unstable because of the absence of budgetary controls. “…we believe that there is a serious financial situation in the school district.” The 250-page audit report details multiple violations of state accreditation policies. In total, the audit found Wayne County in violation at least 69 percent these standards. These are rules that all public schools in Mississippi must follow. Superintendent Bobby Jones and his staff presented the case to the commission on Tuesday. They argued that the district was not in a “state of emergency” and instead were doing well. Jones also pointed out that the business manager at Wayne County misled him and others regarding how money was being spent, and whether financial audits were being conducted. He fired the business manager after he discovered that 16th Section funds weren’t being paid in June. Jones stated that Jones was the only one who thought he knew what he was doing. Jones said, “I think my greatest failure was I had too much faith in one person.” Tommy Branch will replace Jones as superintendent in January. The commission didn’t vote to recommend that the district be takenover. The state board approved Thursday’s assignment of a financial manager to the district. This is required when the state auditor declares that a school district has fallen into serious financial difficulties. Gavin, MDE, will be the temporary financial advisor for the district until the department finds a replacement.