Less than two weeks after newly elected school board chairman Todd Sutton held a press conference and announced Johnston County Schools had a “clean bill of health as it relates to the financial stability of the school systems money” and there was no need for a new audit, he joined his fellow board members on Tuesday and voted to conduct a wellness audit.
Johnston County Schools had more than $10 million in reserve funds two years ago. The majority of that money is now gone. Former interim superintendent Dr. Jim Causby asked County Commissioners in December for $8.8 million saying the school system could run out of money in April 2020 without a financial bailout. Just last week, prior to his resignation, Causby said as many as 480 employees could lose their jobs as early as March 2020 unless commissioners gave the school board millions of dollars.
Previously, school board member Ronald Johnson called for a forensic audit to determine what happened to the funds, but Sutton rejected calls for any type of audit during a Jan. 2nd press conference on the steps of the Johnston County Courthouse. During the press conference, Sutton refuted several claims made by Mr. Johnson during a December 30th video op-ed on JoCoReport.
“(W)e have had the most recent financial audit dated October 4th, 2019 conducted by Anderson, Smith and Wike PLLC out of West End, NC an independent audit company, tasked with the responsibility of insuring all processes and controls are in place so as to properly safe guard the school systems money. At the conclusion of this audit the auditors gave the school system a clean bill of health as it relates to the financial stability of the school systems money. In addition, there has been no evidence presented by anyone to me or anyone on the Board of Education or the Superintendent that would indicate anything different from the auditor’s findings,” Sutton said on January 2nd.
On January 6th, JoCoReport reported that school board member Teresa Grant supported Johnson’s call for a forensic audit. “For us to understand where every penny was spent, a forensic audit would be needed. With so many questions from within and without, we owe it to ourselves, our staff and the citizens we serve to move forward with this audit,” Grant said.
During Tuesday’s vote authorizing a wellness audit, Terri Sessoms asked the board to be mindful of the cost. Sessoms said that while the majority of the public supports the audit, some teachers have told her they are concerned the added cost could take funds away from classrooms. She urged her fellow board members to be mindful of the cost when going through the bidding process.
Kay Carroll, former chairman of the Johnston County School Board, and a candidate for the Board of Education in 2020 had previously called for a wellness audit. “I would call for a wellness audit of our finances and budgeting process that would provide us with answers and highlight areas that need correction. Results of this audit should be presented and discussed in public. Specific strategies can then be made to correct the deficiencies. The audit may or may not find any serious issues. The public and county commissioners, who fund the schools, need to know what happened and how the BOE and central administration will correct it. How else can the Board of Education begin the process of reclaiming the public trust and confidence,” Carroll said on Dec. 16th.
Audit Cost To Be Paid For With Superintendent Salary Savings
On Jan. 13th, the school board appointed Dr. Ben Williams as the latest interim superintendent through June 30, 2020. He requested not to receive a pay increase above his current salary of $97,607.04. Previously, Dr. Causby has been paid $224,389.68. The cost difference between the salaries will be used to pay for the wellness audit, Sutton said.
Wellness and forensic audits are somewhat different. A forensic audit is a review of financial records in an attempt to find illegal activity while a wellness audit is designed to find the root cause of any potential financial problems.
The school board will solicit bids before awarding a wellness audit contract as early as their February meeting.
In an unrelated matter, the Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Anderson, Smith and Wike PLLC to perform their next general audit at a cost of $38,500 for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2020. They are the same firm that performed last year’s general audit. The board typically seeks bids every 5 years for a new general audit firm.
Editors note: This story has been updated to correct Terri Sessoms asking for her fellow board members to be mindful of the cost. Originally Traci Zukowski was attributed to making the statement.