Beaufort Today -

Beaufort County school board split on forensic audit

A motion to order a forensic audit of Beaufort County School District finances failed by a 5-5 tie vote of the school board Tuesday night.

Instead, at their next meeting board members will consider having the annual audit include a more detailed look at the district’s use of credit cards, also known as purchasing cards.

The vote came after a lengthy discussion during what turned out to be a four-hour meeting.

Mary Cordray, Geri Kinton, Bill Payne, Evva Anderson and Cynthia Gregory-Smalls voted against the motion to hire a consultant to determine the scope of a proposed forensic audit. Earl Campbell, JoAnn Orischak, Joseph Dunkle, Christina Gwozdz and David Striebinger voted for it.

Purchasing cards have become a controversial topic this year, with some members of the public making accusations of wrongdoing.

Striebinger said a consultant would keep the scope of a forensic audit reasonable.

“This gets us a price,” Striebinger said. “If you go without a scope, you are stumbling around.”

The idea to hire a consultant came from a recommendation by the board’s finance and oversight committee, which heard from a forensic auditor at its last meeting.

Cordray said hiring a consultant without knowing the cost is not how to proceed.

“The professional way is not to go to the most extreme (action),” Cordray said. “It’s not prudent to hire a professional to go on a fishing trip.”

Cordray noted that not one purchasing card transaction questioned by the public has revealed evidence of wrongdoing by the district.

“We have checks and balances,” Cordray said.

Cordray mentioned a charge to Victoria’s Secret that some people pointed to as an example of card misuse.

That charge, along with a number of others, was fraudulent and caught by internal controls, including Bank of America’s fraud alert system. The charge was not made by a district employee.

Gwozdz said the request for a consultant or forensic audit is not an accusation of wrongdoing.

Orischak said the district is such a large organization that a forensic audit makes sense.

Last year, purchasing card transactions totaled about $30 million. Bank of America gives the district a rebate on its card use. Last year the district was rebated about $300,000.

The cards are used by school and district personnel for a variety of purchases, which are listed in a transparency report that is posted online each month.

District staff is already working on several changes to provide more information in the transparency reports and make them easier for the public to understand.

The changes include a description of funding sources for transactions, a location description where possible, identifying fraudulent transactions and refunds, and more detail.

Striebinger told board members their vote was simple.

“Just vote ‘no’ if you don’t think we need a forensic audit,” Striebinger said. “It’s not more complicated than that.”

John Dowling, a candidate for the school board seat recently vacated by Patricia Felton-Montgomery, has been pushing for the board to have a forensic audit.

During the final public comment portion of the meeting, Dowling told board members they had made a mistake.

“The public has lost faith in the financial management of the district,” Dowling said. “You had the chance to rectify that. They (the public) don’t need to feel you don’t care, and half of you don’t.”

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