Smith steers clear of audit changes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 21, 2005

WINDSOR – Bertie Public Schools Superintendent John F. Smith Sr. will not be around to oversee any changes as suggested in an audit of the school system.

Following the conclusion of a press conference, called by the Superintendent here Tuesday, Smith said due to his impending retirement, his successor should inherit the process.

&uot;I will recommend to the Board (of Education) that we will begin to address the findings of the audit, but it should be left up to the new superintendent on how to implement any of the recommendations made by the auditors,&uot; said Smith, who announced last year that he would retire at the end of the current fiscal year (June 30).

He continued, &uot;I feel I should step away from this. It would not be right for me to suggest to our Board any major changes as a result of the audit. Those suggestions should be made by the new superintendent.&uot;

Smith said he would recommend to the Board they give the new superintendent one year (2005-06) to study the suggestions of the auditors and have any changes in place by the start of the 2006-07 academic year.

On Monday, Smith and the School Board met with the Bertie Board of Commissioners as each entity reviewed the findings of an audit performed by MGT Management of America. Late last year, the Commissioners ordered and accepted financial responsibility for the $50,000 audit.

Included among the major suggestions of the audit were the reduction of two nursing positions, eliminating an assistant financial officer position, eliminating several district administrative positions and drastically reduce travel costs.

The audit also suggested the district sell 10 county-owned vehicles, eliminate the free lunch program, reduce maintenance positions by two, eliminate eight cellular phones, address the child nutrition funding and begin the process of staggered school start-stop times.

All totaled, the auditors estimated Bertie Schools could save $7.7 million over a five-year period by following their suggestions.

In a related issue, the audit raised issue with approximately $53,000 in credit card debt by the school system.

Fielding several questions concerning that particular debt, Smith said it was all justifiable due to teachers and other staff members using, with permission, the administrative team’s credit cards to pay for travel-related expenses while attending necessary developmental meetings across the state.

&uot;We have the data, we have the receipts to justify the debt,&uot; Smith said. &uot;We can prove all the expenditures.&uot;

Smith said the Central Office replied to all requests made by the auditors in regards to any financial records.

The Superintendent also fielded a question regarding the supplemental salary and bonuses he received during his six-year tenure by saying, &uot;I am evaluated every year by the Board. Apparently, the Board felt I deserved these add ons in salary and the bonuses.&uot;

Prior to opening up the floor for questions from the media, Smith read from a prepared opening statement where he addressed several issues concerning the audit, including his personal thoughts on the political ramifications of the study.

&uot;This is related to an issue that could cause division among the citizens within our county,&uot; Smith noted. &uot;I am disappointed, not so much from the report itself, but from the unprofessional manner in which its release was handled.&uot;

He went on to say the two Boards should have sat down, took a hard look at the audit and worked out solutions.

&uot;That would have been the professional way to do it,&uot; he said. &uot;What possibly could be the motivating factor of releasing this report to the general public and selling it for $5 a copy and contacting the media about the report before the Board of Education even had a chance to digest its contents.&uot;

He said the relationship between the two Boards, &uot;needs improving.&uot;

Smith did admit some of the recommendations by the auditors were already in the process of being addressed by the Board of Education prior to the release of the report. He said the school system is in the process of ridding itself of 10 vehicles, most of which he said were in bad mechanical condition. Additionally, the Board of Education, in an effort to reduce school bus travel in the face of rapidly rising fuel costs, are studying staggered start/stop school times.

As far as eliminating positions, Smith said it had always been his practice to annually review the performances of school system personnel prior to making recommendations to the Board concerning their continued employment.

&uot;I will not carry personnel simply to make sure they have a job,&uot; Smith stressed. &uot;I will make sure every individual who continues to be employed is in a position that strengthens and supports our students, staff, parents and the community.&uot;