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Bertie BOE debates audit issue

WINDSOR – &uot;It’s a work still in progress.&uot;

Those were the words of Rev. Gary Cordon, Chairman of the Bertie County Board of Education, as the board met here last week in a continuing effort to address the findings of an April audit that alleged the Bertie Schools administrative team could do a better job financially.

The only difference from last week’s gathering of the School Board as compared to previous meetings was the fact a new superintendent of Bertie Schools, Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, is now onboard. She was recently chosen by the board to fill the vacancy left by retiring superintendent John F. Smith Sr.

Collins-Hart wasted no time in wading into the issue of the audit.

&uot;It is very important to put this report in the proper context,&uot; she said, addressing the board at a special called meeting. &uot;Many of the recommendations should be addressed immediately. We need to do things the right way.&uot;

In particular, Dr. Collins-Hart addressed credit cards used by the school system’s administrative team. That issue was among the 33 recommendations as presented in the audit performed by MGT of America.

&uot;We have to believe the people we hire in these positions can use credit cards wisely,&uot; she stressed. &uot;We all have to use them with discretion and with prior approval.&uot;

Prior to her statements, Cordon opened the meeting by saying a workbook had been developed to address the recommendations.

Then, turning to Collins-Hart, Cordon said, &uot;You gave us a way to handle the recommendations and we are very impressed with that.&uot;

The question then turned to whether or not the school board should go it alone in regards to following the audit’s timeline or should the board take its workbook to a joint meeting with the Bertie County Board of Commissioners from where the two boards could reach a compromise?

&uot;I feel we should carry our plan to the Commissioners,&uot; Cordon said. &uot;They want to feel confident that the money appropriated to the school system is being spent wisely.&uot;

There was some question in regards to school system administrators not providing the financial data asked for by the Commissioners.

&uot;Yes, there is some concern over the way some things were handled,&uot; Rod Malone, attorney to the Bertie School Board, said. &uot;We are providing (the Commissioners) what they are asking from us.&uot;

Dr. Collins-Hart strongly suggested Bertie public schools has, &uot;nothing to hide.&uot;

&uot;We are committed to working with our staff to provide all the recipients, etc.,&uot; she said. &uot;We are helping the process of restoring confidence to the school system.&uot;

The audit split the county along partisan lines. Some Bertie citizens were outraged that the Commissioners would commit tax dollars ($50,000) to an effort deemed &uot;repetitious&uot; in light of the Board of Education annually conducting their own audit. Meanwhile, others approved the audit, saying it was necessary to address financial improprieties within the school system. The audit revealed an estimated five-year savings of $7.7 million.

In mid-April, nearly 200 people filled the Bertie County Senior Center to hear the official presentation by officials with MGT of America in regards to the audit of the Bertie County Public School (BCPS) system. A public hearing followed the presentation where citizens again showed their division over the issue.

A few of the recommendations made by the auditors have already been addressed. Ten vehicles owned by the Bertie School System were put on the auction block on May 21.

The School Board has debated, but reached no decision, on a cost-saving measure dealing with staggered openings and closings of the nine schools in the Bertie system. The financial impact would be felt in lowering transportation costs by reducing the number of buses.

Currently, Bertie has 86 buses in use each school day. Fifty of those vehicles have routes that can be covered in one hour or less. The idea would be to use a portion of those buses to run more than one daily route.

Meanwhile, Bertie school officials have expressed their dismay over an alleged lack of support from the Commissioners.

Prior to the end of the 2004-05 fiscal year, the Commissioners sliced $50,000 from the school budget, a move the School Board found very ironic in light of the MGT audit costing the exact same amount.

Additionally, the Commissioners provided $1.95 million in funds for the Bertie school system in the current year (2005-06) budget. That amount, according to county education officials, is about $300,000 less than requested.