Accusations of more missing money and trustee improprieties result in chaotic Sumter School District Board meeting

Accusations of $4 million missing from the capital fund, discussions about chicken gifts, shouts from the crowd prompting a temporary recess, and changes to when teachers will be offered contracts were all part of Monday’s Sumter School District Board of Trustees board meeting.

Somewhat surprisingly, the sometimes chaotic meeting didn’t even involve discussions about the recent budgetary crisis, unbudgeted employee positions, or necessary loans.

The confrontations started with the board’s quarterly capital project fund report, during which trustee Dr. Johnny Hilton said his interpretation of the reports leads him to believe there is a possibility $4 million is missing from the district capital projects fund.

During discussions, Hilton pointed out the district had initially budgeted $19 million for the current school year, but yet the current report said the initial budget was only $10.5 million.  Recognizing $5 million was taken from the budget to pay down some of the school’s debt, this still should have left some $14 million in the fund.

Specifically, Hilton noted missing from the report, which spans from July 1, 2016, to January 31, 2017, were payment schedules and costs for recent kitchen renovations at two elementary schools.

“Those people that have been working at Alice Drive (Elementary) and Crosswell (Elementary), they aren’t working for free,” Hilton said.

Baker agreed certain projects, like the kitchen renovations, should have been listed in the capital fund expenditures, and that an updated report will be provided to trustees.  However, he adamantly refuted claims that any money could be missing from the account.

Hilton said the missing items report made it impossible for the trustees to review the data and determine what improprieties, if any, there might have been.  “We don’t know what the balance is because we don’t have all of the data,” Hilton said.

Fellow trustee, Rev. Ralph Canty, joined in Hilton’s sentiment. “It is possible that we spent money on things that are not on this list, that are not on this report.  Since some things have been omitted, other things could have been omitted,” Canty said.

Baker agreed to provide a revised report for the board as soon as possible.

Discussions then shifted to the recent procurement audit, which in December revealed a series of purchasing policy violations by district administration, including failing to maintain a list of sole-source procurements, inappropriately using the district’s emergency procurement procedures for purchases that should have not been considered emergencies, failing to consistently require purchase orders for small purchases, failing to attach bid documentation with purchase orders requiring bids, and failing to combine orders for multiple schools and requiring a bid for these purchases be bid upon by providers.

In response, Baker said the issues raised by the audit have been addressed.

This, however, did not dissuade Hilton from once again raising concerns about the activities of the administration, and specifically Baker, pointing out the questionable use of emergency expenditures.

“Procurements that have been planned a year ahead don’t qualify as an emergency,” Hilton said.

Trustee Karen Michalik, defending Baker responded to Hilton’s comments, pointing out that the district had given the superintendent ability to determine what were emergency procurements,

“Giving the administration the approval (to use emergency procurement procedures) does not mean we don’t require accountability for the project,” Canty responded.

Michalik continued to defend Baker, saying, “I just feel like I need to say this.  It seems like the superintendent is getting beat up.  If it’s founded in what we’re doing, then he should be, but that’s not what I’ve heard in what we’ve discussed tonight.”

Later during the meeting, Michalik raised issues with detractors quoted in a recent report by The Sumter Item, which she said implied she was defending the superintendent because of favors he had done for her in the past.

Saying the only favor she had ever received from Baker was the gift of a group of chickens after a bobcat had killed hers, Michalik said her detractors were “a vocal minority group, seemingly Hell bent on destruction,” immediately triggering an outburst from the capacity crowd that continued for some time, forcing Chairman Daryl McGhaney to gavel the meeting into a temporary recess until tempers calmed down.

Video of Michalik’s comments and the crowds response can be seen here.

Eventually order was restored, any shortly thereafter, the board entered into executive session.  When they returned, 90 minutes later, they gave initial approval to push back the time frame they offer contracts to teachers by about two weeks, waiting until May before offering employment, beginning this year.

Under the current policy of the Sumter School District Board of Trustees, teaching contracts currently must be offered to teachers before April 15 every year for the upcoming school year, and must be returned by teachers accepting positions by April 25.  With a preliminary vote during their meeting Monday night, trustees

Canty said the board was shifting dates to make the local district in unison with the dates permitted by South Carolina state law.

The initial change to the policy, which requires another vote to become official, also inserted a paragraph regarding administration personnel, saying, “an administrator employed by the district on a contract will retain his/her rights as a teacher under state law.  However, state law does not grant these rights to the position or salary of an administrator (for example, if he/she is returned to the classroom).”

The next board meeting of the Sumter School District Board of Trustees will be Monday, March 13, at Mayewood Middle School, during which a period for public comment will be included in the agenda.

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