Ethical conduct part of job for school board
by Marguerite Cline
Columnist
July 11, 2013 10:05 PM | 2909 views | 2 2 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A member of our Board of Education, Kelly Marlow, has questioned the ability of the board to govern, including handling financial affairs.

There is certainly nothing wrong with Ms. Marlow or any board member asking questions. However, those questions should not be asked in a rude, accusatory or inflammatory manner.

The public has the right to expect a high standard of conduct from its elected officials. That includes refraining from personal attacks on school system personnel.

When we elected the members of the board, we gave them the authority to determine how to best use tax money for the education of our children.

There are times when you and I disagree with how school system money is spent. But that does not mean a crime has been committed.

I have no reason to believe that Superintendent Frank Petruzielo, Assistant Superintendent of Finance Candler Howell or any members of their staff are anything less than honest people.

At the same time, if anyone does take money from the school system it results in dire consequences.

As an example, you may recall when Georgia’s State School Superintendent, Linda Schrenko, helped herself to funds designated for special needs children. She even used some of that money to have a facelift.

After being sentenced to eight years in a federal penitentiary, she served most of her sentence before she was recently paroled to home confinement.

Every year, a team of state auditors arrives at the local Board of Education office. Their mission is not to make friends. They go over the financial records with the proverbial fine-toothed comb.

Usually, they do find things that do not meet acceptable auditing practices. It may be as simple as funds being in the wrong account. That does not mean someone is filling their pockets.

With a budget of multi-millions, it is not surprising that sometimes happens. What really matters is the bottom line. All of the money is in the bank.

Years ago, my daughter, Cindy, who is a CPA, was working for a huge accounting firm. She was on a team of CPAs auditing the financial records of a large school system in Alaska.

There was a million dollar mistake. She called it a paper error. The million dollars had been entered in the financial records in the wrong place. Again, it was the bottom line that mattered. No money had been taken. The money was in the bank.

During my years as school superintendent, I recall personally signing only one Board of Education check.

Anita Spence issued payroll checks. We had a machine that printed my signature on the thousands of checks the office sent out each month. While I was in her office the machine skipped a check. I picked up a pen and signed it.

I did not have or want access to blank checks. If I had told anyone in the finance department that I needed even one, I can assure you it would have gotten everyone’s attention.

Then, if I had used that check for anything improper, the financial director would have immediately reported it to the board chairman.

Ms. Schrenko and I might have been cellmates.

I recall asking for the resignation of only one employee due to misuse of school funds. It was not that he was taking money. He used it for something he had been told not to do. It was not a criminal act. It was insubordination.

How did I learn about it? As she was expected to do, the school bookkeeper reported it. She did not want to share a cell with Ms. Schrenko either.

There was only one audit in my eight years and four months as superintendent that I remember being told money had been misused.

Thinking the school superintendent should be a member of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, I joined. The Chamber sent the bill for $100 to the accounting department. It was paid.

The auditors said that was not a legal use of taxpayers’ money. I resolved the matter by writing a check to the Board of Education reimbursing the money.

When anyone — Ms. Marlow, other board members, school system personnel or John Q. Public — can substantiate theft or inappropriate usage of the taxpayers’ money, they should immediately bring forth proof of wrongdoing.

Otherwise, the board needs to be allowed to get back to focusing on the business of providing the best possible education for Cherokee County’s children.

That can best be done if Ms. Marlow is willing to meet the high standard of ethical conduct the public expects of all elected officials.

Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.
Comments
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Clark Menard
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July 12, 2013
Thank you for providing some knowledgeable and reasonable insight to the audit, how it is performed and how it's reported.

I agree with you that if someone believes there is gross negligence they should come forth with the details. I am tired of hearing of the accusations of "corruption and dishonesty" and personally believe that this is the old "tell a lie so many times someone is bound to believe it."

D. Tucker
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July 12, 2013
Thank you for your wise words.
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