The board voted to bring the 2011 financial auditor to its Jan. 16 meeting for the cost of $1,280, after months of questions about the audit report from Marlow.
However, the board denied Marlow’s request Thursday 2-5, with Marlow and School Board member Michael Geist in favor of taking the donation from what Marlow called an “anonymous” donor, to extend the time of the auditor’s visit.
“The motion is to extend the time that the auditor will be here at the January meeting,” Marlow said. “This is not a gift for the board, this is in the interest of the taxpayers.”
School Board Attorney Tom Roach, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo, School Board Chair Janet Read and School Board member Robert Wofford warned against accepting anonymous donations for specific purposes, saying that it set a dangerous precedent.
The “anonymous donation” was actually organized by Cherokee GOP Chair Rick Davies, he said Friday. But Davies said it was never intended to pay to extend the auditor’s visit.
“I don’t know if there was a misunderstanding or a miscommunication, but on our site it’s very clear what our intentions were and what we wanted the funds to be used for,” Davies said, referring to the fundraising website he started two months ago to raise money to cover the auditor’s fee.
According to Davies, state Reps. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) and Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) contributed to the fund, which Davies started out with a donation to cover half of the cost for the auditor’s visit himself.
“I believe in the adage of putting your money where your mouth is and, as a taxpayer, wished to contribute to covering the cost so that no additional taxpayer funds would have to be spent and to put this matter to rest once and for all,” his fundraiser website read. “Any money that is donated above and beyond the total cost needed to pay for the auditor’s appearance will be donated to the Cherokee County Education Foundation.”
Because of the intended purpose, Davies said Marlow’s motion at the meeting Thursday to use the raised money for extending the auditor’s visit came as a surprise.
Davies said he started the campaign with the intention of paying for the 2011 auditor’s visit in January, so the fee would not fall on the school district or taxpayers of Cherokee County, and he never intended for the donation to be used to extend the auditor’s presentation time.
Since the collected money was no longer going to be used to cover the cost of the audit, Davies said he canceled the fundraising campaign Friday.
“What I have done is taken the money and refunded it to myself, and Scot and Michael. Because I’m a believer in doing what I say I was going to do … I’ve made a personal donation of $250 to the Cherokee County Education Foundation,” Davies said.
Read recalls being approached by Davies, who asked if an anonymous donation could be made to help offset the cost of the auditor’s visit that was approved by the board after the last board meeting.
“He never said anything about wanting it to be longer,” Read said during the meeting Thursday.
Before the vote, Petruzielo said that accepting anonymous donations for specific purposes was a “bad precedent” to set for the future.
“I think it’s a slippery slope once you start inviting the public, groups in the public who may remain unnamed, to donate money for certain kinds of things to happen in a public school system,” Petruzielo said. “It sets a very bad precedent.”
Petruzielo pointed out the board had already voted on the guidelines for the 2011 auditor’s visit at its meeting Oct. 17, and said in his opinion the board’s decision should “continue as originally approved.” He said a group of people should not be able to “pool their money” to entice the board away from their previously approved action “for a purpose that clearly could be used for political rhetoric.”
“I strongly recommend that the board not accept that donation, or for that matter, other donations from unnamed people, where the money is earmarked for specific purposes,” Petruzielo said. “Given the amount of discussion there has been on this whole issue of transparency, and the issue of the budget and issues regarding the audit of 2011, it would not be my recommendation that the board engage in this type of activity. That may open the door for other potential donations that may be very uncomfortable, whether or not you’re uncomfortable with this one.”
Geist, who voted to take the money, said while he agreed with some of Petruzielo’s comments, the board voted to restrict the auditor’s time for questions at the January meeting “for no other reason but the cost.”
Geist suggested the board consider extending the auditor’s time, if there were “available funds.”
“I’m not so sure I see the harm in extending the time the board has to ask questions,” Geist said.
Wofford said he learned not to take gifts or donations for specific purposes during his time as a school principal and administrator. Wofford said donations should only be accepted if the school board gets to “decide how it’s going to be spent.”
The fiscal 2011 financial audit representative will attend the next meeting of the board to answer submitted questions during a 45 minute presentation and answer follow-up questions from board members for 15 minutes after the presentation.
The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 16, 2014, at 7 p.m. in the historic Canton High School Board Auditorium, and a work session will take place prior to the meeting, at 6 p.m.
During its Thursday meeting, the Board of Education also:
• Voted 6 to 1, with Marlow opposing, to continue its longtime partnership with the March of Dimes organization;
• Honored Carmel Elementary School fourth-grader Maddilyn Dentino for winning the annual Georgia Walkmania T-shirt design contest;
• Recognized Cherokee County School District Teacher of the Year Lindsay Bowley of Creekland Middle School;
• Recognized Carmel Elementary School as a 2013 National School of Character;
• Recognized Woodstock Elementary School as a Georgia 2013 Reward School, being named a Highest Performing School;
• Recognized State and Region Champions: Creekview High School Softball Team, Region 7-AAAAA Champions and Elite 8 Finalists; River Ridge High School Volleyball Team, 6-AAAA Area Champions and Final Four in State; Sequoyah High School Drama, One-Act Play Region Champions and Fourth-Place AAAAA State Winners; and Sequoyah High School Volleyball, 2013 County Champions and State AAAAA Runner Up;
• Recognized Woodstock High School senior Rachel Steppe for earning a perfect score on the ACT; and
• Saw Geist withdraw his request to revise board policy regarding meeting minutes; the superintendent offered to draft revisions to board policy regarding meeting agendas for consideration at the board’s next meeting.