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Payday loan money still owed to district

By Heather Walters

The outstanding amount of debt owed to the Colleton County School District by some employees participating in a “payday” type system is starting to shrink down, with the outstanding amount down to $1, 830.18.

The Colleton County School District has responded to a Freedom of Information Act request issued by this newspaper. Based on recent information revealed in that request, the district has about 17 employees who borrowed money from the district’s public funds. These employees collectively made about 23 separate transactions.

This “payday” system was operated under the administration of former Supt. Leila Williams: at a recent school board meeting, Williams refuted the idea that she is the only superintendent to have ran such a system; however, no documentation at the district exists that shows a payday loan system was in place prior to Williams’ administration.

According to Interim Supt. Dr. Franklin Foster, the practice of allowing employees to borrow money from the district’s general fund – an account supplied with taxpayer money – is an unethical one that is no longer in place. “This will not be done under my administration,” said Foster.

The S.C. Department of Education has no policy in place against the payday system, but says that the practice is unethical and frowned upon, according to Dino Teppario, spokesman for the state education authority. Dating from July 20, 2010, approximately 17 employees borrowed money from the district. Nearly all of them have paid back the money owed, based upon an agreement they had in place with Williams. The transactions continued, with four loans occurring in 2011, 10 loans being issued out in 2012, four loans in 2013, and four occurring in 2014. The final loan was done on Feb. 10, 2014. The loan amounts range from $300 to $7,575.00, according to information provided by the district.

To date, approximately five employees still owe the district borrowed money. These five separate transactions add up to the total of $1,830.18. According to documentation in place between those employees and Williams, the owed funds should all be returned by Aug. 15, 2014.

The names of those employees who borrowed from the district cannot be released, based on privacy laws, according to Foster. Meanwhile, the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) continues to have an active investigation into the district related to this system.  Details of SLED’s four ongoing investigations continue to be withheld until the investigations are closed.

Requested information on the specifics of the Colleton County School District’s “payday” scandal is coming in, answering some questions about how and why school district employees were allowed to borrow money from public funds.

According to school district documents, former Colleton County School District Supt. Leila Williams allowed several employees to borrow money from the district’s funds, essentially as an advance to their salary. Approximately 23 transactions occurred under Williams’ term as superintendent, which ended when she was terminated in March in a controversial 4-3 vote by the school board.

During her tenure, several of the same employees borrowed approximately $37,095, in a time frame from July 2010 through Feb. 10, 2014.

The funds for these advances was never spotted by district administrative staff: Williams listed each advance as “salary” and pulled the money from the same pot of cash that the employee’s salary comes from. “The funds came out of whatever pot the person was normally paid out of,” said Interim Supt. Dr. Franklin Foster. “If a person’s salary came from the general fund, then that fund was used.”

According to Foster, this “payday” process is not considered normal in other school districts and is not a practice that he considers to be ethical. “This is not something that will be allowed under my administration and while I am interim superintendent,” Foster said, sternly.

Nearly all of the missing funds have been returned to the district, with about $3,164.82 remaining owed. Foster said the still-owed funds are due into the district by mid-August, according to an agreement that those employees made with Williams.

It is still unclear as to what action, if any, might be taken against those employees who participated in this process. The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is currently investigating this system. This is one of four active investigations that SLED currently has in the school district.

Heather Walters (1738 Posts)