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District P-Cards racking up doubt and personal charges

Copy of September 2013 P-Card statement.

Disputes over how credit cards are being used by the Colleton County School District reached a boiling point at a recent school board meeting; but now, outcry over the details of these charges, and who is supervising them, is getting louder.

“I’m concerned with what I see,” said school board member Paul Haase. Haase reacted to the monthly laundry lists of P-Card uses that can be seen on the district’s Web site and in light of a new request by the Colleton Business Alliance to see how these cards are being used.

“We are concerned taxpayers … interested in seeing how the largest business in the county is operating,” alliance member Barnwell Fishburne told the school board on Tuesday.

According to District Superintendent Leila Williams, there are 25 P-Cards (personal credit cards) issued in the school district that operate on the taxpayer’s provided district funds. Each principal at each school has access to a card, along with district personnel. The district’s policy on the use of P-Cards says single purchases can’t exceed $2,500 per month per cardholder. That policy also strictly prohibits personal use of the cards.

More specifically, the P-Card policy prohibits the use of the card for any fuel except in district vehicles; no personal membership fees; no jewelry; no food except from approved vendors; and no personal radio or phone uses. Some of these policies appear to have been violated, according to the district’s Web site, which lists all P-Card purchases on a month-to-month basis.

Supt. Williams paid a $95 membership fee to an education-related sorority; Asst. Supt. William Dixon spent $10 on I-Tunes, and there are multiple purchases at gas stations and grocery stores. According to John Barnes, Chairperson, these purchases could have been used in the classroom and for educational reasons, and will have to be further examined.

Williams also admitted in last week’s school board meeting to using her P-Card to purchase her family’s airline tickets. She said, in that meeting, that she issued the district a check the next morning, therefore reimbursing the taxpayers for the flights. Chairman John Barnes said he is “disappointed” in Williams’ personal use of the P-Card, even though she did refund the district.

“It is the expectation of this chairman that the procurement manual be followed,” he said. “The manual is clear. There is to be no personal use.” When asked if he will pursue disciplinary action against Williams for her personal use of the P-Card, Barnes said it was a “personnel matter.”

Barnes added that he “spot-checks” the P-Cards transactions, as they are posted online for the public to see. “I’ve addressed my own concerns,” he said.

According to Barnes, Williams is solely responsible for the oversight of all P-Cards in the district. She is to report to the board.

Many Colleton County residents have been voicing their rising concerns. Vic Nettles, of Walterboro, says he has been combing through the district’s records: the more transactions he sees, the more concerned he becomes, he said. “I’m doing this, researching this, on my accord. I’m a concerned taxpayer,” he said. “I initially went to the district’s Web site to calm my own questions, but the more I learn, the more my concerns are rising. Some of these credit card transactions seem as if they could be personal, and the school board seems completely uninterested.”

Adding fuel to the fire, in September, the district handed out $270 to each teacher in the school district. That equaled to more than $104,000. These funds were to pay for school supplies inside the classroom. Yet, thousands of dollars are being spent each month by the district on P-Cards to pay for additional supplies, including more than $2,000 in lap boards for Colleton Middle School students and craft supplies from Oriental Trading. Additionally, hundreds of dollars are being spent each month at places like Dunkin’ Donuts and jewelry stores for staff meetings. The district’s policy is not clear about how to budget for additional in-classroom expenses.

In the midst of the district’s woes, school board member Paul Haase has officially announced his intention to run for his third term on the board. Haase and fellow member William Bowman are the two most outspoken members of the board. “I am very dissatisfied in how the district is being run right now, and I cannot leave my community and my constituents to this,” Haase said.

The school board has taken no action on Williams’ admission of violating the P-Card policy. It has also not said whether or not it will delve deeper into the district’s P-Card spending. However, the district is preparing to undergo a routine procurement audit of its P-Card uses, as mandated by state regulations. The Colleton Business Alliance is also looking for its own answers through its latest Freedom of Information Act request. This request is much more specific than the first, which created waves within the Colleton community when Williams asked for $12,500 to hand over the information. This time, the alliance is asking for seven specific items. It wants copies of all credit card requests since January; the names of all district personnel who have a credit card and the names of those responsible for overseeing these cards; the names of all personnel transferred into different positions during the past 3 years; all positions created in the school district; a job description for central office administrative personnel; and an explanation of the district’s reimbursement policy.

The district has until Dec. 4th to comply with the FOIA request: at its most recent meeting, the board accepted the request and voted 6-1 to comply with the alliance’s initial request from September without charging the $12,500 fee.

Instructions to review the School District expenditures:

Type this address in your URL box: http://www.colletonsd.org, then click on departments, click Finance, then click on public records, then click on expenditure transparency, under this list you will see all of the checks and credit card transactions for each month.

Heather Walters (937 Posts)